In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the native people of Mexico City suffered conquest first by the Aztecs and then by the Spanish conquistadores. It was the custom of the Aztecs to harvest the conquered people as victims for human sacrifice, offered to the snake god Quetzalcoatl (Qweztzel-coh-AH-tul).
(Think Mel Gibson’s movie Apocalypto, though it was about Mayans. Same basic, brutal principle.)
By the Aztecs’ own account, this cost a quarter of a million human lives per year. In the dedication of just one temple, a celebration lasting four days, they slaughtered more than eighty thousand men and women.
As you can imagine, these native peoples lived a life of natural and supernatural terror.
Yet the fear of their idols kept them trapped in idolatry, and they resisted conversion to the Christian faith. The best efforts of brilliant missionaries proved basically ineffective.
Then, in 1531, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared in Mexico City to a peasant man named Juan Diego.
He was an older man, a simple man, a convert to the Catholic faith, and he was hurrying on his way to Mass when Our Lady appeared. She asked him to go to the bishop and request that a church be built in her honor on that very spot at Tepeyac (Teh-PAY-ak).
The bishop was skeptical and asked Juan Diego to provide a sign that the vision was authentic. You can’t really blame him. It was quite the story. (What would you think?)
So when Juan Diego next saw Our Lady, she filled his overcoat with roses — even though it was winter and roses were out of season.
When the bishop took the roses from Juan Diego’s rough garment, the men saw that Mary had miraculously left her image on the fabric.
Juan Diego’s overcoat wasn’t from Nordstrom, Land’s End, or any other major retailer known for quality products. It was made of cactus fiber. (You wouldn’t even find that at Walmart.) So the relic shouldn’t have lasted fifty years. Let’s be honest, after five years it should have been falling apart.
But now it’s lasted half a millennium, and her image still looks with eyes of mercy upon hundreds of thousands of pilgrims.
What happened in the wake of Juan Diego’s visitation? Well, the bishop built the church at Tepeyac, of course. And soon nine million native American people embraced the Christian faith.
The entire continent converted to Catholicism. Where the missionaries and the military had failed, a poor man succeeded — with the assistance of his Blessed Mother.
It’s funny how little things change in 500 years. People all over the world (especially the unborn) face the threat of persecution and slaughter. A major wave of conversion is once again needed.
But never forget that conversion always begins with us. Before worrying about the world, we must worry about ourselves.
We must ask Our Lady of Guadalupe to move our hearts closer to her Son. Only when we have been personally converted can Mary use us, like Juan Diego, to bring souls to her Son.
God bless you!
P.S. Much of the above post comes from a brand new video Scripture study called The Bible and the Virgin Mary which will debut in Lent 2015. The study is part of the Journey Through Scripture program from the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology (founded by Scott Hahn). It will be distributed by Lighthouse Catholic Media.
Yours truly (that would be me) has the privilege of presenting the study. Check out the Journey Through Scripture promo with me and Scott Hahn!