This is a special time to venerate, imitate and walk with our Blessed Mother.
Today is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, which commemorates the Virgin Mary’s sinlessness from the moment she was conceived in the womb. At noon, I will celebrate a Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception named in her honor.
Later this afternoon, I will preside at a liturgy where some members of the Missionaries of Charity, the religious order founded by Saint Mother Teresa, will profess perpetual vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and of service to the poorest of the poor. These sisters, like Immaculate Mary, remind us of our call to holiness.
Facing the main altar at the Basilica, there is a large bas relief sculpture which depicts our Blessed Mother with her arms outstretched, as if in a humble gesture demonstrating her “yes” to open her heart completely to the Lord. Her open arms also seem to show how she embraces all of us, where we are, and always pointing us toward her Son.
Tomorrow is the feast day for Saint Juan Diego. About 500 years ago, in December 1531 in the Tepayac hill country by what is now Mexico City, a beautiful woman surrounded by light suddenly appeared to Juan, a peasant farmer who had converted to Christianity. Just a few years earlier, before the Spanish arrived, Juan and his fellow native people were under the rule of the brutal Aztec empire which widely practiced human sacrifice and slavery. Expressing her compassion for these people, the young woman asked that a church be built there as a place of consolation and peace.
The name given by the Lady sounded like “Guadalupe,” and she appeared to Juan multiple times as he relayed her request to the skeptical bishop, who wanted proof of authenticity. Meanwhile, Juan was also taking care of his sick uncle. When the uncle was near death, Juan ran to find a priest, but the Lady appeared again. “Do not be distressed, my littlest son. Am I not here with you, I who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Your uncle will not die at this time,” she said with tender affection. Then she told him to go up to the freezing hillside and fill his tilma with the Castilian roses that were in bloom there as a sign for the bishop.
The humble Juan did as directed and went to the bishop. Opening his tilma, the flowers fell out as the bishop fell to his knees. There on his tilma was an astounding image – it was the Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary in the likeness of one of the native people and also pregnant with child.
Within a few years of her apparitions and appearance on the tilma, six million Aztecs became Christian. Today, the miraculous image can be seen on display at the Basilica de Santa María de Guadalupe. About 12 million people visit each year, making it the most popular Marian shrine in the world.
The Church Universal celebrates Our Lady of Guadalupe on Monday, December 12. In between that feast day and today’s Solemnity and tomorrow’s day to remember Saint Juan Diego, on Saturday, December 10, our archdiocesan Church will hold our annual Walk with Mary day.
People from across the region on this day will walk with our Blessed Mother who accompanies us in our life’s journey. Processions begin at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart and at Holy Name Church at noon. Then women, men and children from all backgrounds will prayerfully walk through the streets of our nation’s capital, offering public witness to their faith and their love for Our Lady and her Son Jesus. At the Basilica, Confessions will be heard, the Holy Rosary will be prayed, and our family of faith will come together in communion at Holy Mass. Meanwhile, the #WalkwithMary social media and video campaigns will share news, reflections, prayers and more.
During his visit to Mexico City earlier this year, Pope Francis made a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe and prayed before her image. He then said that we too are called to build a shrine. “The shrine of God is the faces of the many people we encounter each day,” especially the poor and forgotten, the Holy Father said, adding, “Mary says this to us again, ‘Go and build my shrine, help me lift up the lives of my sons and daughters, your brothers and sisters.”
As she did with Juan Diego, Mary speaks to us in our own language, in our own time, as we recognize our own humility and weaknesses, yet still hear and answer that call to love and serve others as we walk with Mary, who leads us always to Jesus.