12 Dec – Memorial of Our Lady of Guadalupe
The OXYGEN team would like to invite interested writers to contribute a reflection or two for the Christmas mass readings at the end of this year. If you feel called to put the sharing of your faith into writing, please do drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you!
The OXYGEN team
The feast in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe goes back to the 16th century. Chronicles of that period tell us the story.
A poor Indian named Cuauhtlatohuac was baptized and given the name Juan Diego. He was a 57-year-old widower and lived in a small village near Mexico City. On Saturday morning, December 9, 1531, he was on his way to a nearby barrio to attend Mass in honor of Our Lady.
He was walking by a hill called Tepeyac when he heard beautiful music like the warbling of birds. A radiant cloud appeared and within it a young Native American maiden dressed like an Aztec princess. The lady spoke to him in his own language and sent him to the bishop of Mexico, a Franciscan named Juan de Zumarraga. The bishop was to build a chapel in the place where the lady appeared.
Eventually the bishop told Juan Diego to have the lady give him a sign. About this same time Juan Diego’s uncle became seriously ill. This led poor Diego to try to avoid the lady. The lady found Diego, nevertheless, assured him that his uncle would recover and provided roses for Juan to carry to the bishop in his cape or tilma.
When Juan Diego opened his tilma in the bishop’s presence, the roses fell to the ground and the bishop sank to his knees. On Juan Diego’s tilma appeared an image of Mary exactly as she had appeared at the hill of Tepeyac. It was December 12, 1531.
I, the Lord, your God,
I am holding you by the right hand;
I tell you, ‘Do not be afraid,
I will help you.’
Do not be afraid, Jacob, poor worm,
Israel, puny mite.’
I will help you – it is the Lord who speaks –
the Holy One of Israel is your redeemer.
See, I turn you into a threshing-sled,
new, with doubled teeth;
you shall thresh and crush the mountains,
and turn the hills to chaff.
You shall winnow them and the wind will blow them away,
the gale will scatter them.
But you yourself will rejoice in the Lord,
and glory in the Holy One of Israel.
The poor and needy ask for water, and there is none,
their tongue is parched with thirst.
I, the Lord, will answer them,
I, the God of Israel, will not abandon them.
I will make rivers well up on barren heights,
and fountains in the midst of valleys;
turn the wilderness into a lake,
and dry ground into waterspring.
In the wilderness I will put cedar trees,
acacias, myrtles, olives.
In the desert I will plant juniper,
plane tree and cypress side by side;
so that men may see and know,
may all observe and understand
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
that the Holy One of Israel has created it.
Jesus spoke to the crowds: ‘I tell you solemnly, of all the children born of women, a greater than John the Baptist has never been seen; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is. Since John the Baptist came, up to this present time, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence and the violent are taking it by storm. Because it was towards John that all the prophecies of the prophets and of the Law were leading; and he, if you will believe me, is the Elijah who was to return. If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen!’
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy
Near our home in LA is a school. Weekday mornings are a cacophony of bells, children laughing and dogs barking as mothers scramble to unload their charges from SUVs. There is a park bench across the street from the school and that’s where I like to go after my morning run. The smell of morning wafts over from a café close by – bacon fries on a skillet, toast browns, fresh coffee is being brewed. Happiness for me is simply being there, breathing it all in, this blessed ordinariness. I feel so lucky, so very blessed to be a part of this. Just six months ago, my weekday mornings consisted of a clenched jaw, a big knot in my gut and furious pecking on my Blackberry. It was like this for 16 years before I pulled the plug. I used to get so caught up with how I was a few boxes short of a fully-checked list, how I was behind in the rat race, behind on bonuses and promotions.
I didn’t see it then but looking back now, I was the chief architect of my own anxiety and misery. The weight of my unfulfilled expectations and the constant whine of my complaining was what drained me and held me back. God saved me from myself and took me out of what was quickly becoming a destructive pattern of behavior. Yes, my life is now much simpler. Some would even say it’s become dull and ordinary. But I’m immeasurably happier. And I feel very blessed to have been saved from myself. The joy of the ordinary is a blessing we often miss because, well, it’s so ordinary, it’s almost dull. It’s not exciting or glamorous. You can’t make interesting Facebook posts of it. But Scripture is a collage of ordinary people who were inspired by God. Not all of them were celebrated in their lifetimes, not every character for instance, was a King David. But that didn’t stop them from finding joy, the joy that comes from just being instruments for Him.
When our mindset is simple and our hearts are open, we can focus on the big picture – His picture. We don’t get caught up with the ‘small stuff’. We find ‘grace’, the power that God has to bless us with the disposition to believe and accept that good can come from even the most impossible situations. With grace, we are able to hold on to the hope that with the passage of time, the goodness of His plan will come to fruition. Mary is called ‘full of grace’ (Luke 1:28) by the angel Gabriel because of that special disposition. Her spirit was open and ready to yield to God’s suggestion. There was no fear or resistance. Her confidence came from her faith in His plan. Juan Diego, the old farmer who was visited by Our Lady on his way to Mass, was similarly blessed with grace. He didn’t doubt that the vision he witnessed was that of Our Lady. And though he was a lowly farmer, he approached the Bishop of Mexico City and pleaded his case with conviction, not once but several times. He wasn’t afraid of his status or the lack of it. He held firmly to his convictions.
Often, we are our own worst enemies. Either we spook ourselves from rising to heed His calling or we are so filled with the frustration that comes from our unmet expectations that we don’t even hear Him when He reaches out to us. Today, as we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady Guadalupe, let’s pray for God’s grace to be still and quiet, to revel in our ordinariness and feel the joy of just being an instrument available to Him. When we let go of what’s important to us, that’s when we start to experience the immeasurable joy of doing what’s important to Him.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)
Prayer: We pray for the grace to set down the weight of all our unmet expectations, unanswered prayers and dashed hopes and surrender ourselves fully to Him.
Thanksgiving: We give thanks for those that He sends our way to encourage us and lift us up, when the narrow road becomes too hard to walk.