I am a non-practicing Catholic. My first sign of rebellion reared its ugly head when I was in the second grade. I chose not to participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, confessing my sins to a priest, prior to receiving my First Communion. I have no idea why I felt so uncomfortable about this. My sins at the time could have been no worse than sneaking an extra cookie for dessert or hitting my brother.
I do, however, remember informing my parents of my decision while my face was planted firmly in the kitchen table (Catholic guilt already at work) and spending Reconciliation morning running around the school gym in a one piece, royal blue P.E. uniform with a lot of other students. I realize today that those kids were probably all the non-Catholics who attended the school for a “more traditional”, “more structured” education. Or to avoid the public schools. That day though, they offered a little comfort to me in that I was not alone in my decision.
I loved the church my family attended. We met in the band room of one of the city’s Catholic High Schools. We sat on folding chairs. One parishioner actually made the bread the priest blessed, turning it into the Body of Christ. Another made the wine. Someone played the flute, and there were guitars in our little church band. Sharing the sign of peace took 20 minutes or more because we got out of our chairs to greet people sitting on the other side of the room. We didn’t just shake hands. People asked after one another and hugged. We wore blue jeans and sweatshirts. Every spring, we had mass outside in one of the most beautiful flower gardens in the city.
Maybe I just never found a church I felt at home in after that. Maybe I was more worried that this time there would be no way out of confession. And surely it would last three days and kill the priest. So I am at a complete loss as to how I have come home with an 8”x 10” picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Pope John Paul II (what?!) and a tank top emblazoned with the image of Guadalupe on both sides in the past week. Never mind the collection of Guadalupe candles, folk art, and jewelry I am slowly amassing. I even have a Virgin de Guadalupe Pinterest page! I recently pinned a freaking tattoo!!
I fell inexplicably in love with Our Lady from the very moment we crossed the border, and I saw her likeness for the first time, painted on a mountainside. When my son applied to law school, I visited her shrine in San Carlos regularly to light candles. I want desperately to buy a stone work carving for my front yard just to save myself some time. My husband does not think I notice that he speeds up every time we drive through Magdalena where these beauties are on display. I have a plan to design a “shrine wall” or “icon corner” in my home, sneaking in one new piece a month or so (and no, the tank top does not count).
According to Catholic accounts, the Virgin Mary presented herself on four different occasions to a native Mexican peasant named Juan Diego. She first appeared to him on December 9, 1531 at the Hill of Tepeyac, today, a suburb of Mexico City. She asked him (in his native Aztec language) to have a church built in her honor there. Juan Diego’s request was refused by the archbishop. La Virgin appeared again to encourage Juan Diego to persist.
The second time Juan Diego approached the archbishop, he indicated that he needed some kind of miraculous sign. Juan Diego passed the message along, and the young woman promised one the next day. Juan Diego missed the next meeting because he was caring for his sick uncle. La Virgin tracked him down, promised his uncle was well, and instructed him to return to the Hill of Tepeyac to pick the flowers that were blooming there. Juan Diego brought non-native, Castilian roses to La Virgin. She arranged them in his cloak and told him to deliver them to the archbishop.
When Juan Diego opened his cloak for the archbishop, the flowers fell to the floor and the image of La Virgin was imbedded in the material. She then appeared as a vision to Juan Diego’s uncle and asked him to tell the archbishop of his miraculous recovery. At this time, she shared that she wanted to be known as Guadalupe. A small chapel was quickly built on the Hill of Tepeyac.
Today, the original cloak of Juan Diego is housed in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, north of Mexico City. Her shrine is the most visited Catholic shrine in the world and the third most visited religious site.
Perhaps I feel a special love for La Virgin de Guadalupe because my grandmother had such a strong devotion and deep relationship with the Virgin Mary. I am able to honor my grandmother’s memory and show my respect for her religion, to which she was deeply faithful, while plodding along my lapsed course. Then again, La Virgin de Guadalupe is credited with converting nearly seven million native people to Catholicism. There may be hope for me yet.