Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Memo Rodriguez on the Image of Guadalupe

[For reference, a photograph of the image itself:]

There is just so much that can be said about the image itself!

Here are just a few bits and pieces:

The image is of a young woman with obvious “mestizo” complexion. “Mestizo” is a Spanish word, which I do not know how to translate very well. It literally means “mixed-race”, and it is the word to describe the children of a Spaniard (usually the father) and a Native (usually the mother).

Originally it had the negative connotation “mixed-race” sometime has in English, but not any more. In Mexico, the vast majority of the population is “mestizo”, not only ethnically, but culturally as well, and we are very proud of it. Not in the least because that makes us like the image of the Queen of Heaven.

The height of the image is 143 centimeters, or a little under 5 feet, consistent with the height of a mestizo girl between the ages of 18 and 20, in that time.

Her face reflects a serene tenderness, freshness and strength. Her almond-shaped eyes are partially closed, and are not looking directly to the front, but through the corner of the eye. This was regarded as the polite way to look to someone you cared about a lot, the way the bride looks at her groom, the way a mother looks at her children. It was the way God looked upon the world to create life and order.

Her hair falls free under her mantle. This was typical of pregnant women, a special honor semi-reserved for them.

Her pregnancy is quite obvious because her abdomen is taller than it is wider.

The image itself shows adherence to an almost universal beauty standard called “Golden Proportion”, which is a height/width ratio consistent with masterpieces from cultures as diverse as the Mesopotamians, the Greeks and the Romans.

In the center of these “architectural” elements, we find her womb, and specifically, the four-petal flower (Flowers! Flowers! Remember?), the Aztecs called “Nahui Ollin”, which represented the fullness, the center of the universe (both conceived as space and time), and the presence of God.

Her hands are over her chest, put together in a posture we could (wrongly) interpret as one of prayer. No, this is not the Aztec posture for prayer, it is the Aztec posture of “I have a gift for you, because I love you, and I have it hidden here, right behind my hands”.

She is clothed with sunshine and standing on the moon, which evokes the Book of Revelations, but it has an additional meaning for the Aztecs. Tonatiuh, the Sun, was one of the major deities of the Aztec religion, he was regarded as an expression of Teotl, the One True God, the One Our Lady is claiming to be the mother of. The Moon, on the other hand, Mezti, was a very close diety, very familiar, because she, with her astronomical cycle, represented the cycle of fertility in the women, and therefore, of the archetype of women, mother-earth. The Nahua roots for “Mexico” are “Metz-xic-co”, which means “on the center of the moon”.

So, the girl clothed with the Sun, pregnant of the new Sun of Justice, is standing on the center of the moon (that is, “right here”), to bring us the New Life.

Her belt, barely visible over her womb has a trapezoid shape, which represents the change of the era, and it belongs to the child in her womb, Jesus Christ, Alpha and Omega, Lord of the Old World, and the New one.

She has her left knee slightly flexed. One could think, as if walking towards the viewer. But the Aztecs probably saw something different: She has initiated the sacred dance, and she is expecting the viewer to follow suit. She comes to bring Christ to the New World, however, the next step, that of accepting Christ and live by His Law, that is a step we have to take.

Her mantle is an accurate star map. It depicts the heavens above the Anahuac valley and the positions of the stars are entirely consistent with the ones observed from the Tepeyac during the early morning of December 12th, 1531.

But backwards. That is, the mantle shows the stars as if seen “from above” the firmament, that is, from eternity. She is who she is, not by means or merits of her own, but by the same grace her Son offers to her first, and to all of us.

Her entire image points not to herself, but to Him, who (in her own words) is “my merciful gaze, my help, my salvation”, He who is Nelli Teotl (The Very True God), Ipalnemohuani (The Giver of Life), Teyocoyani (The Creator of People), Tloque Nahuaque (The Owner of what is near and what is far) and Ilhuicahua Tlaltipaque (The Lord of Heaven and Earth).

To Him Glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Nican Mopohua (7)

Juan Diego’s uncle was supposed to be very sick, remember?

Juan Diego gave first priority to his mission. He trusted Our Lady with his uncle’s health.

However, after showing the site to Bishop Zumarraga, he decided it was time to move on and to check on his uncle.

He asked the Bishop for his leave, and the Bishop sent him home, but not alone, rather, with an escort.

The narrative mentions the escort only as a special honor, but it is very reasonable to think the Bishop was still being cautious and investigating the details of the event with due care, so it is rather safe to presume these escorts were tasked with the verification of Juan Diego’s story with regards to his uncle and his health.

They were in for another surprise, because they did not only found Juan Bernardino in perfect health, but also, when Juan Diego finally told his uncle about the apparitions, his mission, and the assurance he received from Our Lady about his uncle’s health, Juan Bernardino replied:
203. His venerable uncle told him it was true, that precisely that moment, she deigned to heal him.

204. And that he had seen her, in the exact same form as she had deign to appear to his nephew.

205. And that she had also sent him to Mexico to see the Bishop.

206. And that, when he saw him, that he was to kindly manifest to him all the details of what he had seen.

207. And she had wondrously healed him.

208. And that she kindly requested, as a favor, her precious image to be known and called precisely as the Ever Virgin Saint Mary or Guadalupe.

Again, we need to understand Aztec culture.

Few cultures in the world have been more respectful of elders than the Aztecs. Even being merely disrespectful to an elder was considered a capital crime and yes, it carried the death penalty.

By appearing to Juan Diego’s elderly uncle and by giving him the precise title with which she wanted to be know, Our Lady was sending the clear message that God did not consider ALL the old ways of the Aztecs to be wrong, that there were many good things in their culture and their way of life, and that these good things were to be honored, preserved and perfected with the Gospel.

Now, it is fairly safe to assume “Guadalupe” was not the original form, which was probably “Coatlaxopeuh”, literally “who crushes the snake”, of quite obvious meaning. However, it is providential that this was the final form of the name.

It is clear that “Guadalupe” is not Nahuatl, as the language didn’t have consonant phonics for G or D. But it was not originally Spanish either.

Although there was already a Marian image called “Guadalupe” in Spain, the name comes from the Arabic “Wadi Al-Lub”, which means more or less “river of black pebbles”.

The Marian image was called that because of the name of a village, where the image was found, after being “lost” for several centuries.

The image was originally given to the Spanish church in the late 6th century, however, it was “hidden” shortly after the Moorish invasion early in the 8th century.

The image was found again in 1326, when the war to reclaim Spain from the Moors was making good progress, so the image became very popular, and associated with Spanish national identity, just as this new “Guadalupe” would become for the Mexican people.

So here we have a Jewish girl, with a Muslim name, Mother of the Christian God, known and beloved in Spain, who will become the very soul of the new-born Mexican nation.

Quite fitting for the one who wanted “to be a compassionate mother to all of you, yours and of all the people who live together in this land, and of all the other people of different ancestries, those who love me, those who cry to me, those who seek me, those who honor me by putting their trust in my intercession”.

The narrative concludes as follows:
209. They immediately bring Juan Bernardino before the lord Bishop, to give his account and testify before him.

210. The Bishop received both him and his nephew in his house, for some time,

211. for the duration of the construction of the little shrine of the Sovereign Lady, there at the Tepeyac, where she appeared to Juan Diego.

212. The Bishop moved the precious and venerated image of the beautiful Girl from Heaven to the mayor church.

213. He kindly took it out of his palace, of his oratory, where it as, so that all the people could see and admire her marvelous image.

214. Absolutely all the city went to see and admire her precious and beloved image.

215. They came to acknowledge its divine origin,

216. to be honored to present before it their prayers,

217. and they all very much admired the form, so manifestly divine, which she chose to bestow on them the grace to appear,

218. as it s a fact that no person on this world was privileged to paint the essence of her precious and beloved image.

The story doesn’t end with a particularly high note. The Bishop carried out Our Lady’s request, and people were interested in visiting the image.

However, veiled between these two lines and in the history of what happened next, lies a most significant fact.

Surely among those who came to see the image and who recognized the divine origin of the image were the Amoxhuaque of old.

They understood God was giving them a message, and they accepted the message, even if the message was that it was time for their religion to give way to the Gospel.

The Amoxhuaque brought back the message to their people and shortly after the “Guadalupe event”, the natives began to request Baptism by the millions.

And to this day, with the impressive scientific progress we’ve accomplished, a satisfactory, natural explanation of the image and the preservation of the tilma is still pending.

But even more significant and wonderful than that is the faith of the people, and the unity the Lady of the Tepeyac inspires in her children.

May her powerful, and loving intercession guard our faith. May our father among the saints, St. Juan Diego Cuauhutlatoatzin pray for us all. Amen.

Nican Mopohua (6)

So Juan Diego opened his tilma and here is the narrative of what happened next:
181. An in that instant, he opened his white tilma, in which he was carruing the flowers while standing.

182. In such way, at the time the various precious flowers were scattered,

183. In that very moment became and sign, and suddenly appeared the venerated image of the Ever Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, just as today we have the joy to preserve,

184. and keep there, in which is her favorite home, her shrine at the Tepeyac, which we call Guadalupe.

By the way, that expression in Nos. 183 and 184 is still true today, we still have the joy to keep the beloved image there at the Tepeyac. This is remarkable, because the material of the tilma should have decayed several centuries ago. These garments were not supposed to outlive their owners, let alone last for over 450 years.

More importantly, we need to understand the significance of images in the Aztec culture.

Aztec writing was ideographic. The Aztecs used images as the main means of communication and an image of the Mother of God was, for them, a perfect catechesis.

Now, the image came to be through a supernatural intervention from God. It was not just any other image, it was an image painted by the hand of God.

On top of that, the image appeared on a tilma. The tilma was the symbolic representation of its owner. Aztec marriage rite consisted in tying together the man’s tilma to the woman’s huipil.

A miraculous image on a tilma was a most eloquent and strong sign of the intimacy and reality of God’s presence among us. To the Aztecs, this was the equivalent of what had been for the Hebrews “The Word was made flesh, and placed His tent among us”.

There is, however, another level of significance of this image.

It is oftentimes overlooked that, despite the pomp and grandeur of the Aztec Emperor, his authority was limited to civil and military affairs.

Even the Emperor (Tlatoani) deferred to the religious authority of the priests or “Tlamatinime”.

The two highest offices among the priests was of the Teomama (plural Teomamaque), which literally means “God bearer”, and who did just that, they carried the idols around for religious ceremonies, which included consultation to the idol, a thing only them could perform.

Even higher than the Teomamaque was the Amoxhua (plural Amoxhuaque), which means “guardian of the codex”, and these where in charge of writing, reading and interpreting Aztec Scripture (Ideograms, remember?), the “Magisterium” of the Aztec religious system.

God intended the image of Our Lady to be the new codex of Aztec Scripture, and by sending the image specifically to Bishop Zumarraga, He was designating the Bishop as the new Amoxhua, legitimately replacing the ones from old, in a similar way Christian priesthood replaced the Levitic priesthood.

“Do what he says”, is the message Our Lady was giving our people with respect of the Bishop, “he legitimately speaks for my Son”.

But also, by sending the image through Juan Diego, he became the new Teomama, subordinated in authority to the Bishop, but not in dignity and value as a human person.

This was a very clear statement that God wanted the natives to be treated as equals to the conquistadores, and the message was given in such a way that it was eloquent to both sides of the equation.
185. As soon as the lord Bishop saw the image, he and all who were there fell on their knees struck with awe.

186. Then they raised to look closer at it, deeply moved and converted, with their hearts and thoughts in suspense.

187. The lord Bishop, with repentant tears, begged forgiveness for failing to immediately execute her holy will, her venerable breath, her beloved word.

188. And raising to his feet, he untied the garment from Juan Diego’s neck.

189. that, on which she deign to appear, where the Lady of Heaven is depicted,

190. and the, with great respect, he took it and left it in his oratory.

191. Still, Juan Diego spent one full day in the Bishop’s house, he kept him from going.

192. The next day, he said: “Let’s go! Show me where it is the will of the Queen of Heaven to have her shrine built”.

193. Immediately, people volunteered for the construction.

Nican Mopohua (5)

When Juan Diego arrived at the Bishop’s palace, it was still dark, and the Bishop’s servants did not allow him it.

So he waited, and since he waited for a long time, the servants began to observe him, and they noticed he was carrying something in his tilma. Initially, Juan Diego resisted their attempts to make him show them what he had, but finally, he was forced to show the flowers.

The servants were amazed at their variety, beauty and freshness, so they tried to seize some for themselves, not once, but three times, but they couldn’t, because the flowers appeared to be painted or embroidered on the tilma.

Because of this, they became afraid, and went to the Bishop to tell him what had happened.

Zumarraga was intrigued because of this, but he knew he’d requested proof, and now Juan Diego was back and strange things were happening, so he immediately called Juan Diego in.

The narrative goes to tell Juan Diego’s own account, and it makes explicit mention that Juan Diego’s demeanor was submissive and entirely respectful. He limits his account to the facts pertaining his encounter with Our Lady, and makes no mention whatsoever of his uncle’s illness (which the narrative then makes clear was still troubling him), nor the hardships he had to endure with the Bishop’s servants.

Juan Diego’s mission was to speak for Our Lady to request the shrine to be built, and he fulfills his mission showing not only willingness and generosity, but politeness and good manners as well.

Here is his account:
164. My Lord and Master, I’ve done and fulfilled what you deigned to command:

165. I had the honor to tell the Lady, my Mistress, the Queen of Heaven, venerable and precious Mother of God, that you respectfully requested a sign to believe me and to build her little shrine, there, where she kindly requests you to build it.

166. I also had the honor to tell her I had dared to give you my word that I would have the privilege to bring something back to you as a sign, as proof of her venerable will, according to what you kindly indicated.

167. She kindly listened to your venerable breath, your venerable word, and gladly accepted your request for something as proof, as a sign, so her beloved will be done and executed.

168. Today, while it was still dark, she deign to command me the honor of coming back to see you.

169. I had the honor to request something as her sign, so that you would believe me, according to what she had said that she would give me something and immediately, instantly, she agreed to carry it out.

170. She deigned to send me to the summit of the little hill, where I had the honor to see her before, so I could cut different and precious flowers.

171. After I had the privilege to cut them, I brought them back to her.

172. She deigned to take them in her little hands,

173. only to kindly place them back in my tilma,

174. so I could have the honor to bring them to you.

175. Even though I know quite well the summit of the little hill is not a place where flowers are found, because there are only rocks and thorns and cactus, I didn’t doubt.

176. When I climbed to the summit of the little hill, I was in awe: I was in Paradise (Xochitlapan)!

177. There were gathered the most precious flowers one could imagine, of supreme quality, covered with dew, radiant, so I, deeply moved, began to cut them right away.

178. And she deigned to bestow on me the honor to come and give them to you, which is what I do now, so you kindly see in them the sign you requested, so you kindly begin the execution of everything needed.

179. And so it becomes clear to you the truthfulness of my word and my mission.

180. Here there are, honor me by receiving them!

It is quite important that we do have Juan Diego’s own account, because it is not only the writer speaking to the native culture, but also the tale told, entirely from the native perspective.

Here we can clearly see some elements discussed before, such as the significance of flowers, and the importance given to the fact the message, and the sign was intended for the Bishop, and for him alone, to the point to having the servants supernaturally prevented from grabbing what was not theirs to grab. The message was clear: the Bishop, even if he was a foreigner and kin to the conquistadores, was a legitimate messenger from God, and if the people of the New World were going to enter into a new, and more perfect relationship with God, they had to accept the Bishop, and the Church he represented.

Nican Mopohua (4)

Someone wrote to Mr. Rodriguez:
Aztec culture is something of an enigma, isn't it? Arguably one of the cruelest religions in human history

And he responded:
It is, because it could also be argued otherwise.

The tales of mass sacrifices are an obvious exageration.

And, although it remains totally condemnable to express any kind of belief in the form of human sacrifice, if we manage to see beyond and underneath that, we will see a religious process in the various Mesoamerican cultures, Aztecs included, to prepare for the coming of the Gospel.

The Aztecs were "almost" ready, they just needed a little push, and Our Lady gave them just that, as we will see in the conclusion of the narrative.

Juan Diego accepted Our Lady’s assurances that his uncle was taken care of, so she could resume the task of convincing the Bishop:
124. And the Queen of Heaven, immediate commanded him to climb the hill, there, where he was honored to see her before.

125. She deigned to tell him: “Climb, little son of mine, most beloved, climb up the hill where you saw me and where I gave you command.

126. There you will see planted many kinds of flowers: Cut them, gather them together. Then bring them down here, bring them here to me”.

Flowers? Yes, it sounds strange to our culture, however, we must realize a few things:

First of all, flowers were among the most revered creatures in the Aztec mind. The Heavenly paradise was called “Xochitlapan”, which literally means “Land of Flowers”. To the Aztecs, all good things had roots, and a beautiful flower was both, a sure indication of good roots and a promise of a good fruit. The most fertile area of the valley of Anahuac (where Tenochtitlan used to be, and where Mexico City is today), was dedicated to growing flowers, and to this day, this area is called “Xochimilco”, and even today, a choice name for girls in Mexico is “Xochitl”, which means exactly that: “Flower”.

Also, this hill, the Tepeyac, is not known precisely for its fertile soils. It is part of the northern boundaries of the Anahuac, a rather arid area of the valley.

Finally, it was December. The mountain ranges south of the Anahuac were probably covered with snow. The north hills are not as high as to gather snow, but it was no time to find abundance of flowers anyway.

To give a flower as a present was the ultimate honor. Not even the Aztec Emperor could afford to give flowers to his every guest, and therefore, what he could afford went to his most distinguished and closest acquaintances.

Juan Diego surely guessed that this was it. If the next step involved flowers, then it was time to make it or break it.

And so he went up the hill, and when he finally reached the summit and saw the beauty and variety of the flowers there, the narrative says he was “speechless with awe”, and after a just a brief contemplation, he proceeded to cut the flowers.

Juan Diego was not only allowed to go to “Xochitlapan”, he got to cut its flowers. Juan Diego was doing exactly what all his ancestors dreamt about and never managed to do: partaking of the Glory of God.

He placed the flowers in his tilma, and came down to Our Lady:
134. Then he came down bringing to the Queen of Heaven the various flowers he went to cut

135. And her, seeing them, kindly took them in her little hands,

136. and place them back in his tilma. She deigned to tell him:

137. “Little son, most beloved, these various flowers are the proof, the sign you will take to the Bishop.

138. On my behalf you will ask him to see in them my wish, and to execute my will.

139. And you… you re my plenipotentiary ambassador, for in you I place all my trust.

140. I strictly command you, that in front of the Bishop, and exclusively before him, to spread your tilma, and to show him what you carry in it.

141. And you will tell him, with all detail, how I sent you to climb the hill to cut the flowers, and all you saw and admired.

142. And with this, you will move the heart of the High Priest, so that it will be done, the construction of my shrine, which I requested.
The words of Our Lady are here more or less for our benefit. She took the flowers and gave them to Juan Diego to give them to the Bishop. That was so much more than enough.

If flowers were the ultimate present, you wanted to give them personally. If you sent flowers through a proxy, you were giving that person the fullness of your authority.

Again, perhaps Bishop Zumarraga wouldn’t have understood all this, but he was going to get his own sign in due time. This part of the sign was not mainly for Zumarraga’s benefit, but for the Aztecs.

The narrative says Juan Diego went immediately back to Mexico City, it says he went happy, full of joy in his heart, because he knew everything was going to be all right.

He’s got the ultimate symbol, beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, and he’s got the ultimate authority to carry out his mission.

Still, the narrative is clear that he was not day-dreaming, but he went with the utmost care for his precious cargo.

Nican Mopohua (3)

Juan Diego went again to the bishop, who questioned him more thoroughly and found no apparent contradiction. Juan Diego's story made perfect sense, and yet, he needed proof, and so, he told Juan Diego to ask the Lady for a sign that it was really her speaking to Juan Diego.

Juan Diego went with haste to the Tepeyac, being secretly followed by some the bishop's aids. Upon reaching the hill, however, Juan Diego lost his followers and spoke to the Lady. The Nican Mopohua only transcribes the last few words from Our Lady, which are basically an acceptance of the bishop's demands, instructions to Juan Diego to come back the following morning to ge the sign that will serve as proof, and a final thank you for Juan Diego's troubles.

That evening, however, when Juan Diego came home, he found his uncle, Juan Bernardino, terribly sick, and he asked his nephew to bring a priest to minister him the last rites.

Next morning, Juan Diego went to Tlaltelolco to find a priest, but he decided to go arround the other side of the Tepeyac hill, so he wouldn't hace to stop to tall with the Lady.

Of particular interest is verse 104:
104 He thought that, by turning that way, was was not going to be seen by her, whose love makes that she is absolutely, and always looking at us.

Of course, that was not going to be so, and surely, the Lady came to find him and spoke to him with these words:

107 What is happening, my youngest son? Where are you going? Where are you headed for?

108 And he, perhaps he grieved a little, or perhaps he became ashamed? Or perhaps he became afraid of the situation, he became fearful?

109 He prostrated himself before her, he greeted her with great respect, he had the honor to say to her:

110 My little Virgin, my Daughter the most beloved, my Queen, I hope you are happy; how are you this morning? Are you in good health, my lady, my most beloved Girl?

111 I will grieve your venerable face, your beloved heart: Please, consider, my little Virgin, that a little servant of yours, my uncle, is gravely ill.

112 A terrible sickness has taken hold of him; he will surely die from it soon.

113 And now I shall go urgently to your little house of Mexico, to call one of our priests, the beloved ones of Our Lord, so that he will go to hear his confession and prepare him,

114 Because we really were born for that. We, who came to wait for the painful effort of our death.

115 But, if I am going to carry it out, I will return here immediately after that, to go carry your venerable breath, your beloved word, Lady, my little Virgin.

116 I beg you to kindly forgive me, be patient with me a little longer, because I am not deceiving you with this, my youngest Daughter, my beloved Princess, tomorrow without fail I will come with all haste.

117 As soon as she heard the explanations of Juan Diego, the Merciful and Venerable Virgin answered him gently:

And then she delivered the words that have been in the deepest core of the soul of every Mexican since then. Our names, we might forget, but by God Almighty, we will always remember, and live by:

118 Please, pay attention to this, I wish it remains engraved in your heart, my dearest son: That which frightened you and afflicted you, is nothing; may it not disturb your face, your heart. Please, do not fear this illness, and by no means, any other illness or pain that causes grief.


120 Please, may nothing anguish or disturb you. I hope the illness of your honorable uncle disturbs you no more, by no means will he die now of it. I give you total assurance, he is well now.

121 (And so, as it was later known, exactly at that moment, his uncle healed).

Yes, my Lady, your words remain egraved in our hearts as an everlasting source of hope and consolation.

We will finish the story tomorrow.

Holy father in faith, St. Juan Diego Cuahutlatoac, pray for us, your spiritual children, and for all the peoples living in these lands!