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!

Nican Mopohua (2)

St. Juan Diego left and went to see the Bishop, who was, well, let me put it this way: not very receptive.

That same evening, he meets Our Lady once more:
49 As soon as he saw her, he prostrated himself before her, he threw himself to the ground, he had the honor to tell her:

50 "My dear little Mistress, Lady Queen, my dearest little Daughter, my dear little Virgin. I did go to where you sent me to carry our your dear breath, your beloved word; although I entered with difficulty to where the place is of the Governing Priest, I saw him, I put your dear breath, your beloved word, before him, as you were so kind to order me to.

51 He received me kindly and he listened to it perfectly, but from the way ha answered me, it’s as if he was not satisfied, he doesn’t think it’s true.

52 He said to me: "You will come again: I will still listen to you calmly, I will look well to what you have come for, from the very beginning, to your desire, your will.

53 The way he answered me, I could clearly see that he thinks your house that you deign to allow us the privilege to build for you here, maybe I’m only making it up, or that maybe it is not from your lips.

54 I beg you, my Lady, my Queen, my little Virgin, to have one of the nobles who are held in esteem, one who is known, respected, honored, (have him) carry, take your dear breath, your precious word, so that he will be believed.

55 Because I am really worthless, I am a (porter’s) rope I am a backframe, a tail, a wing, a man of no importance: I myself need to be led, carried on someone’s back, that place your are sending me to is a place where I’m not used to going to or spending any time in, my little Virgin, my dearest Daughter, my Lady, my Queen;

56 please forgive me: I will grieve your venerable face, your beloved heart; I will fall into your rightful anger, into your displeasure, my Lady, my Mistress."

57 The Perfect Virgin, worthy of honor and veneration, kindly answered him:

58 "Listen, my youngest and dearest son, know for sure that I have no lack of servants, or messengers, to whom I could entrust the task of carrying my breath, my word, so they carry out my will;

59 But it is very necessary that you, personally, go and plead; that my wish, my will be carried out and become a reality entirely through your intercession.

60 And I beg you, my youngest, dearest and most favored son, and I order you strictly to go again tomorrow to se the Bishop.

61 And in my name warn him, make him listen to my will very clearly, so that he will bring into being, he will build my house, the one I am asking him for.

62 And tell him again how I, none other than the ever Virgin Mary, the Venerable Mother Of God, I am sending you as messenger.”

63 For his part, Juan Diego respectfully responded to her and reverently said to her "My Lady, Queen, my little Virgin, let me not give your venerable face, your beloved heart. I will most gladly go to carry out your venerable breath, your dear word; I will absolutely not fail to do it, nor do I think the road is painful.

64 I will go and, of course, carry out your venerable will, but perhaps I won’t be heard, and if I am heard, perhaps I won’t be believed.

65 Tomorrow afternoon, when the sun goes down, I will come to return to your dear word, to your venerable breath, what the Governing Priest answers to me.

66 Now, I respectfully say goodbye to you, my youngest and dearest Daughter, my little Virgin, Lady, Queen, rest a little more."

67 And then he went to his house to rest.

Please notice the typical dynamic of those who are called to serve the Lord: This is greater than me, I am not worthy, I am not capable, send someone else.

But the choice had been made, it has to be him. Like Moses and Jonah, St. Juan Diego responds with generosity and trust. If the Lady wants him to do it, he will do it. He will do the best he can and leave the rest to God and to the "Little Virgin".

It is worthy of notice that St. Juan Diego doesn't complain about his failure, even more, he attributes the failure to himself. That is typical Nahua education. Also, unlike other "messengers", St. Juan Diego tries to evade the call only once. After the first try, when Our Lady insists, he immediately accepts, and he does so "most gladly", again, this is typical Nahua education. St. Juan Diego is displaying treats of a well educated man with excellent manners, skillfully able to blend formality and familiarity, argumentation and obedience.

Maybe we are not asked to build a temple of stone, but certainly God asks us to do something with our lives.

Are we ready to respond in generosity and trust?

As we can see in (60), God is ready to stop asking and start commanding. Will we wait that long?

Nican Mopohua (1)

[The following is the work of Memo Rodriguez, who knows English, Spanish and Aztec, and who has done a beautiful job of commenting on this old text.]

The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is nearby, and I'd like to share with this forum some thoughts about this event, without any doubt, one of the most important in the Christian history of these lands.

The way I'd like to do this is to quote fragments of the original narrative of the apparitions, the "Nican Mopohua" ("Here is told").

I will base my translation on the one you can find here:
Nican Mopohua in English
But I will edit it where I think it is appropriate.

My comments will follow the quotes.

Let's begin with the first apparition. Our Lady speaks to Juan Diego:

23 She said to him, "Listen, my little son, the youngest, my Juantzin. Where are you going?"

24 And he answered her: "My Lady, my Queen, my Little Girl, I am going as far as your little house in Mexico-Tlatelolco, to follow the things of God that are given to us, that are taught to us by the ones who are the images of The Lord, Our Master: our priests."

25 Then she talks with him, she reveals her precious and holy will;

26 She says: "Please know, and put in your heart, my little son, the most beloved, that I am the perfect, Ever Virgin Saint Mary, and I have the privilege to be the Mother of the Very True God, of Ipalnemohuani (The Giver of Life), of Teyocoyani (The Creator of People), of Tloque Nahuaque (The Owner of what is near and what is far), of Ilhuicahua Tlaltipaque (The Lord of Heaven and Earth). I want very much, and fervently wish that you (or they) would please build for me a sacred little house,

27 In which I will show Him to you, and magnify Him,

28 And give it (the sacred little house) to Him. He, who is all my love. He, who is my merciful gaze. He, who is my help. He, who is my salvation.

29 For in truth I am honored to be a compassionate mother to all of you,

30 yours and of all the people who live together in this land,

31 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.

32 For there I will be always willing to listen to their weeping, they sorrow, to cleanse, to heal all their miseries, their troubles, their sufferings.

33 And to bring about, with all certainty, what He, who is my merciful gaze, wants to do. Kindly agree to go to the palace of the Bishop of Mexico, and tell him that I myself am sending you as ambassador to manifest to him how big and fervent is my wish for him to provide me with a house, to erect my shrine here on this plain. You will tell him everything, to the last detail, all that yu have seen and marveled at, and what you have heard.

34 And be assured that I will appreciate it very much and reward you for it,

35 for I will enrich you and glorify you,

36 and you will deserve that I reward you greatly, for your fatigue, your trouble, to carry out what I am asking of you.

37 My son, the most beloved, you have heard, my breath, my word. Kindly accept, and go, and do your best effort.

38 And immediately he prostrated himself in her presence; he said to her: "My Lady, my Little Girl, of course I am right now going to make your venerable breath, your beloved word, a reality; I, your poor servant, depart from you for a while."

39 Then he came down (the hill) to put her errand into action: he came to get onto the causeway that comes straight to Mexico City.

40 When he reached the center of the city, he went straight to the palace of the Bishop, the Governing Priest, who had just recently arrived; his name was Don Fray Juan de Zumarraga, a Franciscan Priest.

To those of us who were born and raised in the shadow of that "little house", these words are as familiar as our heartbeat, more ours than the marrow in our bones, but still, our hearts jump in our chests and our eyes water in awe and gratitude every time we hear them or read them.

How can you surpass the beauty of "He, who is all my love. He, who is my merciful gaze. He, who is my help. He, who is my salvation."? How could we miss the clear echoes from the Magnificat in these words?

And who pronounced these words? None other than the Mother of the Very True God, The Giver of Life, The Creator of People, The Owner of what is near and what is far, The Lord of Heaven and Earth.

I intentionally left the original Nahuatl words to show something all translations will hopelessly miss: These are all proper names.

Originally, they designated distinct Nahua deities, however, just when the Conquistadores were about to arrive, the Nahuas were well on their way to Monotheism. They were coming to believe there was only One True God, they called Him "Teotl", and all other "gods" were nothing but distinct aspects and manifestations of "Teotl".

By using all these proper names, Our Lady was declaring herself to be the Mother of Teotl (yes, she uses the precise word/name of Teotl), the One True God, in a tactic already used by St. Paul when he presented Christ as the God the ancient Greeks venerated as "the unknown god".

God was preparing our forefathers for the Gospel, and Our Lady fully acknowledged that this positive move, as everything good, was from God.

And what does she want? Only a little house (well, today this house is anything but little, but the precise meaning of "little" for the Nahuas needs more explanation, more on this later). Why?

In the Nahua culture, and most prominently in Aztec culture (the Aztecs were Nahuas, but there were other Nahua peoples besides the Aztecs), the temple was, if you pardon the expression, a "sacrament" of the nation. That is, a symbol, but more than that, a symbol fully integrated with the reality it symbolizes.

By demolishing the Aztec temples of Mexico-Tenochtitlan, the Conquistadores effectively and actually demolished the Aztec nation.

Our Lady wanted a new nation to be built, and that nation needed a new temple, but this time, it was to be a Christian temple. A temple in which she could reveal Her Son to us, and then magnify Him, and then present (or consecrate) the temple, and therefore, the nation to Him.

And she wants to do that because she is our compassionate mother. Not only of "Juanito", but, as she said, of all peoples living together in the land.

Please notice the humilty of her language: "I am honored to be your compassionate mother", "It is an honor that you place your trust in my intercession", "Please know", "Kindly agree", "I will reward you for your troubles".

Finally, I need to explain about being little. I've already worte about this, but it wouldn't hurt to go over it again.

Just as some cultures use plural as "royal we", Nahuas used diminutive to indicate respect and rank. Expressions such as "My Lady, My Queen, My Little Girl", are entirely consistent, with the third phrase giving it a formal and respectful tone.

In the Nahuatl language, diminutives are indicated by the suffix "tzin", and you can add as many as you want to the end of the word, each one "kicking respect up a notch".

For instance, the Nahuatl word for "our mother" would be "Tonana" (prefix "to" denotes the first person, plural posesive "our"), however, since a mother always deserves respect, you would never say that in polite conversation. The correct word is "Tonantzin", which litetally would mean "our little mother".

Of much interest is the fact that Our Lady also addresses St. Juan Diego using diminutives. He is "Juantzin" (Johnny), and "my youngest son".

It has been long assumed that St. Juan Diego was a humble peasant, but recent discoveries seem to indicate otherwise:

His Nahuatl name was "Cuahutlatoac", which means "He who speaks like the eagle", quite an impresive name for a farmer, but even more, he is some times refered to as "Cuahutlatoatzin", notice the diminutive suffix. Certainly a name proper of a member of a royal house. Could it be?

It seems to be the case. A study links St. Juan Diego as a rather close relative of Nezahualcoyotl, the poet king of Texcoco, who is famous for this poem:

I love the singing of Zentzontle,
bird of four hundred voices.
I love the jade color
and the beautiful smell of the flowers,
but even more I love man, my brother.

Is it possible that the Queen of Heaven wanted to meet with one of the highest-ranking noblemen left alive in the country? Yes, it is very possible, and truly a meeting that would give birth to a new nation.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

U.S. Iraq Policy and U.S. Catholic Bishops

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus has written a short piece at First Things raising the question: "What particular competency does the USCCB international policy committee assert for entering into 'dialogue' with Catholic legislators regarding the U.S. policy in Iraq, especially regarding the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq?"

Bishop Thomas Wenski, Bishop of Orlando, Florida, and chairman of the committee, has responded to Fr. Neuhaus's piece, also at First Things.

The essays can be found:
Father Neuhaus here...

Bishop Wenski here...

The main point of Fr. Neuhaus's article, as I read it, is as follows:
One is inclined to the view that the bishops conference does not have the competence, in the meaning of both ability and authority, to forge, or serve as broker in the efforts of others to forge, worldly stratagems for the Middle East. It is not evident that the nation lacks legitimate political authorities whose task it is to deal with such matters. Nor is it evident that there is a bipartisan call for the bishops to help them do their job.

Bishop Wenski, after establishing the factual record, asserts the rationale for the competency in this case:
The article failed to mention that Members of Congress had asked to meet with representatives of the bishops’ conference and that the focus of these discussions would be the moral questions of a “responsible transition,” a focus that is clear in the complete text of the letters.

Now on the record is the fact that the initiative was that of the politicians, not of the bishops.
Several factors motivate the conference’s engagement with policymakers on Iraq—to share the moral criteria of Catholic teaching, to address a pastoral concern that divisive partisanship not cloud our nation’s moral judgment, and to stand with the Holy Father and the Holy See. The current efforts of our conference are anchored firmly within the tradition of our Church.

These intentions appear worthy, even if one may be forgiven for suggesting the possibility that lurking here is a serious danger of clericalism. In the Catholic Church, clericalism may be defined as the appropriation of the proper task of laypeople by members of the clergy. And according to many Church documents, it is the proper role of the laity to engage in, and order according to the doctrine of the Lord as they see it, all temporal realities. Fr. Neuhaus addresses this overall concern by speaking of ecclesiastical competency in the matter, whether or not it is the opus proprium of the Church to negotiate with politicians about how to formulate a policy which, being realistic about it, will be primarily intended by the politicians to retain or acquire political office and power.

This danger might be minimized were the bishops to engage our entire society, not just Catholics, in public preaching and teaching on this matter, rather than to engage Catholic politicians (whatever that means any more) in private meetings. This would affect how Catholics and others see the issues, helping them to engage in the discernment necessary to exercise their proper role conscientiously. The public discussion that would ensue would contribute to the common good, and thus justify the bishops' efforts. And we are in an election season.

It also strikes me that since the ultimate criterion is the common good of society, about which there are surely many valid points of view, the effort of the Catholic bishops needs to tack toward what we ought not to do, rather than to discern some one perfectly sensible policy to follow. In fact, after describing the limits prescribed by the common good, the bishops should prefer to react to concrete proposals (especially if they are inadequate), rather than to attempt to assist in constructing them.

And exactly why there should not be disagreement under a democratic constitution is just not obvious to me.

But since the episcopal conference lacks (in Church teaching) a magisterial voice of its own, this effort should involve the informed and zealous preaching and teaching of individual bishops, rather than the well-intentioned negotiations of a committee of a conference.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Dialogue Mass

[The following is taken from St. Andrew Daily Missal, Dom Gaspar Lefebvre OSB, Copyright 1958, 1962 by Abbaye du St. Andre, Bruges, Belgium.]

The Practice of Dialogue Mass (sometimes called Missa dialogata or Missa recitata) is certainly one of the best ways of fostering participation at congregational Masses that are not sung. Not all the texts of the Mass should be said aloud by all the faithful: many belong to the priest alone (or to his assistants at solemn Mass): we can still make these parts our own, not by a mechanical repetition but by reverent and serious reflection, corresponding to the thoughts expressed by these prayers.

Other parts of the Mass were originally, and still are, meant to be said by the people. They are of two kinds: those that are to be chanted by the congregation at High Mass, and those that are answered by the ministers, or by the server at low Mass, on our behalf.

An instruction of the Congregation of Rites (de Musica sacra) issued Spetember 3, 1958, lays down four stages or degrees of dialogue Mass; by thus learning the practice gradually congregations can be brought to full participation in the holy mysteries.

The first stage is when the congregation makes the easier responses: Amen; Et cum spiritu tuo; Deo gratias; Gloria tibi, Domine; Laus tibi, Christe; Habemus ad Dominum; Dignum et iustum est; Sed libera nos a malo.

At the second stage the faithful say in addition all those parts which according to the rubrics should be said by the server. They also say before the Communion Domine, non sum dignus, three times.

At the third stage the faithful say with the priest those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass that at a high Mass are sung by the choir: the Kyrie, alternating the invocations, the Gloria in excelsis (joining with him from Et in terra pax), the Credo (from Patrem omnipotentem), the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei.

The fourth stage (which will be possible generally only in schools and other institutions and is allowed only on condition that it can be carried out with proper dignity) is when the congregation says with the priest certain parts of the Proper of the Mass: the Introit, the Gradual, the Offertory and the Communion.

Finally, continuing an innovation introduced by the recent reform in the liturgy of Good Friday, at low Masses the whole of the Pater noster may be recited in Latin by the faithful with the priest, all adding Amen at the end.

Assistance in this way at the holy Sacrifice is the ideal preparation for Holy Communion since it is that of the Pope, bishops and all priests, whenever they celebrate Mass. It develops in the soul those sentiments of contrition (from the Introit to the Collect), of faith (from the Collect to the Creed), of hope (at the Canon of the Mass), of love (at the Communion) and of gratitude (from the ablutions to the end), which are indispensable if the Eucharist is to be received fruitfully. By means of this preparation, the highest act of partcipation in the Mass is holy Communion. It obtains all its fruits, because it is one of the most perfect applications of the conditions required by the decree of St. Pius X, when he said, "a most abundant attainment of the effects of holy Communion is by a careful preparation and a thanksgiving proper to the reception of this divine Sacrament."