A few years back, on a Sunday in December, I realized that my day was packed to the gills with plans. It was so full of plans, in fact, that the only Mass I could fit into my frenetic schedule was the 1:30 PM Spanish service. It was either that Mass or no Mass.
Here I must pause and share one little detail that is crucial to this narrative: I do not know Spanish.
But I went anyhow. (See, God? See how much I love You?) And as it turns out, God must have been up there smiling and thinking, “Ginny has no idea how GREAT this is going to be.” For the day was December 12, the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
If you want to celebrate Our Lady of G, as I quickly learned, go to a Spanish Mass. It was, in word, fabulous. There was a procession to honor her, winding around the Mary grotto and into the church. There was a mariachi band dressed in white on the altar. “Viva la Virgen!” shouted the priest and various lectors. And, at the end of the service, parishioners crowded the altar, bearing small statues or framed images of Our Lady. They waited patiently for the priest to bless them before leaving, taking the icons back home.
Our Lady of Guadalupe has a huge following. There’s something about her that just grabs people. Maybe it’s the way she represents the marginalized, appearing to the disenfranchised Juan Diego rather than to the mighty bishop. Perhaps it’s because she is seen as a powerful advocate for the unborn (the black sash she wears is a traditional symbol of pregnancy). Maybe it’s the way she has become an icon of those who sacrifice themselves for the dignity of others; I think of how her image accompanied Cesar Chavez as he marched for the rights of farmworkers. She’s a Mary who feels particularly close to the people, all people. No matter how gritty or demeaned our lives may be, she is our champion. Not a one of us is outside the mantle of her love.
I think of a day I spent in San Francisco’s Mission District several years ago. It’s a neighborhood that is known for its Latino population and for its colorful, vivid murals. You can walk the streets and soak in these fabulous modern works of art, many of them dealing with themes of justice and peace and struggle. They are huge, these murals, stretching across entire buildings. There’s an alley, Balmy Alley, that is full of them, all painted helpfully at eye level.
And then, as you wander along the sidewalk, you happen to look up. Painted on the side of a building, way up high, is Our Lady of Guadalupe. And you realize that she has been there the whole time, and you didn’t even know it. She’s been there all along, watching over you, watching over everyone who walks the crowded streets and does their very best to make it, dignity intact, through another day.
Viva la Virgen!