Advent Feast: Our Lady of Guadalupe
Marian themes are predominant throughout the liturgy of Advent and Christmas; in fact the whole month of December could be dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. But the second week of Advent I always consider the most Marian week, since it usually includes two high feasts of Mary. Both of these days are patronal feasts for Americans, with the Immaculate Conception as the patroness for the United States of America, and Our Lady of Guadalupe as the patroness of the Americas.
This year this feast of Guadalupe has special meaning to me, as that is the day when I will undergo my open heart surgery to correct a congenital condition. Our Lady has been especially holding me close since August 15, which was the first date of my diagnosis. Through all these months I’ve been comforted and meditating on of the words of Our Lady to Juan Diego,
"Hear and let it penetrate into your heart, my dear little son:
let nothing discourage you, nothing depress you.
Let nothing alter your heart or your countenance.
Also, do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain.
Am I not here who am your mother?
Are you not under my shadow and protection?
Am I not your fountain of life?
Are you not in the folds of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms?
Is there anything else that you need?
Her words are total reassurance! I will go in confidence knowing I am wrapped in her arms, covered in her mantle.
When talking about Our Lady of Guadalupe to my children, I want to highlight Our Lady’s maternal solicitude and tenderness, and the childlike simplicity of St. Juan’s Diego’s faith and obedience. The intention is to help see how we should imitate Juan Diego, and turn to our Lady for her love and protection.
I’ve found a few picture books that really capture this spirit. Before some reader groans about “picture books” I’ll just explain that the right kind of book should concisely capture the true spirit and essence of the subject both in words and pictures, and that all ages, even adult, would find the book universally appealing.
Tomie de Paola’s The Lady of Guadalupe has been our first choice for many years. It is out of print, except for a Kindle version. I love how Juan Diego is presented as a humble, patient and childlike. The portrayal of the Bishop is also very positive, showing him as prudent, not insulting to Juan Diego.
I was delighted to discover that a new book Our Lady of Guadalupe by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand also portrays the story very accurately. For a family trying to build their library, this would be the replacement book for de Paola. The words of Our Lady are presented accurately, and her loving tenderness to Juan Diego shines throughout the book. This is also a shorter, more compact story, so this would appeal to younger children with shorter attention spans.
Some of our favorite special books are the “Pop-Up” books. Last year my younger son, whose birthday is the day after this wonderful feast, received this gorgeous Our Lady of Guadalupe by Francisco Serrano. The illustrations do not disappoint.
My highlight today, though is Spirit Child: A story of the Nativity (Aztec) translated by John Bierhorst and illustrated by Barbara Cooney. While this book doesn’t cover the story of Guadalupe, I think it captures the childlike simplicity, uncomplicated and transparent, that Jesus told us to embrace: “Unless you become like a little child...” (Mt 18:3).
The book is an English translation of an excerpt from a manuscript written in the middle of the 1500s by the Franciscan missionary, Fray Bernardino de Sahagún. Combined with the beautiful illustrations depicting the Nativity story through an Aztec's eyes, the book helps places the reader into the culture of the time with the Franciscans sharing with the Aztecs the Gospel message. The manuscript was written only a few years after Our Lady appeared in 1531. We can see the Aztecs wearing their tilma, just like St. Juan's. The story gives a feel of the surrounding geography and culture of Mexico of that time.
From the back page of the book comes this explanation of the text:
The story of spirit child was recited by Aztec chanters to the accompaniment of the upright skin-drum called huehuetl and the two-tones log drum called teponaztli. Composed by the missionary Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, who had the assistance of Aztec poets, it combines stories from the Bible, medieval legends, and traditional Aztec lore. Clearly the basic materials comes from the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Various details, such as the descriptions of the devil and the mention of miracles that occurred on the night of Christ’s birth appear to be drawn from European folklore. Yet the manner in which the story unfolds, with its short paragraphs, its dialogue, and its way of addressing main characters directly, is very much in the Aztec tradition. Several passages, including the angels’ song to the shepherds, even use Aztec figures of speech. The story is preserved in Sahagún’s Psalmodia Christiana (Mexico, 1583), a book written entirely in the Aztec language and one of the first books published in the New World. The present translation, the first in any modern language, has been made from a microflm of the Psalmodia taken from a copy of the book itself in the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University. The folio numbers of the passages from which this version has been made are 16v-17v, 18v-23v, 48v-49v, 51v-57v, and 230v-236.
Our family loves singing and reading the different versions of The Huron Carol, and Spirit Child falls into the same genre. We see through the missionaries' and the Indians' eyes. The story of the Nativity is retold in language and cultural spirit the Aztec understands. But nothing is watered down -- the whole truth of the Faith is presented, just given in a way that they can understand.
And perhaps this is why this book is so appealing. The simple but wholly reverent way of sharing the Nativity story is profound, but even the little innocents can comprehend. The book gives me a lesson on how I should be distilling the faith to my children -- nothing watered down, nothing but the Truth, all reverence, all beauty.
The story begins where the story of Redemption begins -- after the fall, and the gates were closed:
For five thousand years after the world began, the devil was king. He was proud and mean, and there was no one anywhere on earth who could save us from his hands.
Many people had been born who were strong and intelligent and who lived good lives, but they did not have the power to save either themselves or anyone else from the hands of the devil.
The devil is clever. While we are alive on earth, he never shows us how many terrible things he will do to us later. While he laughs, he closes our eyes and makes us blind. Then he takes us away to the Dead Land.
In the Dead Land, there is nothing but hunger and arguments all the time, and sickness, and hard work.
But the name Jesus already existed before the world began. This was always his name, even before he was born. When he came to earth, the things that he did was to save people from the devil. And just like the thing that he did, so was his name, because the word Jesus means savior of people.
O spirit, O child, you are the flame, you are the light of the almighty father, O child, remember how you were born long ago.
I love how Mary and Joseph’s virginity, even after marriage, is illustrated:
There was a certain Joseph who was very wise and whose heart was good. It was he who married the young woman who was to become the mother of the spirit. And yet, though married, she remained a young unmarried woman. Joseph, too, though married, remained a young bachelor. He never really stopped being a boy.
And what a lovely way it speaks of St. Joseph:
God the father had chosen Joseph to be the guardian of his child because Joseph was more good-hearted than other people in the world. So Joseph became God’s servant, the one who took care of God’s child.
And the story fills our hearts with the longing, the urging of Him to Come, our Advent plea:
O spirit child! All the people of the world are waiting for you. We are prisoners tied in chains, and you can save us. You are the light, and we are in darkness. Come soon, come keep your promise.
O sacred king of Jerusalem, O sacred prince, O noble child, wake up! Be alive! The skies will be glad, and the earth will dance.
The nativity story continues to unfold. I don't want to give away all the text, but I have to share the summary after our Savior is come:
His holiness and mysteriousness are exactly the same as the holiness and mysteriousness of God the father himself. It is God the father who has become a human being and has come to live among us.
He has come to be our savior. Everyone can be spared. The devil has no power to seize even a single person from the hands of Jesus.
Now a heavenly peace has come over the earth. Now everywhere in the world a beautiful rain, a wonderful rain is falling. A miraculous rain has come over the earth.
Now this is the day of salvation that was long awaited. It shines on us, it lights our way.
It moves me to tears when I read how beautifully and reverently this is worded.
And here is another place where St. Francis enters our Christmas. I shared this with my mother, who is a secular Franciscan. I knew she would want to read this wonderful text written by a Franciscan priest so many years ago. She pointed out to me that the style of writing, going from narration to speaking/praying to God within the text is how St. Francis wrote. So, while it was written appeal to the Aztecs, it is also the Franciscan style of writing.
The book is currently out of print, the last reprint being a few years' ago, but there are many used copies available. Also check your library. This is just a perfect book to fit into the Advent preparation and the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe!
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