Friday, August 7, 2009

Our Lady of Guadalupe: More Than Flowers

Continuing with excerpts from Our Lady of Guadalupe, we continue to see the depth of symbolism speaking in every item and gesture being used. For instance, I didn't know that the bishop-elect had been lied to. The stories I remember just implied that he was a crusty old so-and-so who didn't like Indians (which is completely untrue as I discovered in reading this book). I didn't realize those flowers had to do double duty. Read on and see what I mean.
The bishop-elect, disarmed by Juan Diego's confidence, sent two men to follow him to make sure that Juan Diego was not up to any tricks. The two men trailed Juan Diego for a good while but lost sight of him as he crossed the ravine near the bridge to Tepeyac. After a desperate and unsuccessful search, they returned to Friar Zumarraga's home and, infuriated with Juan Diego for having wasted their time, told Zumarraga that Juan Diego was a sorcerer and a fraud who deserved punishment to prevent him from lying again. ...

[Our Lady gives Juan Diego a sign for Friar Z. by putting roses in his tilma.]

Perhaps it is in this moment, as the Virgin stoops to rearrange the flowers in Juan Diego's tilma, that we are given the most poetically poignant expression of what the apparitions at Guadalupe would have meant to the Indian people. In her appearances on Tepeyac, the Virgin takes what is good and true in the Indian culture and rearranges it in such a way that these same elements are brought tothe fulfillment of truth. In the Indian culture, flowers and song (which, you will recall, Juan Diego heard just before the first apparition) were symbols of truth -- more specifically, the truth that, though somehow intuited by reason, is never comprehensively grasped. Thus the Virgin's sign of flowers, which had to undo the lie told to Firar Zumarrage by the false messengers, possesses a double meaning: more than a sign for the bishop-elect that is impossible to explain away as a mere trick by Juan Diego; for the indegenous people it is a sign of truth.

[Juan Diego takes the flowers to the bishop who recognizes the truth, unties the tilma from around Juan diego's neck, takes it immediately to his private chapel, and welcomes Juan Diego to spend the day in his home.]

In the account of the Guadalupan apparitions and miracles, there are many significant moments of reconciliation. In the image itself, one sees a perfect harmony of cultures and their respective symbols that convey the same truth. But for the Indians and laymen, the impression of the Virgin's image on the tilma and the acceptance of Juan Diego's tilma into the chapel are perhaps the most significant moments. In the Indian culture, the tilma reflected social status. A peasant's tilma would be plain and undecorated, while a tilma with color or decoration was reserved for noblemen and peole of high social rank. For the Indians, the Virgin, by placing her image on Juan Diego's tilma, gives a new and elevated dignity to the common person and especially the Indian.

Moreover, this dignity is recognized by the bishop-elect when, as the head of the Church in Mexico, he publicly and personally accepts the tilma into his own private chapel and welcomes Juan Diego into his home. At this moment, all of Juan Diego's roles that had previously impeded his total participation in the Church after the conquest -- as an Indian, a convert, a layman, and a man of limited social significance -- are welcomed as having an important and decisive place in the Church and its mission of evangelization.

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