By Charlie Johnston
Today, I reflect in a meandering way on Our Lady of Tepeyac, whose feast day this is.
I have been told that, as things unfold, faithful Christians (be they Catholic or Protestant) and faithful Jews are to be treated as full partners in the works of mercy, of reclamation and struggle that are ours. I am told that one of the great fruits of the Storm is that the divisions in Christianity will end and we will once again all be one. Sometimes people assume that, like a football game, there will be a winner and a loser. It is far more like the reconciliation of a great family that has long been divided against itself, which means that all will win. Protestants will once again enjoy the unity and foundation they have so long lacked as Catholics regain many charisms that have long been lost to them. I do not know how the Jews play in, save that they were the first people of the One God. I was at a presentation given by a Messianic Jew (one who has embraced Christ as the Messiah) once and he pointed out something very interesting. He said that if the Jews had not rejected Christ, the faith might well have been contained to the Middle East; but because of that rejection, it spread throughout the world by evangelical necessity, a need that would not have existed had the people to whom Christ was first sent accepted Him immediately. There is a mystery there, and one worthy of contemplation. What seems objectively errant is sometimes a means God uses to spread the faith. He wants all His children safely back.
Having been, in my life, first Protestant, then Catholic, I am intimate with many of the virtues and vices of adherents of both. The divisions are now of such long-standing (498 years) that the label is of little use in assessing the holiness of the individual adherent. In both faiths, there are many who claim the title as a mere adornment, a type of cultural identification with no more significance than the color of their hair or eyes. Then there are the self-righteous prigs, who use their self-identification as the base from which to blast away at others. Seeing through the eyes of satan, they live to find the flaw, to accuse, those around them. And like the satan, they have their reward.
God draws good even from evil. In my lifetime, the pro-life movement has been a prime example of that profound truth. Abortion is one of the greatest evils in history. But God used the occasion of this evil to bring Catholics and Protestants, particularly Evangelicals, into close collaboration with each other for His purposes. In the process, they have found a deep appreciation for the authentic Christianity of the other – and come to see each other as fellow workers in the Lord’s vineyard rather than ancient antagonists. I know few seriously faithful Catholics who do not have great esteem for the Rev. Billy Graham, nor do I know many seriously faithful Protestants who do not have great esteem for the late John Paul II.
Knowing what a stumbling block Mary is for most Protestants (including me, once) I have often been reticent about speaking candidly about her role in this Storm. But the Lord has instructed me firmly on the matter. The first Protestants – Martin Luther and later, even Calvin, did not abandon veneration of Mary. It wasn’t until the movement was about 150 – 200 years old that the first hints of real hostility to her arose, and only in the last few centuries has it become ubiquitous. It really didn’t even have much to do with her. In order to tar those who had held fast to the ancient apostolic teachings and sacraments, some branches of Protestants attacked them as idolators. Since Mary was the most venerated of all saints, she became the prime target of such venom, despite the Biblical assurance that all generations would call her blessed (Luke 1:48).
When the Lord came the first time, He took up residence among us. He may visit, but when He comes again to take up residence among us, it will be right at the end of time and to bring those of the saved who remain on earth to take up residence with Him and the saints in heaven. Because He will grant the mercy of reclamation from a mass apostasy one more time, He sends His mother this time to bring us back to Him and rescue us.
I know some get confused at all of the different “Our Lady” titles. They are all the same person, Mary, but they signify different things. It is the same with each of us. I am the same person, but I am sometimes son, sometimes father, sometimes boss and sometimes subordinate among many other roles. One of the most commonly known forms is that of Our Lady of Tepeyac, who is commonly called Guadalupe, and whose image appears with this post. I used to think the title, Guadalupe, was errant because I was told Tepeyac is the proper title for these times. But I have come to think of the dual titles as a profound sign of unity for all times. When the Americas were in need of evangelization, Our Lady came with a European title – a profound act of mercy. Now that Europe needs re-evangelization, the great Mother of Conversion comes with an American title, another profound act of mercy.
In 1531, the poor peasant, St. Juan Diego, was visited by her several times on Tepeyac Hill, near what is now Mexico City. Most of the missionaries in the Americas were well-intended, but they had utterly failed to convert the Aztec Indians. The average Aztec was caught between a rock and a grinding stone. Their indigenous faith, the cult of Quexlcoatl (the infamous feathered serpent) required constant human sacrifice. The pyramids always ran red with human blood. The Spanish and Portuguese explorers frequently enslaved native peoples. The problem was so bad that, in 1430, Pope Eugene VII had made enslaving a native of the Canary Islands a matter of excommunication. In 1537, Pope Paul III explicitly extended the punishment to the enslaving of American Indians, as well.
The Aztec culture had long prophesied of a woman who would free them from the bloody requirements of Quexlcoatl. When Juan Diego tried to report the messages of Our Lady to his bishop, the bishop quite reasonably demanded some proof. On his last visit to Our Lady, a bunch of wild roses were blooming at the hilltop out of season. Our Lady told Juan Diego to gather them up in his tilma (an apron made of cactus fibers, commonly worn by working peasants) and take the flowers to the bishop. When he dropped them from his apron in front of the bishop, the image with this post appeared on his apron. (Interestingly, tilmas rot, usually within 20 years – and never last more than 40. Diego’s tilma, with the image of Our Lady on it, still stands in the cathedral in Mexico City, vibrant almost 500 years later). The titles of Our Lady are always related to where she appeared or to what her primary role in that appearance is. Diego explained to the bishop that this woman was, in Aztec (phonetically) tuh-quad-luh-SHOE-pay, which roughly translated means “she who crushes the serpent.” The bishop heard the name of the European Spanish City, Guadalupe, rather than the Aztec phrase, which is how the title came about.
The miraculous image spoke simultaneously to two cultures. I could go into detail on what it meant to the Aztecs, but suffice it to say it was recognized as the deliverance from the bloody cult of Quexlcoatl. Within a decade, 10 million Indians converted and the Cult of Quexlcoatl was consigned to the ash heap of history. When the missionaries failed, Our Lady came herself and accomplished the conversion to the worship of Her Son. Our little efforts to re-convert Europe and to convert Islam may fail, but so long as we hold fast to Our Lady’s mantle, she will prevail.
I know that she wants to be called by what she says is her proper title for these times, Our Lady of Tepeyac, because she told me so. She is the Mother of Conversion and her work is not finished. Through her guidance, the Church will be renewed, the Old World will be re-evangelized from the New World, and; taking root in the heart of the women, Islam will be converted to Christianity. (Sadly, the latter will not be completed until we have met Islam in a great and bloody clash). This was a prophecy given to me 17 or 18 years ago – and I regarded the election of Francis, the first pope from the Americas, the New World, as the beginning of the fulfillment of that prophecy. She has instructed me to spread devotion to her under that proper title. I have done so privately and some miracles have been attached to it. Now I do so publicly. I urge you, when you seek relief from some great illness, sorrow or calamity, go to Our Lady of Tepeyac and ask her to speak to her Son on your behalf. The Prayer of Miraculous Trust acknowledges her in every instance.
As the Storm rages to a time when all despair, rescue will come through Our Lady in the form of the Immaculate Conception. I am told that it is in that fundamental form that she has appeared in Lourdes, Fatima and now Medjugorje. Interestingly, two of my most important Novenas each year, that to Our Lady the Immaculate Conception (Feast Day, December 8) and Our Lady of Tepeyac (Feast Day, December 12) overlap right in the center. The work of the two forms is inextricably intertwined, conversion and rescue.
As I converted, reverence for Mary was a big stumbling block for me. I knew that veneration of her had been part of Christianity for an almost unbroken 1600 years before some Protestants started derogating her. I knew that she was the one case in history where the parent proceeded from the child rather than the child proceeding from the parent. Yet the aversion was so ingrained, I had trouble with it and just avoided it. On the occasion of my reception into the Church, someone gave me a beautiful Rosary. With no little trembling, I prayed that God would show me – that I was going to pray this Rosary for one month without telling anyone, walking with Mary through the mysteries of Christ’s life. I asked the Lord to show me. If it was wrong I would quietly put it aside and never say a word about it. If it was right, I would never put it down. I would trust God to show me. I entered into one of the most astonishing periods of sustained blessing in my life during that month. So I joined Pope John Paul II in proclaiming joyfully, “Totus Tuus!”
I have written before that nothing has so enkindled Our Lord’s anger as the general indifference and contempt with which so many who call themselves Christian treat His mother. If you honor Mary, you may pray as you wish. But if you are among those who treat her with indifference or contempt, I am commanded to tell you that the Lord speaks to you in the same manner as He once spoke to Job’s ‘pious’ friends: “You have not spoken rightly of me as has My mother. I will not hear your prayer. Go to my Mother and ask her to pray to Me for you and then I will forgive you.”
Our Lady of Tepeyac, pray for us, that we may honor you and be Our Lord’s instruments for the conversion of the world.