Especially during the months of pregnancy, Our Lady walks the road beside us so we know we are not alone.
It’s been almost 500 years since a beautiful dark-skinned woman appeared to St. Juan Diego on a hill outside Mexico City and asked him in his native language, Nahuatl, to build her a church on that site.
Over the centuries, Our Lady of Guadalupe has not faded out of memory but has grown ever more important for Catholics around the world, especially for Mexicans, for whom she is a treasured symbol of cultural identity. And as Patroness of the Americas, her influence is incalculable on the many generations who have lived in North, South, and Central America since her apparition.
Her image is different from other apparitions and even from most artistic depictions of Our Lady. These differences make Our Lady of Guadalupe a natural and sympathetic intercessor for pregnant women, a companion and guide who can truly walk through the months of pregnancy alongside expectant mothers. These two reasons in particular elucidate why mothers can turn to “La Guadalupana” for prayers and deep understanding.
1. OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE IS PREGNANT HERSELF
Our Lady of Guadalupe appears as a pregnant woman, probably very near to giving birth (which makes sense, given that the apparitions took place only a few weeks before Christmas). Her pregnancy is apparent, not only because of her rounded abdomen, but because of the black sash she wears around her waist, which indicates that she is with child.
It’s still rare today to see images of Our Lady during her pregnancy—she is usually shown after giving birth—and it was even less common at that time. Mary’s choice to appear as an expectant mother is an act with great significance for all pregnant women.
When expectant mothers see an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, they see someone who is walking in their shoes, quite literally. Pregnancy is replete with aches and pains, especially in the later months. Our Lady of Guadalupe intimately understands what a pregnant woman is going through, both the physical discomfort and the emotional upheaval that often comes with the territory (thanks to those pesky pregnancy hormones!).
Besides the tiredness and physical vexations that come with any pregnancy, Our Lady had to make a long and difficult journey very soon before giving birth. She had to leave her family and hometown to have her baby far away from home. If anyone can sympathize with the concerns and uncertainties plaguing a pregnant woman, especially during this pandemic when so many things seem topsy-turvy, it’s the wise and gentle woman at Tepeyac Hill.
Her response to these difficulties, of course, is an inspiration to us all. She retained her inner peace and trust in God throughout all the hardships she faced. In imitation of her, all Christians, especially pregnant women, can turn to her intercession when we face problems that test our serenity and faith. We can ask her to share that abiding peace with us.
2. SHE BRINGS A MESSAGE OF RADICAL CONSOLATION
When my young children inevitably fall and hurt themselves, or panic at the loud sound of the garbage truck, I have a go-to phrase to calm them: “You’re safe. I’m here.” They know that their mama’s job is to keep them safe and comfort them from the scary things in life.
At times, I wonder, who is here to sympathize with and comfort us adults? Parents, and anyone who cares for children, are called to be a source of calm and emotional stability for the little ones in our lives, but this work can be exhausting. At times (especially in 2020!), it feels like we have no one to lean on ourselves.
I was thinking about this when I came across Our Lady of Guadalupe’s message to her children, spoken to St. Juan Diego:
Listen, put it into your heart, my youngest and dearest son, that the thing that frightens you, the thing that afflicts you, is nothing: Do not let it disturb you … Am I not here, I who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need something more? Let nothing else worry you or disturb you.
Her message, assuring her beloved child not to be afraid because she is present, is one that is familiar to all mothers. How many times have we spoken similar words ourselves? But to hear them spoken to us, instead of by us—to know how deeply and personally we are loved, not only by Christ but also by His cherished mother—is enough to take one’s breath away.
In pregnancy and motherhood, and indeed in almost all areas of life, it’s almost a guarantee that something won’t go as planned and expected. Through all of this, Our Lady of Guadalupe reassures us, saying, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here.” In troubles and sorrow, in fear and confusion, like anxious children clinging to a sure refuge, we can find comfort in her embrace.