The Gentle Vulnerability of the Guadalupana
Para la traducción en español, haga clic aquí.
Since I was a little girl, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe fascinated me. Growing up in the Bible Belt, she was the most Biblical of all the figures of Our Lady that I knew. Her seeming shyness in the midst of the powerful symbols of the sun, the moon, and the stars of Revelation 12, as well as knowing that she could be found somewhere close to the South, made her even more enigmatic and thus that much more real. With the opportunity to travel to Mexico to do interviews on masculinity and femininity, I worked on my Spanish for over a year and yet sat, intimidated on the plane, realizing that besides my love for the Guadalupana and my enthusiasm for spicy food, I really didn’t know the Mexican people that I was going to encounter. What were they like? What did they love? How did they – the only people whose identity is inextricably linked to a Marian apparition – understand and experience their being a woman or being a man? Learning that St. John Paul II’s first pontifical visit, right before he began to give his theology of the body catecheses, was to Mexico and to the house of Our Lady of Guadalupe, made me feel that there was something surprising and unique waiting for me. In this elaboration of “a theology of masculinity and femininity,” it was Our Lady of Guadalupe that was also to be the first Marian shrine that I would visit.
With Tanya, the friend and theologian who accompanied me for the first of the three weeks, I was able to visit the sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe. We attended a packed Mass, with the bishop of Zacatecas celebrating on the feast of the Holy Name of Mary. Surrounded by children, teenagers, and Mexican grandmothers and fathers, we emerged to see dances taking place in the square, perhaps similar to the dance of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the tilma. We walked up the hill to Tepeyac and spent hours in prayer, as Mexican families walked in and out, pausing to pray at the altar rail.
This was the spot where Our Lady had appeared to St. Juan Diego almost 500 years ago, in 1531. It was this moment, in an unprecedented sociological event, that drew 9 million indigenous to the faith in less than 10 years. Looking into her face, the face of a mestiza woman whose codex symbols clearly indicated that she was the Mother of God, they realized that their culture would not be terminated, but transformed. And it was here that a mestiza people – no longer purely Spanish or purely indigenous, but a combination and transformation of both – was born.
What then did I encounter in the mestiza people of the Guadalupana, the people formed by this encounter with the Mother of God? Above all, I met a beautiful, gentle vulnerability – not a passivity, but a genuine, human desire to offer a relation and to be in relation. Time after time, the Mexicans that I met – the Uber drivers who shared with me their own solitude, suffering, their joy in love – desamor is now my most favorite Spanish word!; the Oblatas de Jesús Sacerdote, the sisters who opened up their home to us and made pozole, traditional soup for Tanya and me to enjoy on the eve of Independence Day; and the strangers who helped us with the ATM or buying bus tickets, and then cautioned us not to trust strangers – all of them shared with us this same beautiful, gentle vulnerability.
Above all, this gentle vulnerability was encountered in the interviews and the relationships that evolved. Although I’ll be summarizing more in the coming weeks, two in particular struck at my heart. In our first interview, Marco Lôme, director of the Guadalajara section for the John Paul II Pontifical Institute in Mexico, shared his own personal journey. It was in the desire for love that he discovered the need for a new masculinity, a masculinity that left him neither a “macho,” domineering and convinced of a woman’s inferiority, nor “mandilón,” the man who obeys a woman in everything. This need for “new masculinities” was a constant in the interviews with both men and women: What will this new masculinity look like? How can it be lived? Where, in the heritage and the history of the Mexican people, can the impetus for this masculinity already be encountered?
Strikingly, the feminine counterpart in the interviews, was also a series of questions: how can our cultural battles – against domestic violence, sex trafficking, inequalities in the workplace – be addressed without each woman forgetting that the most important place to fight the “Conquista” is in her own heart, in realizing her own femininity, encountering herself as a woman? This was exemplified by a second interview, one that had not been planned. Tanya and I had been in Mexico for only a couple of days when we met for dinner with Craig Johring, founder of Hope of the Poor. He insisted that we speak with Sandra Mora, one of his co-workers. Sex-trafficked at the age of 8, a reality which is becoming more frequent also in the United States, she had lived on the streets until the age of 30. When Sandra and I met a few days later at the Basilica of the Our Lady of Guadalupe, the mother of Mexico, Sandra sat and spoke with me for over an hour. As she recounted her life story and I listened, both of us with tears in our eyes, it became clear that her story was not one of misery, but one of hope. Despite her abuse at the hands of some of the men of her own culture as well as her own personal battles, she rejoices in life, as the mother of 12 children, 10 of whom she has taken in off the streets. Speaking of what motherhood means for Mexican women, her face glowed. It was her motherhood, she told me, that had kept her fighting for her life and which now guided the way she loved these 12 children. In beginning to discover her own maternity, she had found the strength to also fight – without bitterness – the cultural battles before her.
It was in this intimate sharing from women and men, this gentle vulnerability towards myself –hospitality and solidarity towards an almost completely unknown gringa or güerita –that I encountered the great gift of the Mexican people. Like Our Lady of Guadalupe, who offered herself in relationship to St. Juan Diego the indigenous, to Bishop Zumárraga the Spaniard, and from their acceptance of her femininity became the mother of a new people, the mestizos of Mexico, I too felt myself to be offered a new relationship. As she spoke 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?
And, as at least one interviewee noted, if this same offer of gentle vulnerability in relationship could begin to more profoundly characterize not only relationships in general, but also to transform the masculinity and femininity of Mexico, what a great gift to the world that would be!