Today’s reading: Revelation 12
Today we read one of the most famous and debated passages in Revelation:
And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.
Who is this woman?
She is many things. She is Israel. She is the Church. However, most directly she is the Blessed Virgin Mary. That is clear from the text in that she is pregnant and gives birth to a male child that will rule all the nations. The child is, “caught up to God and his throne”. It is obvious that this child is Jesus and therefore the woman must, at least in one sense, be Mary.
In addition, God has made her identify definitively known it us in a profound way. I would like to share with you is the story of a simple man from Mexico, named Juan Diego.
In the early 1500′s, the Spanish had come to Mexico and the Aztec’s had been defeated (contrary to pop-history this was not a case of Europeans slaughtering simple peaceful Indians, the Aztec were fierce people who sought to capture the Spanish and use them as fuel for their religion of human sacrifice). The Spanish sought to convert the population from paganism, for decades they labored with almost no success.
In 1531, Juan Diego was an old man of about 50, a peasant, and a rare exception in that he had converted to Catholicism. One day traveling to Mass he saw a woman on the hillside. She spoke to him, identified herself as the Virgin Mary and told him to tell the Catholic Bishop that she wanted a Church built in her honor on that spot. Juan Diego went immediately to the Bishop and told him what had happened. The Bishop asked for a sign. Unbeknownst to Juan Diego, the Bishop specifically had in mind Yellow Spanish Roses as the sign. They did not grow in Mexico but only in Spain and even if someone transported them to the new world they were not in season.
Juan Diego returned to the spot and told the woman the Bishop’s request for a sign. In the field, flowers bloomed and the Woman told Juan Diego to take off his “Tilma”, the cloak made of cactus fiber that Mexican peasants wear. She arranged the flowers in the Tilma, folded it up and sent Juan Diego back to the bishop.
When Juan Diego arrived he opened his cloak to show the Bishop the flowers. They spilled out onto the floor and Bishop instantly fell to his knees in fervent prayer. On the inside of the Tilma was an image – A women clothed in the sun, standing on the moon, dressed in a cloak of stars. She wears a traditional Aztec necklace, given to women when they are pregnant. She looks similar to images of the Virgin Mary made throughout history, but she is also a “Meztica”, a half-Indian half-Spanish woman. She is undeniably the woman from Revelation 12. The image can be seen here:
After the appearance of this image, a Church was built on the spot of the Apparition. Whereas before the conversion of the Mexican people to Christianity had been slow, afterward 3,000 Mexicans converted every day for 10 years. Imagine that? At the first Pentecost, when Peter preached just weeks after the Resurrection the bible tells us that 3,000 people were converted. After the appearance of the image, now known as Our Lady of Guadalupe, a mini-Pentecost occurred every day for 10 years. In the end, the entire country of Mexico, upwards of 3 million people had become Catholic.
Juan Diego’s tilma still hangs in the Church built on that site. The tilma is made of simple cactus fibers, even under the best conditions it should last only 10 years but it has survived for 500. It has been examined by scientists and no explanation for the image can be found. In fact, the image is not even on the tilma. It floats above it. In the eyes of the Tilma, the image of the bishop dropping to his knees at its unveiling is forever frozen. No known technology from the 1500’s could produce this tiny detailed image. The stars on her cloak are arranged exactly as they appeared in the sky in 1531. Other miraculous details also exist. Scans of the image so no brush strokes even at the microscopic level. Once when the image tilma was taken down cleaning fluid spilled on the tilma – the harsh fluid should have destroyed the ancient cactus fibers but they repaired themselves. Furthermore, the tilma maintains itself at a constant temperature of 98.6 degrees, the same temperature as a human person.
Follow the links below to see the image and learn more about what has come to be known as “Our Lady of Guadalupe”:
Tomorrow: Revelation 13