10,000 Roses

Today I close my mini-series on Mary by resolving a story I began earlier - the story of how I came to peace with Catholic devotion to Mary. When I last took up this topic, Sr. Guadalupe was standing in my living room with her hands on my shoulders.  "Amy, she said.  You are changing very rapidly now.  Trust the Holy Spirit to lead you."  Her words were both a comfort and a disappointment.  A comfort because I could feel the wisdom in her counsel. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of wisdom and truth.  The Holy Spirit would never lead me against my conscience, so I had some breathing room.  At the same time, I was disappointed because I am a person who likes resolution, and I received none.

As the calendar rolled on, our parish began to prepare for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  To my shame, I learned that I was entirely ignorant of a story dear to the hearts of my Mexican brothers and sisters.  I had never heard of the Indian peasant, Juan Diego, or how Mary appeared to him several times with signs of roses and the imprint of her image on his cloak.  I did not know that Juan Diego's witness, along with the miraculous image, led to mass conversions of Aztecs. In an age when Spanish conquerors thought little of the intellectual or spiritual capacity of Native Americans, Mary by-passed the Catholic hierarchy and spoke directly to Juan Diego.  Mary could not be mistaken for a conquistador.   She expressed God's love in a form the natives could receive.  No wonder they loved her.

And yet, I was nervous. Protestants are wary of apparitions , especially those of Mary.  What if the story were not true?  What if there were some syncretism in the devotion?  Would my Lord disapprove of my participation in a practice which felt so foreign to me?  Would my Mexican brothers and sisters find my presence strange or out of place?  That sounds like a silly question, I know, but  Our Lady of Guadalupe is so strongly associated with Mexico that I wondered.

On the morning of Dec 12, 2000, I rose at 4:30 am, as eager for the celebration as any parishioner.  I was not participating to express my love so much as to test my stomach.  If there were any Marian devotion which would be a bridge too far for this morphing evangelical, this was sure to be it. Today, one way or another, I would resolve the question in my mind - could I be a Catholic in good conscience? I was full of fear and anticipation, but completely unprepared for what I witnessed in church that morning.

When I walked through the doors of Cristo Rey at 5:30 am (30 min. before mass), the pews were already packed.  But it was not the people who grabbed my attention; it was the roses.  Thousands upon thousands of them.  More roses than I had ever seen.  They were beautiful beyond words. Overwhelming. I stood motionless, agape, astounded at such an outpouring of love.

And then my heart melted.  Was such a display of affection too much for the mother of the Savior of the world?  Certainly not.  Would the King of Glory be less lavish in His gifts to His mother?  Surely the whole world could not contain enough roses for Jesus to give Mary.  The glory I was beholding in one little church in Austin, Texas could not hold a candle to the real treasure, the true glory and honor Mary receives in Heaven.  So why should I be sparing in my affection?

I am not sure exactly what changed in my heart that day, but I know peered a little deeper  into the riches of Christ.  I grasped for the first time the truth which a Catholic friend had tried to share with me before - it is impossible to love anyone too much. We can never love an individual as much as God loves him or her.  The more we truly love our neighbor, the more we will love God.   As faithful Catholics always say, contemplating Mary  leads us to Jesus; Jesus points to the Father; and the Father pours out the Spirit without measure.

Standing at the back of  my church, surrounded by 10,000 roses, I recalled Paul's words to the Corinthians. "Eye has not seen, nor ear has heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man all that God has prepared for those who love Him."  And then I heard a whisper which felt like the Holy Spirit. As the implication of the words washed over me, I was moved to chills and tears. "Amy, do you not love Me too?"