Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Me and the Virgin (of Guadalupe)

Since my days as a Spanish student at the University of Tennessee, I have been intrigued by the story of la Virgen de Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico and Mexico's version of the Virgin Mary.

As a Spanish student I read about the conquest of Mexico and the appearance of la Virgen to the Indian Juan Diego.

As a Spanish teacher, I teach about la Virgen each December and show the movie Guadalupe.

I've always been fascinated with stories of people who pledge to crawl so far in the Basilica on their knees if she answers their prayers or the gang members who get large, intricate tatoos of her on their backs so that la Virgen "has their backs". There is also a current television series, La Rosa de Guadalupe, that tells stories of how la Virgen is watching over her people today.

During my spring break trip to Mexico City, la Basilica de Guadalupe was one of the places I was most interested in visiting.

I went on a Thursday around noon. It was one of the busiest tourist attractions I've ever seen. I call it a tourist attraction because it was apparent that the majority of visitors were tourists like myself. However, I'm afraid "tourist attraction" doesn't quite fit because most of the people, unlike myself, were there on a spiritual pilgrimage of sorts. Those Catholic tourists who found themselves in el D.F. that day went to the Basilica to honor and pay tribute to la Virgen.

As a Christian and Protestant, I view the Basilica as a place full of Mexican culture and history. I believe that the work of Jesus Christ on the cross was enough to redeem me and guarantee me eternity with Him in Heaven. I do not believe that I need to call upon the Virgen Mary, the Virgen of Guadalupe, or any other saint in order for God to hear my prayers. I believe that the work of Jesus on the cross tore away the need to approach God by a third party as was required under Old Testament law.

While all the crosses in the Basilica show Jesus still nailed to them, I believe in a cross that is empty. According to the New Testament, Jesus was taken from that cross dead shortly after he was placed there. His body was taken to a tomb that had been given to him. It was to that same tomb that Mary Magdalene went on Sunday morning. An angel appeared at that tomb to announce that Christ had risen from the dead. I believe in an empty cross because I believe in an empty tomb.

At the Basilica, I agreed to stay for Mass out of respect for my Mexican, Catholic travel companions. Although I certainly wasn't looking for it, I did receive a spiritual revelation there. It was as if Jesus himself were asking me why I can't worship and honor him like all those around me were worshipping la Virgen.

There were thousands there that day to pay tribute to la Virgen de Guadalupe. There is no spiritual tourist attraction like that for Protestants. Most Protestants, myself included unfortunately, are hard pressed to go to church once a week, let alone travel to a site central to their faith like Mexican Catholics.

I returned from Mexico as if from another world. My experiences during one week in el D.F. have made me re-evaluate certain things about my life on this side of the border. One of the most important of those is the state of my relationship with Jesus Christ. I am now challenged to live for Him in a new, fresh way.

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