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Since 1531, the world has been blessed with the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe gracing the tilma of St. Juan Diego. Maybe we presume that that image will always be with us. God willing, it will. But it’s important to keep in mind that, originally, no one expected the miraculous image to remain indefinitely. After all, the plant fibers of Juan Diego’s tilma ordinarily would last for a total of maybe 20 years before they disintegrated. But they haven’t. And that only augments the miracle of Guadalupe.
The unfathomable privilege of possessing Our Lady’s own image is one that we must never take for granted. In fact, sermons in the centuries after the apparitions warned the faithful against just that. They stressed that, if the people did not take full advantage of the blessing of the Guadalupana by living holy lives, then the miraculous image might vanish just as suddenly as it had appeared.
For example, in 1792, Fr. Antonio López Murto preached a sermon aimed at uprooting any presumption in his hearers about their “right” to Our Lady of Guadalupe:
Most happy inhabitants of Mexico you are without doubt the peoples that Mary requested from God; the ones who were assigned to her as her own inheritance, taking possession of these provinces, that must be called the ends of the earth. You are the ones (what a blessing!) to whom she appears openly when you did not invoke her, and to whom she extended her beneficial hands and her cloak, even when you did not believe, when you lacked faith, when you opposed her with contradictions and obstacles …
Our Lady of Guadalupe’s steadfast presence for near 500 years is a tremendous gift of mercy. Fr. Francisco de Fuentes y Carrion sums it up in a sermon preached in 1707: “Mary’s coming down from heaven and remaining (in a certain sense) Sacramented her on the earth and hidden among humanity until the end of the world. And why? I will tell you why: in order not to leave us alone here on earth.”