Once, when my mother was teaching me to drive an all-terrain vehicle at our family cabin, I accidentally drove it up a steep embankment. The ATV flipped backward and landed on top of me in a ditch. Remarkably, the 500-pound vehicle landed perfectly upside down to cradle me. More remarkably, thinking I’d been crushed, my 110-pound mother rushed over and literally threw the ATV off me.
Fierce. That’s my mother. And it’s also how I imagine Mary. Such “fierceness” comes through in the Scriptures for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. One option for the first reading comes from the sixth-century-BC prophet Zechariah, the other from the first-century apocalyptic book of Revelation. In Zechariah, God comes in power to “possess” or repossess Judah and Jerusalem after a long period of exile and trauma. God promises to right the world by unifying the nations and dwelling among them (2:10-17). In Revelation, a cosmic queen gives birth to the Messiah, undeterred by Satan (the great red dragon), who waits to devour the child (12:1-6). This breath- taking image of a woman “clothed with the sun” is widely understood in Catholic thought to be the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The authors of Zechariah and Revelation were prophetic voices of hope during times of great upheaval. They provide visions of a world at peace after God swoops in to protect a suffering people and reorient unjust systems. Such images of fierce protection and care, especially for the suffering and oppressed, have come to exemplify Mary in Catholic tradition.
Following either first reading is Judith in the Responsorial Psalm. Her story details the courageousness and resourceful- ness of a Judahite widow in saving her people from a powerful invading army. But we miss the messy details! Judith seduces the army commander Holofernes, plying him with wine until he passes out (12:16-20). She then chops off his head (13:6-10). Despite how we may judge her actions, for an oppressed people they were a “deed of hope,” and Judith was hailed as “blessed by the Most High God above all other women on earth” (13:18). Besides Judith, only two other biblical women receive such proclamations of blessing: Jael, who also kills an army commander (Judg 5:24) and Mary (Luke 1:42).
How does Mary fit alongside Judith and Jael? Her actions were unparalleled. Whereas most recipients of angelic visions in the Bible are overwhelmed by fear, she stood before the angel Gabriel courageously. And her “yes” (Luke 1:38) is equivalent to the biblical “here I am”—the prophetic response of utter alertness and readiness to follow God at all costs. This poor, young Jewish girl thus became the physical channel for God’s salvation and hope.
Over time, Mary became the symbol of Church growth. Her many names and physical representations reflect her importance across race, language, and culture. In response to the divine will, she promises protection that blankets and unites the world and cares especially for the most vulnerable. When she appeared to Juan Diego as a young Indigenous woman, she asked, “Am I not here, I, who am your mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection?” And Our Lady of Guadalupe in turn called Juan Diego to make manifest Christ’s presence and concern in Mexico. As she called to him, so she calls to us: Is she not our mother? Are we not under her shadow and protection? She is our fierce advocate. In return, should we not be fierce in our commitment to protect and care for others?