Did you know that some people, i.e., my husband, think that aliens played a big role in the spread of Christianity? Ted’s version of the faith includes influences from his childhood viewing of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and his proximity to NASA in his formative years. Sadly, when you missed the Our Lady of Guadalupe pilgrimage last month, you missed out on some gems of insight into the Catholic faith by my husband (and erstwhile Methodist), such as this:
I have been trying to understand how you Catholics think. I think there’s Tier 1 and that’s it. There’s God, Buddha, whatever, and you have a direct, personal relationship with a higher being. So, you guys believe in tiers. Clearly, Mary was a Tier 2 person; she’s above all the saints, who are Tier 3. She was assumed into heaven, which is a big thing. I mean, Noah was called directly by God to save the world, so I would say Noah is just as important as Mary. There should be a few other people who are in Tier 2, in my opinion. I don’t understand this whole Mary thing. Why does she get Tier 2 all to herself, just because she was born without sin, gave birth to our Savior, was assumed into heaven, and all that? But what I learned on pilgrimage is, if you are a believer in all the apparitions of Mary, then it easier to think of her in Tier 2 status because clearly God is using her above all other Tier 3s to come back to earth and evangelize the faith.
And that, in a nutshell, is one of the many lessons of Theology by Ted that we learned on pilgrimage in Guadalupe.
After you and I returned from Israel years ago, both of us wanted to share our experiences with our husbands. You were lucky enough to return with Dave the following year, but God had other plans for us. I thought a Holy Land trip would have much more universal appeal to us because there is so much common ground for both our Christian denominations there. I didn’t think it would be wise to start him on a heavy-duty Catholic pilgrimage, like Rome or Fatima, where I would have a lot more ‘splaining to do. Accordingly, I prayed that we would be able to take a faith journey to grow closer in our beliefs. What God gave me was a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the second most visited Catholic shrine in the world behind the Vatican. It doesn’t get much more Catholic-ier than that.
A few of our pilgrims had met Ted before, but they hadn’t really experienced him. As we toured the Old Basilica, which has very uneven floors due to the sinking that plagues all of Mexico City, some might have been offended when Ted pronounced, “It’s like the Jesus Wacky Shack.” Others may have given pause when he asked me “Who’s the holy unicorn?”. For the record it was a statue of St. Jude, very popular in Mexico. By the time we got to our Mass on a balcony of the new Basilica and Ted expressed his pleasure at having a service in the “skybox,” most had figured out that he did not mean any harm. Our pilgrimage priest, Fr. Darryl, took it in stride when Ted pointed out that Mary was standing on longhorns in the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. “Or…it could be the moon,” Father countered calmly.
To be fair, the Shrine area is huge and it’s hard not to think you are in Catholic Disneyland. There is a blessing booth you can stroll by to get all your shrine shop purchases blessed, a separate baptism center, a giant Aztec calendar amidst all the religious statuary, and there is even a ride: an electric “Entrada” sign leads you to the moving walkway that takes you under the Basilica to see the tilma. Even on a random weekday in August, the shrine area was crowded with pilgrims, regional dancing groups in native attire, and flowers everywhere. I even noticed the somewhat unfortunate placement of a large Divine Mercy statue at the outdoor entrance to the restrooms, the banos of Divine Mercy. When I commented on the makeup of the crowd, which appeared to be mostly native, Ted reminded me that this is the Americas. At least he was right about that. It was jolting to have my view of the Americas re-centered on somewhere other than the US. The realization that we were outside our own individual cultures but coming together for something much larger gave me a great feeling of peace. We had come together, our mostly American group, Canadian priest, and our Mexican tour guide and the wonderful people of Mexico City, in a strange unity that defied even NAFTA.
With the size of the shrine and the city, all the pageantry, and stresses of travel, I was worried that I wouldn’t get much spiritual growth from our trip. However, when we spent our last and most beautiful morning of the trip walking up Tepeyac Hill (aka, Catholic Magic Mountain) to the shrine on the spot where Our Lady first appeared, I realized that what I gained from this trip was not so much personal insight but the understanding of being a part of something much larger. The Mexican people did not seem like “the other” to me. I finally got the significance of Our Lady as the patroness of the Americas. I think Ted also found something: a larger understanding of my faith, which he was trying to express as well with his Theology of the Tier System. He has wrestled with Mary and her many apparitions. Now, I think he sees some meaning in them.
In addition to small gifts, Ted and I each bought one “big item’ on our trip. I picked out a giant Aztec calendar, as a remembrance of the culture I felt I had experienced more closely. Ted’s choice? A giant processional banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Perhaps he will carry it around the neighborhood on December 12.
Video of riding under the tilma!