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'Behold, Your Mother'
The late Ludwig with his family Maria Esther, Maria, and Kurt stand before the official image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is being offered exclusively by the Marians in the United States and Canada. Working with the image changed Ludwig’s life.
by Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, MIC
"It's not a painting. It's a presence."
These thoughts immediately entered my mind as I experienced an extremely rare and precious gift, a gift that's usually just reserved for popes and prelates, a gift that hadn't been given in more than four years — the gift of being able to enter the boveda, the vault containing the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
As I stood in the boveda before that mysterious motherly presence, another thought came to mind, "What am I doing here?"
Good question. Here's the background.
Part of the mission of my community, the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, is "to serve the Church where the need is greatest." Well, some of the greatest pastoral needs in the Church in the United States are among Spanish-speaking Catholics. Because of this fact and thanks to a very generous Marian Helper, my community decided to print one million Spanish copies of our popular Marian book, 33 Days to Morning Glory — and offer them for free. Amazingly, all one million copies were then spoken for in just 10 days!
Well, the week after we announced the giveaway, I received a surprising phone call from a highly connected Mexican man named Noel who had been deeply touched by our gesture. He said, "I think Our Lady wants you to come see her." Then, he invited me to Mexico City to see the actual image of Our Lady of Guadalupe up close — and I do mean close.
Our Lady Up Close
The tens of millions of pilgrims who visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe every year have to behold Our Mother from a distance of at least 30 yards. Well, thanks to Noel's invitation, I got so close that I could have touched her. But I didn't reach out to her, at least not at first.
When I first entered the boveda, as I drew so close to an image that hundreds of millions of people have longed to touch, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of unworthiness: "What am I doing here? I'm just an American priest with a pitiful devotion to Our Lady." I used the words "pitiful devotion" because, earlier in the day, I'd been deeply moved by the faith and piety of the countless Mexican pilgrims I'd seen praying in the Basilica, which put me to shame. I thought to myself as I stood in the boveda, "They would all appreciate this a thousand times more than me. I don't deserve this!"
Along with the profound feeling of unworthiness, I was also overwhelmed with amazement. Seeing the image up close in that little room was not like looking at a painting. Rather, it felt like being before a presence. It's like the feeling you get when you step into a small adoration chapel where the Eucharist is exposed in the monstrance. The presence is so strong, it fills the whole room. That's how it felt with the actual image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. She was palpably present.
And there was something else about that image of Our Lady: She looked different from so many other reproductions I'd seen of her. Whereas, all the other images I'd seen of her were dull and grainy, this image was radiant and clear, and the colors were so vibrant. It really looked like she was alive!
As I knelt before this amazing motherly presence, I opened my heart in prayer, "Mary, millions upon millions of your children would appreciate this so much more than me. So please don't let this just be a gift for me but for them." I repeated that prayer over and over, and I felt that it pleased her. However, I didn't know what this prayer would mean until a few days later when I was introduced to Kurt and Maria Esther.
Maria Esther and her son, Kurt, own the rights to the highest quality digital image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the world, thanks to Maria Esther's late husband, Ludwig.
German by blood but raised in Mexico, Ludwig was one of the best technical photographers in the whole country. Known for his attention to detail and precision in capturing color and quality, he was an easy choice when the Catholic Church in Mexico sought a photographer who could take the highest quality official image of the country's patroness, Our Lady of Guadalupe.
One day, as he was taking these official photos in the boveda, Ludwig wanted to get a close up of Our Lady's face. Standing on a ladder, he zoomed in with his camera and suddenly became so startled that he just about fell off the ladder as he began exclaiming, "She's alive! She's alive!"
A Motherly Presence for Your Home
This experience of Our Lady's presence transformed Ludwig's life, a change that his whole family recognized. Previously, he had been a rather lukewarm Catholic. Afterward, however, he was on fire with love for Jesus and Mary, and he spread the image of Our Lady throughout all of Mexico, often giving it away for free. He even received a special blessing from Pope John Paul II for the archives of the images, which are registered by the country of Mexico and are endorsed by Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City.
Ludwig passed away in July of 2011, and his family has entrusted their image of Our Lady to the Marian Fathers, who have the exclusive rights to print and distribute it in the U.S. and Canada. Working with one of our partners in ministry, we're embracing Ludwig's mission of getting this highest quality image of Our Lady out to everyone.
Of course, we are overjoyed to share this amazing image first with you, our Marian Helpers. But remember, it's not just an image — it's a presence, a presence that you can now bring into your home. As Jesus from the Cross said to the beloved disciple, now He says to you, "'Behold, your mother.' And from that hour the disciple took her into his home" (Jn 19:27).
To order the image, visit DivineMercyArt.org.
Father Michael E. Gaitley, MIC, a bestselling author and popular conference speaker, is director of Evangelization for the Marian Fathers.