The story of the Angel Gabriel coming to a young woman, a girl really, and saying, “Be not afraid,” has a long history.
The first time I participated in the feast day was in Mexico where I lived at the time, and my friend Katy and I went to Basílica of Santa Maria of Guadalupe in the northern part of Mexico City.
We went because a week previously, out driving in the country, we’d seen streams of people walking toward the city, along roads, converging paths, thousands of people heading toward the city. Some walked, some went on their knees.
On the eve before the feast day, with streams of people now walking through the city, and Mexico City is a very large city, we decided to follow.
It was one of the most astounding things I’ve ever seen. And I say “seen” because we didn’t really participate the way Mexicans do. We parked the car some blocks away and followed the silent crowds.
We passed one man, moving slowly forward on bloody knees, his wife laying mats in front of him, walking behind him, moving the mats forward as he, in obvious pain, kept going.
The new Basilica is circular, more than 300 feet in diameter, and can hold 10,000 people. It looks like a space ship set down on the plaza, lighted windows circling the top. Juan Diego’s cloak, Diego who received the vision of the Virgin and wrapped her roses in his cloak and carried them down the hill to the bishop, hangs here behind bullet proof glass, a faint imprint on the cloth visible.
Entering a space where thousands of people are quietly praying, or moving up one aisle, down another, standing in line to step onto the moving walkway that passes below the cloak, movement movement movement, prayers whispered, no music, was as peaceful as a hive of bees, quiet, gentle, helping each other. We saw families huddled in shawls against the outside wall. Peacefully sleeping. There they would sleep through the night. Safe.
Above, on the hill Tepeyac, is the chapel built to Juan Diego on the site of his vision.
We climbed the steep stairs, crisscrossing the hill, to a landing. A young man, bloody knees and hands, lay sleeping. Two policemen stood guard over him as he slept in peace.
Do not be afraid. A phrase that appears in various phrases and ways throughout The Bible.
When angels appear, they say, do not be afraid.
And all the time we hope and wish for an angel to guide us in our lives and have no idea how fearful it might be to have one actually appear.
Be not afraid.
Perhaps, taking angels as our cue, we can walk through these days leading to Christmas, now two weeks from today, and tell each other “Don’t be afraid.”
Fear, for security or journeys or guns or crowds or all the myriad things for which we often say, “I’m afraid…..” that won’t work, or I won’t be there, or it’s too late, or the country is falling apart…
We say, “I’m afraid……” casually and often, not realizing what we’re saying.
What if we were to start saying, “I’m at peace.” How would that change behavior? How would we act towards ourselves? To others?