Coincidences That Aren't
Our Lady of Angels
by Sarah Reinhard in Faith on Monday, August 02, 2010 6:00 AM
The feast of Our Lady of Angels is today, August 2.
I have a habit of nicknaming people, whether in my head or so that they know it. (I do it to myself, too, just to be fair about things.) I was explaining this, some time ago, to a sister-in-law, who was touched by my nickname of her.
You know, people only nickname those they love, she said.
Well, maybe. (Im not always generous in my mental nicknaming games.)
In the case of Our Lady of Angels, though, a Costa Rican title of Mary with a delightful story, the nickname La Negrita is one of fondness and affection. They have good reason to smile when they use this nickname, for the little statue with the cute nickname caused quite a stir.
On a footpath near Cartago, Costa Rica, the mulatto peasant Juana Pereira was gathering firewood on August 2, 1635, the feast of the Holy Angels, when she saw an odd light coming from the trees by the path. She followed it and there, tucked into a larger rock, was a stone statue.
It was black and about three inches high. In it, Mary was carrying Jesus on her left arm, gathered into the folds of her mantle. He was reaching up, almost as though reaching for her face, and she was looking down, though not at Him.
Juana took the statue home. Though she was poor, I doubt she considered selling it. Maybe she took it as a sign that God was at work in her life, despite her hardships. Perhaps she had plans to take it to her priest. Maybe she was just going to enjoy having a statue of Mary and Jesus in her hut.
Do you suppose Juana panicked when she found the statue missing? Had she told anyone about discovering it? Could they have stolen it?
The Disappearing Statue
The statue had returned to the rock where it had been found. This happened once more, for a total of three relocations from her hut back to the rock, before Juana took the statue to her parish priest, who put it in the churchs tabernacle.
It took four more of these strange relocations before someone said, You know, it might not be a coincidence that this statue of Mary and Jesus keeps disappearing from locked cupboards and tabernacles and ending up back at that rock, and decided maybe Mary wanted a shrine built near that rock.
The shrine of Our Lady of Angels, or La Negrita, became a destination for pilgrims, and especially for the poor, outcast, crippled, and hurting. In 1926, the image was solemnly crowned, recognized as holy and worthy of veneration. Then, in 1935, Pope Pius XI named the shrine a basilica, showing the high respect and sacredness of the site and the title of Mary.
A Small Statue with a Big Lesson
The Costa Rican image of Our Lady of Angels is humble. Its not sparkly and golden, though its displayed in a large gold monstrance at the basilica.
Its just a small piece of carved stone, one with an inclination for showing up back where it was found. It reminds me that I never know when or how Ill get the help I need.
La Negrita didnt appear to someone rich and learned. As she often does, Mary chose a lowly person, someone who could embrace the miracle and enjoy its beauty, despite the appearance of coincidence. She found a person who would welcome her and give her a tender nickname.
In my day-to-day life, immersed in rational thinking and left-brained activity, its easy to ignore the existence of miracles. I could think of my alarm clock as a cheap piece of plastic and completely ignore the fact that every single time Ive forgotten to turn it on for that crazy Adoration wake-up time, Ive still been up in time. It is, after all, just a coincidence.
Or is it?
The Lady of the Angels
Angels are the closest beings to God in heaven, and Mary is their queen. The title Our Lady of Angels shows a respect for Gods plan and His ordering of things, as well as a specific veneration for His mother.
Instead of Mary with a gown of gold, Mary is carved from black stone. Within that simple stone statue, though, theres the possibility for healing and wholeness. As Mary holds her Son, she looks down to the angels holding her.
Do you think she would pass Him to one of them, so I could have a closer look? Would she hesitate to share her Baby with anyone who wanted to hold Him? Is there any better way to find the path to heaven?
Sarah Reinhard struggles to find the miraculous in the mundane and the beauty in the ordinary in her little corner of cyberspace, SnoringScholar.com.