It’s tomato season here in central Ohio.  We pick the ripe red fruit only to find, a few days later, that there’s another basket waiting for us.  My mother-in-law, who has been responsible for teaching me her canning and preserving wisdom over the last few years, seems to have no end to her energy.

While we’re slicing the tomatoes and putting them in the pans to cook in round one, she throws out bits and pieces of the wisdom she’s gleaned over the years.  It’s not limited to tomato wisdom; she has shared all manner of goodies with me while we are at her kitchen sink.

When I stood at the sink in an endless streak of processing, filtering the seeds and skins using a contraption that made my four-year-old beg to help, she bustled back and forth, narrowly escaping burns even as she seemed to be everywhere at once.

Then, after the strained sauce had cooked down, she walked me through the specific process she uses, washing jars and sterilizing them, then putting them in the canner in groups of seven.  “Don’t forget to make sure they seal before you put them away,” she reminded me yesterday afternoon when I was leaving.  “We can still redo it, but if you wait too long, it’s no good.”

After making spaghetti with some of the sauce we made earlier in the day, reading stories and tucking the kids in, I collapsed on the couch.

“I’m exhausted!” I told my husband happily.

Because, truth be told, this is my favorite time of the year.  The smell of the tomatoes, the work of my hands, the teasing change of seasons…it’s the stuff of miracles.

Though I live on a farm, I’m as guilty as anyone of being removed from the physical lifestyle that, only 50 years ago, was a standard.  So when I read about some of the long-ago apparitions of Mary, I have to realign myself mentally.  I have to think about the message for those people, do some transposing to get the message to make sense to me, in my life now.

Our Lady of Guadalupe has always had a special place in my devotions, but after reading Our Lady of Guadalupe: Mother of the Civilization of Love, I feel like I have a better understanding of her message…then and now.  I see it as applicable even to me, even across the centuries.

If to serve is to become vulnerable through a gift of self, to serve through God’s love is to become vulnerable to God’s love and to experience service not as a loss but as a powerful fulfillment.  It is the vulnerability seen in Mary’s “yes” to God.  It is the vulnerability asked of Juan Diego, to change his direction and his plans and to risk the ridicule of Zumarraga’s servants, the humiliation of enduring Zumarraga’s doubt, the fear and disappointment of failing, the frustration of being entrusted with a task believed to be too large for his shoulders.

Our Lady of Guadalupe: Mother of the Civilization of LoveIn Our Lady of Guadalupe, we get the usual:  the history and the story.  What I particularly enjoyed, though, was the exposition of the symbolism and language of Mary in this apparition.  Her image on the tilma isn’t just a pretty picture.  Though I knew that, I didn’t fully appreciate just how deep that message ran; for the Aztec people of the time, the symbols were words, and the message was more powerful than I ever appreciated.

Though there’s not a really great image in the book (the cover is covered by title, unfortunately covering the majority of the image), we have a special image of Our Lady of Guadalupe hanging at our parish church.  I found myself studying it when I was there, and I know I’ll keep looking up at her, marveling and wondering.

We too often find ourselves between worlds: between home and work, between our private and public lives.  And yet, like Juan Diego, we are called to be witnesses of the truth — even when faced with disbelief.  We must be undeterred as we bring the message of the mother of our continent and her Son to all those we encounter.  We must witness by our lives, so that our example will be like a living tilma, and will provide a map to all we encounter of a civilization where love triumphs and motivates all action.

In the Guadalupan apparition, we have Mary appearing to an apparently insignificant person, a poor Indian convert.  Juan Diego was as “nobody” as it got.

Boy, do I know that feeling!

Throughout this book, which I received courtesy of The Catholic Company’s reviewer program, I found comfort and hope.  So much of what Our Lady of Guadalupe has to say is relevant to me now.  She meets me where I am.

It seems so fitting that I finished this book waiting for the tomato sauce to thicken.  With the red smell of cooking tomatoes in my nose, I closed the back cover.  Finishing a book and tasting the fruits of my labor are rewarding in a way so few things seem to be.  Clearing out Google Reader just doesn’t have the same satisfaction.  Emptying my inbox just doesn’t taste as good.  Answering all my messages doesn’t meet my inner need for creativity.

We have many more tomatoes to can.  The plants are bogged down with the promises of at least two more sessions in the next few weeks.  While I stand there, at the sink, I’ll think of Our Lady of Guadalupe and of Mary, the girl from Nazareth.  I’ll consider the work the Indians of Juan Diego’s time did and the humble clothing they wore.  The story will be mingling with cooking tomatoes in my mind, to the tune of my mother-in-law’s stories and advice.

I think that’s just the sort of beauty Mary intends for each of us, don’t you?