By: Sister Ines, OCD

“How absurd to expect a painter to use such an inadequate material for a portrait.” These were the thoughts of the 18th century Mexican painter, Miguel Cabrera as he studied the image of our Lady of Guadalupe imprinted on a poor man’s tilma (a coarse woven fabric used as clothing or covering by the Aztecs).

Not only is the fabric rough and the weave knotted in places, but it is woven as three separate panels held together by two flawed seams made of a thin and fragile thread. To further challenge its suitability, the canvas lacks sizing and has never been treated. For in order to fight the parasites that attack it, the agave fabric must be treated continually. Yet the image endures, and the canvas shows no sign of disintegration in nearly 500 years.

These are just a few of the findings made by notable figures including artists, doctors, scientists, researchers, writers, believers, and unbelievers alike who throughout the centuries have attempted to unlock the secret of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Once all human and scientific considerations have been exhausted, unlocking the mysteries can only be done from the vantage point of our knees.

Over the years I have become convinced that the discoveries made thus far are actually starting points to lead us to a profound and timeless message intended to teach us something about ourselves and the way God works in our lives. I smile as I consider the inadequacy of the tilma as a canvas for a masterpiece. Yet isn’t that what God does again and again? He takes the most unlikely characters and circumstances and uses them as the media of His all perfect and infinite designs.

Recent studies show that the knots in the weave actually add luster, depth, and dimensionality to the image! When I consider the knots and the fragility of the canvas I consider my personal history with all of its flaws and moral fragility. I think of those moments, decisions, and regrets that I wish I could rewind, erase, and re-make. Yet God – the Divine Artist – isn’t asking for that. He simply asks that I go to Him in all repentance and humility, fully trusting in His love, and eager to be forgiven, healed, and restored. He doesn’t demand that my soul’s fabric be free of imperfections before He can create the thing of beauty for which my life’s canvas was destined.

The Lord delights in humble hearts ready to be formed and used for His purposes. Our Lady gives us the prime example of a soul meek and humble and entirely disposed to God’s design. Although the canvas of our own life may be riddled with knots and lumps, perhaps these remain as a reminder of our fragility and that without the continued action of grace, we too are prone to decay. How wonderful that God takes the unlikely canvas of our lives with all the lumps, knots, and brokenness as the necessary material which gives luster and depth to the masterpiece He has in mind!