The Monastery of the Trinitarians of Mary, Tecate, Mexico
ONE might be forgiven for thinking that Tecate, Mexico is the “armpit of Hell.” By day, temperatures can reach nearly 40 degrees Celsius in the summer. The land is pocked with massive rocks making agriculture nearly impossible. Even so, rain rarely visits the region, except in the winter, as distant thunderclouds often tease on the horizon. As a result, most everything is covered in a relentless fine reddish dust. And at night, the air is saturated with the toxic stench of smoldering plastic as industrial plants burn off their by-products.
Overall, the city of Tecate has a ghettoish feel, punctuated in places by the shanties of extreme poverty where scraps of material conceal windows and doors, barely covering the dignity of the souls who dwell therein. Even the big box chain stores carry only a fraction of the goods found only miles away, on the other side of the border, where hope for a better future constantly lures. And there is a palpable tension in the air… a spiritual tension… as Catholicism and superstition intermingle like vines twisting their way through an arbor. It is not uncommon to see crucifixes and images of Our Lady of Guadalupe sitting along side charms, amulets and immodest paintings. This was a country that was converted from paganism and human sacrifice centuries earlier through the miraculous tilma bearing Our Lady’s image… but clearly the battle between a Woman and a dragon is still visible.
In the midst of this desert, rising high above Tecate on the side of a mountain, is the monastery of an order of Sisters called The Trinitarians of Mary. Founded only in 1992, you’d think the order was established many decades ago given the number of buildings, stone walls, ornate gardens and statues that accentuate the expansive monastery. Foundress Mother Lillie says, “We don’t have any knees left, but we have a village now!” Indeed, everything, she says, has been provided through prayer and Divine Providence.
Mother Lillie is an American woman, probably in her late fifties. A mother of two and grandmother of four, she left a marriage of terrible domestic abuse that began at the age of seventeen. After the Church quickly issued an annulment, she was led on a pilgrimage to Fatima where the call to begin a contemplative order of nuns was born. Returning to Mexico, she found a plot of land on the side of a mountain where she and a few other laywomen began to adore and make reparation to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament—in the back of a truck camper, without power or electricity. Soon, other women began to join them until the Church officially recognized their association and growing charism. Mother Lillie eventually met with St. John Paul II, receiving his papal blessing.
St. Teresa of Calcutta also met with Mother Lillie, assuring her that this was a “work of God.” Indeed, the order is growing with five foundations throughout the United States and Mexico, with dozens of nuns and many young novitiates.
HEAVEN ON EARTH
One could easily be captivated alone by the rugged beauty, stunning Mexican sunsets, and soothing winds. But it’s not until one enters the main chapel for Mass that it becomes almost immediately clear: this is a place where Heaven touches earth. Is it the large monstrance situated on the altar overlooking the scenic mountains (just one of the many chapels where perpetual Adoration is carried out)? Is it the sea of blue and white veils that closely resemble the “look” of the Virgin Mary? Is it the stunning and angelic voices and harmonies that rise from these consecrated women, known in the region as the “singing nuns”?…. I was soon to find out, for it was here, to this “City of God”, that Our Lady was calling me this past Feast of the Assumption…
IF OUR LADY APPEARS…
“I think you and your parents should come to Mexico,” said John Paul, a Catholic businessman from Calgary, Alberta. “I’ll fly you down. I feel you need to come…” John Paul, a very courageous and wise entrepreneur, often spotted with a Rosary in his hand when he’s not working, was helping to fund and organize the building of a soup kitchen at the base of the monastery in Mexico (how that came to be is another story in itself). He was inviting us to come join other Canadians already there constructing it. He was speaking to my youngest daughter, Nicole, who had just finished two years of missionary work in Western Canada. Gearing up to go to college this Fall, she doubted whether or not she would have time. “I’ll talk to my folks and pray about it,” she said.
When Nicole brought the generous invitation to me, I did a quick inventory of farm and ministry work on my plate, and said with a chuckle, “The only way I’d go is if Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to me!”
The next evening, my daughter appeared at the dinner table and announced that she would not be going to Mexico. “I just don’t have time,” she concluded, sounding a bit disappointed. I stepped outside to get the mail, and upon returning home, opened up a card from one of my readers. On the front, was a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe painted by one of the Sisters of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity in San Diego. My daughter blurted out, “It’s Our Lady, dad!” I laughed, not making too big a deal of it (the skeptical news reporter side of me still clinging from my past).
The next morning, on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, my daughter received a text. It was from John’s son David, the young architect of the soup kitchen; he was already in Mexico. He sent Nicole a photo of a painting of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe given to him by the nuns that day. “Look dad!” she exclaimed. By now, I was starting to wonder, when my wife blurted out: “You need a third sign!” I thought I better go pray about all this, and so I opened up the Mass readings, and the first reading that day was Revelation 12, the woman clothed in the sun—which is exactly how St. Juan Diego described Our Lady of Guadalupe:
…her clothing was shining like the sun, as if it were sending out waves of light, and the stone, the crag on which she stood, seemed to be giving out rays. —Nican Mopohua, Don Antonio Valeriano (c. 1520-1605 A.D,), n. 17-18
With that, my daughter and I traveled to our country church and prayed the Rosary before the Blessed Sacrament. We knew it: we were called to go. When we got back into our vehicle, I flipped on the radio (which I usually leave off), and the first song that played was called “Mexico.” The chorus went something like, “It’s good to take a trip to Mexico.” Who says Our Lady doesn’t have a sense of humour?
But why? Why was Our Lady suddenly calling me to this far away place nestled in the mountains of Tecate? In my prayer the next day, I sensed a new dialogue beginning between a Woman, and her son, a dialogue that has continued since that day. I want to share with you some of the thoughts, silent words, and impressions that I sensed her leave on my heart that day and since…
My little son, I am calling you to Mexico, to the land of Guadalupe where I appeared to little Juan. There, I manifested God’s plan for these “end times”, the “woman clothed in the sun” who will crush the head of the serpent.
Here I call you to come and listen to my tender voice, as I will speak to your weary heart and refresh you for the final battle that lies ahead. You will lead many of my children through the desert to the safety of my refuge. You must be up to the task, my son, and so I am calling you for the daunting task ahead.
Little did I know then that the monastery to which we were being called was conceived in Fatima, that place where Our Lady appeared and announced that her Immaculate Heart would be our refuge. Also, the idea of spiritual refreshment sounded wonderful, as the ministry is most often Gethsemane. I also recalled a powerful word the Lord gave to me several years ago on the day He formally called me into this writing apostolate. It was from St. John Chrysostom:
You are the salt of the earth. It is not for your own sake, he says, but for the world’s sake that the word is entrusted to you. I am not sending you into two cities only or ten or twenty, not to a single nation, as I sent the prophets of old, but across land and sea, to the whole world. And that world is in a miserable state… he requires of these men those virtues which are especially useful and even necessary if they are to bear the burdens of many… they are to be teachers not simply for Palestines but for the whole world. Do not be surprised, then, he says, that I address you apart from the others and involve you in such a dangerous enterprise… the greater the undertakings put into your hands, the more zealous you must be. When they curse you and persecute you and accuse you over every evil, they may be afraid to come forward. Therefore he says: “Unless you are prepared for that sort of thing, it is in vain that I have chosen you. Curses shall necessarily be your lot but they shall not harm you and simply be a testimony to your constancy. If through fear, however, you fail to show the forcefulness your mission demands, your lot will be much worse.” —St. John Chrysostom, Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. IV, p. 120-122
The gentle interior words of this Woman continued…
Never be afraid to step out in faith, trusting that I am always holding your hand and guiding you. Never fear the loss of my love or that of my Son. We hold you near, as though an only child. Be at peace, little one, as you prepare to come to the land of the miraculous image of the Woman clothed in splendor. I love you my “little Juan”.
With that, we packed our bags, and three days later were off to the land of Guadalupe…
To be continued…
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