Today is the Feast Day of St. Juan Diego Cuauhlatoatzin, following on the heels of yesterday’s Feast of the Immaculate Conception. I love the Feast of St. Juan, a simple and poor man. I think at this time of year, it really brings home that the Holy comes to all of us, especially the least of these. He was born in 1474 in what would now be Mexico City and his name meant “the talking eagle”. I love eagles, as some of you know. They are strong, majestic birds who often leave me breathless. I have seen two lately, one just yesterday, flying across my path, startling me at this time of year but bringing a smile of awe to my heart. I wonder if his name is part of the reason I am so drawn to this man.
En route to mass, St. Juan encountered the Blessed Virgin on this day in 1531. This humble convert is the one chosen to the voice for Mary, the Mother of God. He goes to the bishop and tells him that Mary has asked that a shrine to be built at Tepeyac. This human shepherd behaves a bit like Zechariah and asks for a sign. God is only too willing to oblige and while he does not strike him dumb, I am sure the bishop was silenced for days to come as he considered all that he had seen. To this day many venerate the sign St. Juan brings to him after seeing Mary a second time–on the feast day we celebrate soon enough, December 12, Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Mary told Juan to gather roses that he would find nearby and to bring them to the bishop. Those roses do not grow in Mexico, it turns out, but he did find them and eventually brought them to the bishop wrapped in his cloak. When he opened his cloak to show the bishop the roses, the striking image of Our Lady was now on it. A woman I know is traveling right now just posted a photograph of the original cloak in the Shrine and I was a bit envious. We have a replica in my church but to see the real one must be spectacular.
The fact is though that St. Juan was deeply moved as these events transpired. Why was he chosen? He devoted the rest of his life to humble service. Mary had said these beautiful words to him:
“Hear and let it penetrate into your heart, my dear little son; let nothing discourage you, nothing depress you. Let nothing alter your heart or your countenance. Also, do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection?”
As we move from hope to peace this week on the Advent Candle Wreath, are not these words exactly what many of us need to hear? It has been a challenging few days for me as I have talked with several friends who face hard times ahead. Cancer is laying its greedy paws where it does not belong. Heartache and confusion are creeping into gentle souls. Patience in waiting for news is being hip-checked. All my friends are still standing though, and rather solidly I might add.
This man is our model. He rose early that fateful morning to walk 15 miles to mass. He heard a beautiful young woman dressed as an Aztec princess promise him that she would respond to the laments of his people if a shrine would be built here. He knew he was nobody–a small rope, a tiny ladder. He was aware of his unworthiness. I love this story so much. Here was a man in tune with the suffering of his people who stood in front of the bishop who needed proof of the story. For some reason, this makes me think of the First Nations people who keep standing in front of authorities, demanding that their laments for the murdered and missing women in Canada be addressed. I wonder what is needed to comprehend the depth of their cries for justice and transformation. We need a Juan. We need Juan-abes. He is a beautiful model for us today. God will use the least likely. God will use you and me. We need to be a tiny ladder, nothing more. This is possible.
We are called in this Advent season to something greater. We must understand that the protection of God is always with us. I believe it. Mary, our Mother will let peace permeate our hearts. Trust in that, whatever the long journey ahead. Peace can be yours. Let nothing discourage or depress you.