On the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, we wrote of the grace God gave to Mary, a grace that enabled her to do the holy work of her life. It is fitting, then, that today we celebrate St. Juan Diego, a poor Aztec farmer, who was given the grace to stand before the bishop and all his officials and speak the simple truth Mary had spoken to him. It is difficult a more unlikely spokesman for the Queen of Heaven. Juan was an Aztec Indian whose land had been conquered by the Spanish. They were in charge; he, who was among the poorest people in a poor village, had no standing.
The image is imprinted on the cloak, which hangs, even now, in the church the bishop built.
Juan, whose Aztec name, Cuatitlatoatzin, means “singing eagle,” was an early covert to Christianity. He walked from his village to daily Mass. One day, in December, 1531, Juan was on his way to church when he saw a vision of a beautiful young woman. She was dressed as an Aztec princess and she was pregnant. The woman asked Juan to go to the bishop and give him a message from the Virgin Mary. She wanted the bishop to build a church on the spot where she stood. She wanted the church to be a source of help and healing for the people.
Juan had no experience with high officials. When he went to the bishop’s residence, he was met with scorn and derision. Juan finally saw the bishop, who said that he must be mistaken; Our Lady had not come to this lowly man. Dejected Juan went back to the spot.
Again, Mary was waiting for him. Juan confessed his failure, but Mary, who knows what it is to be God’s unlikely choice, assured Juan of her intentions and his ability to carry them out. Juan went again to the skeptical bishop, who asked Juan for some sign of the truth of Our Lady’s appearance. Juan went again to the spot and Mary guided him to a garden filled with roses, roses blooming in the midst of winter!
Juan gathered the roses in his cloak and hurried to the bishop. When Juan came before the bishop, he unfurled his cloak. The roses had disappeared. In their place was an image of the woman who had appeared to the poor man. It had not been painted, and, indeed, tests have, to this day, found no trace of pigment or dye. The image is imprinted on the cloak, which hangs, even now, in the church the bishop built. It is called the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and it is honored and revered by believers throughout the Americas.
Juan spent the rest of his life as a caretaker in the chapel. When he died, he was buried there, a faithful servant to Mary, herself a faithful servant. If you can afford to, adorn your crèche with roses today. Roses in winter. Keep the water fresh so that they will last through December 12, the feast of Neustra Senora de Guadalupe, Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Prayer to St. Juan Diego
Saint Juan Diego, you are our first American indigenous saint. Please pray that God the Father would protect all migrants through his Son, Jesus Christ. Ask the Father to pour out the love of the Holy Spirit upon all who are isolated, alone and separated by choice or necessity from their native lands.
May those torn away from their families and forced to leave their country to find work elsewhere be reunited: husbands with wives and parents with children. We ask especially for migrant women and children who are particularly vulnerable to the dangers of human trafficking. Give them your protection and shield them from evil.
May we as a Church receive the grace to welcome with love migrants who enter into our country, seeking a home in our parishes and communities. We ask for your prayers and intercession for all immigrants who are desperate, alone and in need of God’s loving support.
And we ask Our Lady, who appeared to you as your Mother and Mother of all in our land, to wrap her mantle of protection around all migrant people. We beg for her love, compassion, help and protection on all immigrants who today experience great sufferings, sorrows, necessities and misfortunes. Amen.