The Story that anchors today’s great Feast in honor of the Mother of God, continues to inspire and bring forth praise and thanks.
A poor Indian was baptized and given the name Juan Diego. As a 57 year old widower, he lived in a small village near Mexico City. On Saturday morning, December 9th, 1531, he was on his way to a nearby barrio to attend Mass in honor of Our Lady.
He was walking by a hill called Tepeyac, when he heard beautiful music like the sound of birds. A radiant cloud appeared and within it there was the vision of a young Native American maiden dressed like an Aztec princess. The lady spoke to him in his own language and sent him to the bishop of Mexico, a Franciscan, named Juan de Zumarraga. The bishop was to build a chapel in the place where the lady appeared.
Eventually the bishop told Juan Diego to have the lady give him a sign. About the same time Juan Diego's uncle became seriously ill. This led poor Diego to try to avoid the lady. The lady found Diego, nevertheless, assured him that his uncle would recover and provided roses for Juan to carry to the bishop in his cape or tilma. Juan Diego opened his tilma in the bishop's presence, the roses fell to the ground and the bishop sank to his knees. On Juan Diego's tilma appeared a painting of Mary as she had appeared at the hill of Tepeyac. It was December 12th, 1531.
The meaning of this event particularly for those of us who are the ancestors of those men and women who carefully handed down the faith to us here in the Americas is profoundly important. Mary's appearance to Juan Diego, who has now been canonized as a Saint of our Church, is a powerful reminder that Mary and the God who sent her accept, all peoples. In the context of the sometimes rude and cruel treatment of the Indians by the Spaniards, the apparition was a rebuke to the Spaniards and an event of vast significance for Native Americans. For up to this point, few had been converted to the faith. But with the spread this story that the Mother of the one whom Christians called the Christ, had appeared as one like themselves, speaking their language, over nine million Indians became Catholic in a relatively short period of time. No longer was the faith viewed as an alien belief brought by Western conquers, but now it was seen embracing them in one like themselves. Once again, the ancient Christian belief was realized - "Ad Jesum per Mariam" - "To Jesus through Mary".
An ancient chronicler records for us the words that Mary spoke to Juan Diego on that hillside 486 years ago. They are words that continue to inspire, comfort and support us in this Advent Season:
My dearest son, I am the eternal Virgin Mary, Mother of the true God, Author of Life, Creator of all and Lord of the Heavens and of the Earth...and it is my desire that a church be built here in this place for me, where, as your most merciful Mother and that of all your people, I may show my loving clemency and the compassion that I bear to the Indians, and to those who love and seek me..."
As devoted sons and daughters of Mary, Mother of our Savior and Mother of the Church, may we continue to hold her in a special place in our lives of faith. May her simple faith and complete trust in the Lord's will for her be an inspiration for us all as we await the Advent of her Son at the Feast of His Birth.