Today is one of my favorite feasts of the year, the feast of my favorite Our Lady, the Feast of the incomparably loving Our Lady of Guadalupe, the most beautiful mommy for the very littlest ones, like her little Juanito, pictured receiving her roses - real ones, from Castile, that shouldn't have been found growing on an arid hilltop near Mexico City in December of 1531. In the past (though more recently than 1531!) I've written about Our Lady and Juanito's feast and hers HERE, in an article at Catholic Exchange (that you can magically whoosh to by clicking the HERE), but there's so much to say about her and her special day that I had to write again here: right here, now, at Miss Marcel's Musings!
Where I live, people rise at 4 in the morning to hurriedly dress and go to church so they can sing to Mary and greet her as the dawn breaks. But I should be clearer. Where I live, the Hispanic people, the Mexicans, rise at 4 in the morning today, on this great feast of our patroness and our Mother - and that's just one reason I love them so much! They're so good, so devoted, so completely right about what is beautiful and the Cause of our Joy.
A dear friend and her daughter rose with them a few years ago, only being non-Mexican (though like anyone with any sense, like John Paul II on his first international journey - which was to Mexico in 1979 - they might have said, "I AM Mexican!" through a desire to belong to this people so loved by Our Lady and so loving themselves), they were a little late to the church - Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in our little Hispanic town of Santa Paula in rural southern California. And to be a little late on this day meant that there they were, way earlier than any rational person would get up, wide awake and standing in the chill morning outside the packed church, in the overflow of devotees, unable to even get in for Holy Communion, it was so crammed!
[Reminiscent of the original shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City: When my beloved B was a bride and went there as part of her honeymoon, her good earthly bridegroom S. had to run interference for her, elbowing and then protecting her as he escorted her to the communion rail to receive the Divine Bridegroom of her soul!]
Let me add that my friends outside our local church enjoyed their experience to the hilt, especially rejoicing that Our Lady should have so many sons and daughters, from babes-in-arms to the old folk, men and women alike, coming to sing Good Morning and offer the Heavenly Father her Son at Mass and receive little Jesus in thanksgiving for His goodness - not least of which He has shown in giving us His Mother for our own.
I remember about 5 and a half years ago being at this same Our Lady of Guadalupe parish for another standing room only event, though in my case it was evening, and it was important that I be actually in the church because I was a confirmation sponsor for my dear Nigerian son. Through a strange set of circumstances, he had not yet been confirmed though he and his family are thoroughly Catholic and great exemplars of the domestic church.
So here we were, enjoying an intensely international experience. It was a Spanish-English Mass, meaning that some parts of the Liturgy of the Word and of the Eucharist were in Spanish, and others in English (no dual translation, simply alternating). And then the congregation was nearly 100% Latino except for us - my son being gorgeously Nigerian, myself looking quite pale by contrast. We felt we added a distinctly international touch to an already quite Catholic event!
And then, when said son graduated from Thomas Aquinas College a year and a half ago and his classmates managed to raise money to bring his parents all the way from Africa for the graduation, oh how lovely was the visit we made to our little hidden Jesus in the church where their son had been confirmed. This time is was the middle of the day and the church was not crowded, but that isn't the same as it being shut up or forsaken. Quite the contrary! As we entered our Mother the Church's welcoming shelter, I spoke quietly to them of the history of the apparition. And as we honored Our Lady and her Divine Son with admiration and love, a steady trickle of visitors came to silently present their petitions, their thanksgivings, their love before God and the Mother we share with Him. Again, we saw men and women of varying ages, though all Hispanic (we were the exception, though I am Mexican-by-desire). What impressed me most deeply were the workers who entered, hats in hand, dressed for labor, clearly in the midst of their workday, but using their hard earned breaks to come to God's house and speak for a moment to Him and His Mama.
Why? Why all this love and devotion, this attention to the Divine, morning, noon, and night?
It makes so much sense if you think about what we need, morning, noon, and night.
My eldest son once worked putting solar panels onto roofs, and his co-workers were mostly Mexican. They were 20- and 30-somethings, and to a man they had excellent lunches packed by their moms. They would laugh and tease him about my negligence as he took out his lame looking self-made sandwich. What can I say? I may want to be Mexican, but what everyone needs is a REAL Mexican mother, and the beauty of this feast is that God, the giver of all good gifts, makes sure everyone has one.
For this is the day, December 12, that Our Lady appeared to the poor and worried Juan Diego who was, at the very moment he ran into her, trying to avoid her. He needed to fetch a priest for his dying uncle, so despite his appointment with Our Lady, he skirted the hill on which she'd appeared to him on the previous days and went the other way 'round! But ah, it isn't so easy to avoid a loving and concerned mother, especially if she's from Heaven (as I suppose all loving and concerned mothers are)!
I wish I could tell you everything that happened to Juan in its fullest detail - it's all stunningly beautiful, from his and his wife's conversion, to his faithful life after she died, to the Saturday morning (December 9, 1531) that found him on the road to his catechism class but stopped by singing that sounded like a chorus of birds on the top of Tepayac hill. And even at this mysterious music (it must have sounded heavenly) Juan's humility marveled, and he said:
"By any chance am I worthy, have I deserved what I hear? Perhaps I am only dreaming it? Perhaps I am only dozing? Where am I? Where do I find myself? Is it possible that I'm in the place our ancient ancestors, our grandparents, told us about: in the land of the flowers, in the land of corn, of our flesh, of our sustenance, perhaps in the land of heaven?"
Yes, Juan! You are in the land of flowers and corn, of our flesh, our sustenance, even the land of heaven, for listen! The singing has suddenly stopped, and a woman is calling out to you:
"Juanito! Juan Diegito!"
I wish I could convey to you the tenderness of these words. I grew up with Lebanese aunts and uncles and a dear Lebanese Gido (pronounced with a soft "g" like in gendarmes, if you know how to pronounce that!), and the love that poured from their hearts to me needed to find outlets in the sweetest endearing phrases and expressions. Just to take one example, my Gido wouldn't say something as cold as "You are in my heart." No, it had to be "You are my heart."
Not surprisingly, these relatives of mine were people who used diminutives like Our Lady did. It helped that some of them came to California via Venezuela, where they lived and worked and picked up perfect Spanish along with even more affectionate ways. Which means that my cousin Tony, named after his dad (my Uncle Tony, God rest his hilarious soul), was always called (and remains to me forever) "Tonito," that is, "little Tony," though he's now rather a grown-up, and in fact has been for all the decades I've known him.
My husband and I love Bollywood movies, and you see the same sweet devotion at play in the Indian culture - those who are younger (though they may be well into their 30's, for instance) addressing any woman of the older generation as "Auntie." I love this! One of my favorite names is "Aunt Suzie," and it thrilled me to no end when the friends of my nieces and nephews in Virginia would call me this sweet name. My older son would even call to me, when we were in a crowd or I was engaged in converstaion and wasn't hearing or responding to him, "Aunt Suzie!" We still laugh at how immediately I always responded!
But here, among the Hispanics, the so loving Mexicans, this affection is taken to its most wonderful and utmost extreme. The older generation speaks to the younger (again, the younger not having to be very young, only younger than the elder!) almost always with the affection of a doting parent. The common cry is "Mijo!' or "Mija!" - contractions of "Mi hijo," and "Mi hija" - that is, "My son," and "My daughter." I can meet an older Mexican woman and within minutes she might refer to me as "Mija," (my daughter) as she explains something to me. Oh my loving God - how did you pour such immeasurable goodness and kindness into the hearts of these wonderful people?
It began with the appearance of His Mother and the endearing call,
"Juanito! Juan Diegito!"
As I said, I wish I could tell you every detail of these glorious and so affectionate apparitions, but I must be a good Mexican mama and prepare things for the aforementioned eldest son who is beginning his Advent/Christmas visit with us in only a few hours. Since, though, I'm only a Mexican mama by desire, not by blood, I think I can afford (or I will steal, anyhow) enough time to give you the highlights.
The most light of all comes to me through the words Our Lady spoke to Juan when she intercepted him on the other side of the hill, the anniversary of which we celebrate today (as also we celebrate the miracles of the roses and the tilma).
But first (and too often forgotten, at least by me) are the words she spoke to Juan - and indeed to us all - at their initial meeting, words of introduction (who she was) and explanation (why she had called him). These words are marvelous because they invite us, each and every one of her children, to find a mother in Our Lady at Guadalupe and signs of her maternal aid in the events and signs of affection which brought conversion to a people lost in sin (serious sin - human sacrifice type sin). Who better to bring His love and light than the one who first brought them - brought Him - to birth at Christmas?
And so, on December 9, the first day of the Octave of her Immaculate Conception, Our Lady spoke to the humble Mexican Indian, Juan Diego (and to us through him), saying:
"Be it known and understood by you, the smallest of my children, that I am ever Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the true God from whom all life has come, of the Creator, close to whom is everything, the Lord of heaven and earth. I ardently desire that a temple be built for me here, where I can show and offer all my love, compassion, help and protection, for I am your merciful mother. Here I wish to hear and help you, and all those who dwell in this land and all those others who love me, and invoke and place their confidence in me; and to hear your complaints and remedy all your sorrows, hardships, and suffering.
"And in order to carry out what my mercy seeks, you must go to the bishop's palace in Mexico and tell him that I sent you to make it clear how very much I desire that he build a temple for me here on this place; you shall tell him exactly all you have seen and marveled at, and what you have heard."
Juan Diego did go to the Bishop, who asked him, as all good Bishops do, for a sign from the beautiful lady. And she, as she always does in such situations, gave a sign miraculous enough to knock the very clerical socks off the Bish and let him know without doubt who she was - the Lady from Heaven.
In Juan's case, she gave - on the morning of this day, December 12, when she interrupted his errand to get the priest to give last rites to his uncle (what did his uncle need with the last Sacraments? She appeared to him too, at this hour, and by God's grace healed him) - four miracles.
1. The healing of his uncle.
2. Castilian roses growing on the hill behind her - these she had Juan take to the Bishop after she arranged them in his tilma, the cloak which he swung around to the front and held like an apron for her to fill. The Bishop was from Castile, Spain, and missed the splendid beauty of roses such as these in his far off mission, his so far very unsuccessful mission . . . and he had been praying a novena to Our Lady just at this time, a plea for her help to convert this seemingly God-forsaken country where superstition reigned and human sacrifice was a horrific commonplace reality.
3. Her image - an indelible, incorruptible portrait of her as she appeared to Juanito, but printed on his tilma in perpetuity. When Juan came before the Bishop and dropped the roses at His Excellency's feet, the Bishop and his aides dropped to their knees in awe. Not at the miraculous roses, but at the miraculous image or their Mother, whom they now knew had certainly appeared to this poor Juan Diego.
And fourth? That day her fourth miracle, and my favorite, consisted in her words of love. For here is what she told Juan when he confessed, with apologies for avoiding her but a candid outpouring of his tender heart, his errand for his uncle. She poured out her heart in return, and these words miraculously survive to this day 5 centuries later, just like her face full of maternal tenderness survives on the tilma in the Basilica in Mexico City:
Hear and let it penetrate your heart, my dear little one:
Let nothing discourage you, nothing depress you.
Let nothing alter your heart or your countenance.
Am I not here who am your Mother?
Are you not under my shadow and protection?
Am I not your fountain of life?
Are you not in the folds of my mantle?
In the crossing of my arms?
Is there anything else that you need?
Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain.
* * *
She says these words to us today, and every day.
I love these words because they showing us her true face, just as much as the image on the tilma does.
Interestingly, Juan Diego was honored as a saint from the time of his death, which occurred the same year as the good Bishop's, in 1548 (4 years after Juan's uncle died in 1544 and 17 years after Our Lady had appeared to Juan and healed his uncle), but it was not until 450 years after the apparitions that the process of Juan's canonization was officially opened by Pope John Paul II in 1981.
The Church conducted an intense historical examination of Juan's life and testimonies about him and found devotion and recognition of his sanctity dating back to the 16th century (in other words, from the time of his death). This "immemorial cultus" meant that the requirements for beatification were fulfilled without a miracle, and so Juan Diego was beatified in 1990.
Without a miracle? This is Juanito, little Juan Diegito we're talking about! You can bet Heaven wasn't going to leave the situation sub-miraculous for long!
As it happens, in every cause for canonization (following upon beatification), a miracle is required, no matter if the Blessed is a martyr, or has for any other reason been beatified without the typically requisite miracle. And this miracle must occur after the Beatification in order to show that God desires a universal recognition of this blessed one we now know is with Him in Heaven. The beatification tells us the person is now with God, but the canonization presents the Saint for the whole world to love, admire, and imitate (to the extent that imitation is possible), and before elevating someone to this higher level, the Church demands an up-to-the-minute report from Heaven to be sure God really wants this universal recognition of the Saint-to-be.
What about Juanito, then? 442 years after his entrance to eternal life, what was God thinking? He let us know in no uncertain terms. He who could not resist His mother's news, "They have no wine," reacted in just the same filial manner to her news that Juan had no miracle . . .
On the same day Juan Diego was beatified, the miracle needed for his canonization occurred. This was a wonderful repeat performance of God's love and mercy (and desire to draw our attention to one of His favorites) on the occasion of our sister Therese's beatification. That day 30 miracles occurred through her intercession, miracles soon after reported to the Lisieux Carmel in petition for her canonization!
In Juan's case, a 19-year-old Mexican named Juan Jose had been suffering from severe depression and on May 3, 1990, wanting to commit suicide he threw himself off the balcony of his apartment, his head hitting the concrete pavement 30 feet below. His mother had been frantically trying to hold him back and prevent him from jumping while she cried out to Juan Diego for help, but her own Juan managed to tear himself away and hurl himself to apparent death.
He was rushed to a hospital nearby and the doctor told his mother to pray to God, since Juan Jose was in serious condition (to say the least!). She replied she'd already been praying for Juan Diego's intercession. The physicians found a basal fracture of the skull which should have killed Juan Jose at the moment of impact, and certainly now prevented (for them) any hope of his survival or recovery. Thus on May 6, the day of Juan Diego's beatification, poor Juan Jose's injuries having been authentically identified as terminal, all extraordinary medical support was withdrawn.
And then, on this propitious day, Juan Jose sat up, began eating, and over the next 10 days proceeded to recover completely. Not only was he well, he was entirely well, without even a headache! X-rays showed no sign of any fracture: the bone was mended, the arteries and veins in their proper places. There were more tests, second and third opinions, etc. but without question it was a miracle.
Which meant that, given the careful attention of our Holy Mother, the Church in matters of this kind, it was still another 12 years before Juan Diego was canonized, but on July 31, 2002, Pope John Paul II called him St. Juan Diego and sanctioned us to do the same.
Is the story over?
Of course not!
Because miracles don't die, and we need more of them every day. Our Lady said to little Marcel in almost an echo of her words to St. Juan Diego (ah, you knew our brother would show up here before the "happily ever after," didn't you?), words that she's brought to my attention frequently in these days of her delightful Advent feasts:
"My dear little one. You have just been looking at me. It is not surprising therefore that I hasten to ask you this question. It is something really astounding. My child, by a simple glance you have drawn to yourself my compassionate gaze. So what do you want? Are you very troubled? That is very unfortunate, my child. I am very sorry for you. Today, the recreation day, when you should be relaxing, all you do is worry yourself. It is very painful. But my child, why trouble yourself in this way? . . . My dear child, remain in peace, all right? Little Jesus has not scolded you; neither have I. Our sole intention, both of us, is to get rid of your troubles. Do not worry, I love you dearly. See, I have more pity for you than for little Jesus. In that case, it is He who should be sad; but you, what reason have you to be sad? Come, my child, I am kissing you, I am giving you twice as many as I am giving little Jesus, nevertheless, little Jesus is very happy with that." (Conversations, 426)
With such a loving mother, with our job being only to be kissed by her, cared for by her, living in her shadow and protection, in the folds of her mantle, in the crossing of her arms, her little mijas and mijos, what have we to fear? Let's kiss her back, and in our poverty simply gaze at her face, she who left us such a wonderful picture on which to rest our tired eyes. Quietly, lest we wake little Jesus sleeping in her arms beside us, let us whisper:
Draw me, we will run!
Whatever is troubling you, pour out your heart to Mary and be sure Our Lady of Guadalupe will be there for you as she has promised. As she says, it is something really astounding, but by a simple glance we draw to ourselves her compassionate gaze.
I remember another cousin's daughter when she was about 3, so darling with her half Spanish, half English, repeating to me over and over "Mira! Look! Mira! Look!" Out of the mouths of babes . . . and so I say to you, before the image of our beautiful Mother, "MIra, mija! Mira, mijo!" May her compassionate gaze bring you His peace and joy! Since you have Mary as your real Mother, you need never disconcert yourself. Or as we like to say in the words of her Divine Son, "No more worrying, anymore, ever!"
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