As the Church prays

Column: Juan Diego’s example serves us well each Advent

by Michael Podrebarac

Tucked this week between Monday’s feast of Mary’s Immaculate Conception and today’s feast of her appearance to the indigenous people of Mexico, was Tuesday’s commemoration of her co-worker in the miracles of Tepeyac Hill, St. Juan Diego.

It’s interesting how, even though the liturgical seasons and the cycle of feasts aren’t meant to particularly coincide with one another, we can nevertheless keep the seasons, in part, by observing the feasts of the saints celebrated there-in.

Mary’s Immaculate Conception and appearance in the Western Hemisphere remind us of her unique role in the history of salvation, that history which liturgically begins in Advent. The feast of St. Juan Diego also gives us something to ponder as we mark this season of anticipation and recollection.

One of the virtues we might associate with Advent is the virtue of humility. The humility of the Son of God coming to us in human flesh; the humility of the Lord’s handmaid who said, “He has looked with favor on his lowly servant”; the humility of her betrothed, who “did as the angel instructed him”; the humility of John the Baptist, who said, “I am unworthy even to untie his sandal.”

Let us then also recall the humility of St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin (1474-1548), a poor and humble man, deeply committed to his Catholic faith, who walked several miles each Saturday and Sunday in order to participate in the holy Mass.

It was on one of those days — Dec. 9, 1531 — that Juan Diego heard the extraordinary singing of birds and a voice calling his name from Tepeyac Hill. Rushing toward the sounds, he met a young lady whom he recognized to be the Blessed Virgin Mary. She called him “my little son.”

The next few days proved that Juan Diego was indeed a son of the Mother of God — following her instructions, pleading with her to choose a better messenger than himself, taking time to care for his dying uncle, and finally submitting to his faith in God and his trust in what the Lady had to say. His life changed forever. So did that of Mexico and of the church in the Americas.

Eventually, the day of the miracle of the roses and Juan Diego’s tilma became the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. In 2002, the date of that first encounter became the feast of one who happily called himself “a tiny ladder” in the whole scheme of things.

May this Advent, a season of trustful humility, bring each of us to a humble embrace and courageous demonstration of the faith we know to be true.

Saint Juan Diego, pray for us.

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Michael Podrebarac

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