St. Juan Diego was a simple man. He was named Cuauhtlatohuac and was a Nahuatl native of what we know today as Mexico. He had been converted and baptized as Juan Diego – or John James. However, 10 years after the fall of the Aztec empire, the Mexico of 1531 was hardly a hotbed of conversions, despite the efforts of the Spanish.
On December 9, Juan Diego was traveling past a hill known as Tepeyac; today part of Mexico City, but at that time, a bit of a distance from the center of town. As he passed he heard what sounded like birds singing, but this was a cold, high place in December. Birds? Then what appeared to be a young woman of royalty, brown like him, appeared in a cloud and began speaking to him in his native tongue. She asked him to go to the bishop and to tell the bishop to build a church on this spot.
Juan Diego complied, nervously it seems. He was rebuffed by the bishop and others, so he went about his business. A few days later, after going around the other side of the hill, to avoid this princess whom he had failed, he went in pursuit of medicine to help his ailing uncle. Well, you know who showed up…
This time the beautiful lady, again imploring Juan Diego in his own language, so there is no confusion about whether he clearly understood what he was being said, gave him some further instructions. This time he was to “bring the roses behind you,” to the bishop. In Spanish these words are, “¡Llevar las rosas detrás de ti!”
Now it was a cold December day, but there were roses blooming brightly. Juan Diego wrapped them in his tilma, a rough cloth that he wore as an over-garment. Off he went, with assurances from this woman that his uncle would be well; this was his mission now, to see the bishop once more!
We know the rest of the story. He followed instructions – he was a humble man, an obedient man. The bishop came out to see him this time and Juan did as he was told, showing him the roses.
It was not just the roses or their apparently intoxicating scent, the odor of sanctity, but the brightly colored image that was now emblazoned on his tilma. Things turn on this – the church snaps into action and because of the way and nature of this apparition, millions are converted.
Our Mother Mary accomplished what all the Spaniards had such a hard time with. Our amazing God of surprises comes to us with an ardent passion, determined to gather us in love and unity. We don’t always know the best ways to do that; God of course does!
This story is a reminder of obedience as deep listening of the heart with a response and not just lockstep behavior. This story is a about humility, Juan Diego being one of the “least” of these. This is a story about the power of God and how the in-breaking of the Spirit cannot be stopped and how it must happen on God’s own terms.
So today as you go along your way, consider the sound of the birds, the scent of the roses and the voice that sounds like music in your heart. Listen and obey – and always bring the roses behind you. And remember always the love and presence of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who will find you wherever you go, bringing you and others, always closer to Jesus.