On this day in history . . .
St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin met a woman on the way to Mass. She looked like any other indigenous mother-to-be, but it turns out she is really the Virgin Mary and she needs Juan to bring a message to the bishop. She wants a shrine on a specific hill, and she wants it now. After a little back-and-forth with the bishop, and a miracle or two, Mary gets her way. Her shrine becomes the beating heart of the Church in the New World, and millions find faith through her grace. So begins the veneration of Our Lady of Guadalupe. We won’t celebrate the Lady for a few days yet – remember, the bishop took a bit of convincing – but today’s Juan’s day, and we remember the part he played as America’s first indigenous saint.
Yet that’s a little strange, isn’t it? Typically, we celebrate saints on the day they died. It’s sort of a heavenly homecoming, a celestial birthday party. Sometimes feast days are shifted due to scheduling conflicts—Christ, Mary or some bigger saint got there first. Yet that isn’t a problem for St. Juan Diego. His death day—May 30th—is wide open. What’s going on here?
I think we celebrate today because heaven isn’t shut behind death’s door. We can encounter it here, in this lifetime, often in the most unexpected places. St. Juan Diego knew that better than anyone. He bumped into Mary on a hot, dusty road. He saw her for who she was and responded to her call. In return, she rewarded him in this lifetime. He got a home and a vocation tending to her shrine and the pilgrims flocking to his little patch of heaven on earth.
On December 9, 1531, a man walked with Mary on a little hill in Mexico. In that moment, she reminded us that God’s kingdom is happening NOW, and we are all part of it. That’s something worth celebrating.