He was out for a walk on a winter’s morn, and up on the hill, there she was: the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. Sounds like the beginning of a love story, but actually it was the start of something much bigger. The man was Juan Diego. The woman, Mary. The Mary. The Mother of God. The Blessed Virgin. Our Lady.
It was December 1531, and Mary spoke to Juan Diego just outside Mexico City on the hill of Tepeyac. She asked that a church be built right there in her honour. Wasting no time, Juan Diego rushed to the archbishop, who was overjoyed, dropping everything to build that church for him! Yeah, that’s not true at all. The bishop didn’t believe him and sent him away multiple times. Poor Juan Diego. He was this holy man, and Our Lady herself wanted him to spread his faith in this incredible way. But no one cared. No one believed him. No one was listening.
You know, in some ways that’s kind of what it’s like to tell people about Christmas. Sure, lots of people love Christmastime and all the presents and cookies and things, but start talking about the actual “Christmas” parts of Christmas, and yikes. People don’t want to hear about the birth of Christ or the Incarnation or the miracle of welcoming baby Jesus into the world. For many, all that Church stuff is just… whatever. We moved on from that and now Christmas is about other things.
Like Juan Diego, there are plenty of moments this time of year when we run into people that don’t care and don’t believe, and it’s really easy at those points to just give up, to let people not believe, to let that message die out. Unless, that is, we have the courage of Juan Diego and Our Lady. Because Mary appeared to Juan Diego again and again, not letting him off the hook, and with her support, he had the persistence and courage to not give up.
He ended up grabbing a whole slew of roses in the middle of winter, which was crazy, and taking them all to the archbishop. He got there, dropped the flowers to the floor, and on his cloak was the famous image: the Virgin of Guadalupe. It was a miracle, and they believed, and Our Lady of Guadalupe led a conversion of the country and its people.
It was awesome and all because Juan Diego kept going. And that kind of courage is what we should strive to have this Advent as we approach Christmas. Because we also have an amazing message to share. When Jesus was born everything changed, and that’s something people really need to know. On December 12th, as we recall Juan Diego and celebrate the beautiful Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, it’s our job, then, to be tireless in sharing our faith, not letting this message get pushed aside, not giving up because people turn us away, but, instead, having the courage to share the true Christmas story with a world that really needs to hear it.
Statue of Juan Diego and Bishop Juan de Zumarraga near the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City (Photo credit: Michel Rudoy)