Friday, December 9, 2011

The Singing Eagle

I think that St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin is one of the greatest saints of all time. It is his hiddenness; he is almost invisible behind that cloth he once wore--the second most amazing piece of cloth on this earth (well, maybe the third, if the Holy Face of Manoppello is really in fact the head wrapping from the tomb that goes "with" the Shroud). Many in the world still do not know of the truly wondrous, scientifically inexplicable image of the Virgin Mary that appears on a nearly 500 year old cactus fiber cloak.

For the millions who do know her, and who have visited her at her “house” in the center of Mexico City, she is a stunning and profoundly personal presence. One is almost tempted to forget about the man who wore the cloak. Indeed he seems quite content to remain in the background.

We know very little about him, apart from his famous account (see link below) and the testimony of a few others. His entire sanctity is summed up in this very simple gesture: He gives us Mary.

Actually the task was not easy, and he then dedicated himself for the rest of his life to prayer and to the service of all those who came to the "little house" of Mary. But in the end it was all simple following and trusting in Mary. He gives us Mary. Think about it for a moment. This is his cloak.

She called him "my dearest and youngest son."

Could there possibly be many saints who are closer to God than this humble man, who--even now that he's a canonized saint--gets skipped over for the regular Advent Friday liturgy (like at the Mass I went to this morning) because he's only an "optional memorial"?

Most of us can't even pronounce his indigenous name, which means "singing eagle" and which is included in the name under which he was canonized. As far as I know, its "kwatt-LATT-zican." But I could be wrong.

For many of us, his name may as well be "Oh yeah, Juan Diego, he's great." But we need to get to know him and love him more. We may know the story; perhaps we even know it well. But it must become personal. When Mary speaks to St. Juan Diego, we must hear her speaking to us.

There is one part of the story that sticks in everyone’s mind, and is invariably remembered: "Didn't he try to sneak past Our Lady?"

Yes he did! Why? Because he was worried.

He worried about his sick uncle. He thought the matter was in his own hands, that it depended on him alone, that "the Lady" would only slow him down.

But she knew what he was up to. He tried to do it on his own, but she went to him. She foiled his little trick. She found him and she said, "stop worrying! I am your Mother. I have you."

This is the great secret of the universe: we have a Mother. She is not a goddess. She is a human person who said yes to God and brought the God-man into the world; she is a human being who says yes to us and wants to bring Christ to each of us.

And she is not shy. She loves us with all the power of a woman's love: she is intelligent, practical, persistent, and downright spunky when necessary. And all of this with a woman's love, a mother's love, that brings peace. Juan Diego's story makes this clear. Really, it is clear in the New Testament, if we take the trouble to dwell on the woman that appears there, and the great heart that is manifest in her every gesture.

Juan Diego is one of the greatest of all the saints, I think, not only because of his hiddeness, but also because he was an ordinary man, like us. The story of Juan Diego is the story of how Mary loves each one of us. It is the story of how she takes care of us, and even how she outwits us when we try to run away.

There is this woman, a real woman, who knows me and is totally determined to crush the serpents that threaten me, to draw me away from my self love and free me from all my worries, and to give me Jesus Christ.

Yes, Jesus is our Redeemer, and nobody knows that better than Mary. That’s why no one can bring Him close to us like Mary. Doesn’t it make sense that, at the heart of the plan of salvation, there is a woman, a real woman, who is not just a passive vessel, but whose active, vital, feminine, maternal love really makes a difference in our lives?

I pray to St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin. I want to be like him. I want to show people Mary, so that she can bring them to Jesus.

Here is a link to an English translation of the Nican Mopohua, a beautiful recounting of the events, originally written in Nahuatl in 1546 by Antonio Valeriano, an indigenous scholar who took the testimony of Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin himself: