Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Dec. 9, 2015 Wednesday: St. Juan Diego

Dec. 9, 2015 Wednesday: St. Juan Diego

"I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike." Mt 11:25

During the years that I was serving as Pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Seward, Nebraska, I had the privilege of bringing Holy Communion every week to Rosie, a young woman with severe intellectual limitations. She could speak only a few words and incomplete phrases. She could not follow my homilies (she wasn’t the only one!). Rosie had the mental capacity of a little child.

But every Wednesday afternoon, she and her father were waiting for me to bring her Holy Communion. Each time, she would say her "Amen" as I held up the divine host with a broad smile on her face. As she received Christ in the Eucharist, she was one with our Lord and Savior, the King of Universe.

Rosie knows far more about God than the smartest atheist at Harvard. For she knows the love of God our Father; and she experiences also the love of the Mother of God, the Virgin Mary. Only by opening oneself to the gift of faith in God can this spiritual wisdom be received. "No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him." Mt 11:27

How blest is Rosie and how blest are you and I to know and to love the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, this Blessed Trinity that comes to dwell in our hearts and who speaks to us through the Church.

Knowledge of God is His gift to the childlike, to those with the humility and faith to believe. The "wise and learned" of this world can also come to know God (and He desires that they do so) but, when and if they do so, it’s not due primarily to their own intelligence but to their acceptance of the gift of faith. Jesus reiterates this throughout His public ministry. Recall the words of Jesus recorded by St. Luke (10:15), "I tell you solemnly, anyone who does not welcome the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."

Knowledge of God, the blessing of knowing the Lord through His Divine Revelation, is not something we can boast of achieving; it is our heavenly Father’s gift. But, at the same time, we have to receive this gift in gratitude and work out our salvation, using our energy and abilities to fulfill our mission from God. "What you have received as a gift," Jesus says, "give as a gift." And, in today’s Gospel, He tells us, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light." Mt 11:29-30

St. Juan Diego, undoubtedly, rejoiced in these words of Christ. They resonated with the deepest desires of his inner self. From his own life experience and that of his native people in central Mexico, he was keenly aware of the stark contrast between the yoke of slavery and the yoke of being a beloved son. He had gratefully embraced the yoke of being a child of God in Baptism, and he desired to do his heavenly Father’s will at all times. He also knew that God’s way is so different from our human ways that it is tempting to think our human ways are better, especially when we do not initially understand what God is asking or what obedience requires. Only with perseverance and grace do we discover the meaning of the Book of Sirach (3:17-18), "My son,, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God."

The humble have "no other gods," no false idols, nothing that their heart desires more than a loving communion with the Lord and fellowship with all the saints. Because he knew how to "conduct his affairs with humility", Juan Diego was ready to put aside "his own affairs" when a higher calling or more important mission beckoned. Of course, that is what happened when the Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to him on Tepeyac hill in December of 1531, and asked him to be her chosen messenger to take a message to the Bishop of Mexico. To carry out that mission, Juan Diego needed both the grace of perseverance and the virtue of humility.

There are more than 70 species of cacti in Arizona and northern Mexico. Cacti vary incredibly in size, from the majestic Saguaro, which towers as tall as a five-story building and weighs as much as 15 tons, to the tiny Pincushion cactus, which reaches about two-inches in height. While there is no cactus as majestic and stately as the Saguaro, it cannot compete in exquisite beauty with the tiny Pincushion. From April to May, and again in mid-summer, pink blossoms sprout from this little cactus, often dwarfing the rest of the plant, but providing joy to the observant hiker and giving praise to God.

St. Juan Diego was not a saguaro; he was a pincushion. He was not eager to draw attention to Himself but delighted in drawing attention to the beauty of God and to His Mother, Our Lady of Guadalupe. When he showed the bishop his tilma, not only did the Virgin Mary’s image appear on its surface but also the beauty and fragrance of the roses that he had picked on Tepeyac hill. The messenger of Our Lady, Juan Diego, was like a tiny pincushion cactus, beside the splendid beauty of the Mother of God.

Like a child, he was grateful to call God his Father and call the Blessed Virgin Mary his Mother. Before God, our Father and Creator, are not all human beings little pincushions? Are we not fortunate when we can find the humility to say with John the Baptist, "I must decrease; He must increase"

It takes a long time for most of us to realize our true stature before the Lord. But, from time to time, God lifts up a saintly person, one like the little pincushion cactus and invites us to hear Him say with Jesus, the Son of Mary, "I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike." Mt 11:25

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted
Marian Congress in Phoenix, Arizona, Aug. 2009