St. Juan Diego reminds us the lowly will inherit the Kingdom of God

by Monsignor Joseph Celano –

St. Juan Diego Chuauhtlatoatzin, hermit. (1475-1548)

Today’s feast of St. Juan Diego has been replaced by the transfer of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. As our diocese and parish prepares to consecrate ourselves to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Star of the New Evangelization, St. Juan deserves our reflection today.

“My little son, there are many I could send. But you are the one I have chosen.”
Our Lady to St. Juan Deigo


On the morning of December 9, 1531, Juan Diego Chuauhtlatoatzin was walking to Mass, as he usually did most mornings. His route took him past Tepeyac Hill, a site outside of Mexico City. As he passed the hill, he heard the sound of birds singing in harmonies he never heard before coming from the hilltop. As he looked up, Juan saw a young girl, dressed in the robes of Aztec royalty and wearing a black belt around her waist signifying pregnancy. She shone like the sun and spoke to him in his native language of Nahuatl. She told him that she was the mother of the “One, True God” and asked him to go to the bishop and request a shrine be built there for her. Juan went as Our Lady instructed, but the bishop was understandably skeptical. Juan returned to Our Lady and told her that he failed in his mission because “he was a man of no importance”. She insisted that Juan return to the bishop, telling him that he was the instrument she had chosen.

The bishop asked for a sign to prove it was truly Our Lady who was appearing to Juan. Juan returned to the Lady with the bishop’s request. She asked him to remove his tilma, his outer cloak, and to gather the roses that grew on the hill. Juan brought the roses to the Lady. She arranged the flowers in his tilma, and then tied it. She told him not to open it until he was in the presence of the bishop. Juan did as the Lady asked and opened his tilma before the bishop. The flowers dropped to the floor and the exact representation of the Lady as Juan had seen her miraculously appeared on his tilma.

Juan spent the rest of his life as the first caretaker of the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. He devoted himself to prayer, charity, and the care of the pilgrims who came to Tepeyac to seek the comfort and help of Our Lady. Pope St. John Paul II canonized him in 1990.

In Mary’s canticle of praise, the Magnificat, she joyfully proclaims that “God has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly”. Juan was one of the “lowly”, a man of “no importance”, who was “lifted up” and given the grace of seeing and speaking with the Mother of God. His simple act of obedience to Her requests would help accomplish something the Franciscan missionaries in Mexico could not do; the conversion of millions of people.

Heaven is not looking for important, talented, or even worthy people to accomplish the work of Christ. It is looking for people with open hearts who are willing to follow Mary’s directive,”Do whatever He tells you” (Jn.2:5). 

No one is of “no importance” in the Kingdom of God. 

Monsignor Joseph Celano is pastor of St. Peter the Apostle University and Community Parish in New Brunswick, NJ, in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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