With his unusual insight, C.S. Lewis sums up an important aspect of the human condition:
“The Christian says, ‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.’”
In providing a list of examples, Lewis could’ve also said, “People desire tender maternal care, and, lo and behold, we have our earthly mothers and Our Lady, the Queen of Heaven, who is always there for us after our earthly mothers have passed on to the next life.” In looking at the Apparition of Our Lady at Guadalupe, we could even say she bequeathed a gift for those who are skeptical of religion in leaving the miraculous tilma as evidence of the supernatural power of God.
Ethel Cook Eliot writes: “In color it looks rather like unbleached linen. Modern scientists are agreed that in the Mexican climate this cloth would naturally have disintegrated beyond recognition within twenty years. On its fish-like web, no painting could ever have been done; and even on a properly prepared canvas the picture would within two hundred years have been browned over to the point of obliteration.”
Unfortunately, many skeptics persist in their unbelief despite the evidence of the miraculous tilma. This recalls the words of St. Thomas that appeared before the delightful movie, The Song of Bernadette: “For those who believe in God no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe in God, no explanation is possible.”
In the Apparition the Mother of God also left gifts for today’s practicing, orthodox Catholic through the example of her tender and compassionate relationship with Juan Diego. This is crystallized in these words to him:
“Listen, and let it penetrate into your heart, my dear little son, do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your Fountain of Life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?”
Much of Mary’s tenderness towards Diego was rooted in the fact that she saw much of her Son in him. Juan was conformed to her Son’s image (Rom. 8:29).
His humility is very clear in the narrative: “So I beg you, noble Lady, entrust this message to someone of importance…for I am only a lowly peasant, and you, my Lady, have sent me to a place where I have no standing.” Through St. Faustina in the Divine Mercy we learn that the meek, humble, and children most closely resemble the heart of Christ because of their lowliness.
It’s interesting to note that the Mother of God often chooses children and child-like adults to be ambassadors of her message in different apparitions. Yes, Juan Diego was a middle-aged man but there is a simplicity and naivete about him that make him very much like other child-like visionaries.
Our Lady didn’t just pick anybody for this mission but chose Juan in particular: “I have many servants and messengers I could charge with delivery of my message. But it is altogether necessary that you should be the one to undertake this mission…” First and foremost, because Juan was profoundly humble, God could pour out torrents of his grace through Mary to him and not worry about him being lifted up in pride.
St. Basil went so far as to call humility the all-encompassing virtue because it contains within itself all the others. This makes sense because, if pride is at the root of the Seven Deadly Sins, then it follows that humility undergirds and infuses their opposite, life-giving virtues.
Juan Diego was also chosen because God delights in using the “nobodies” of this world to accomplish his sublime purposes:
“For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (I Cor. 1:26-29).
I often think of stay-at-home moms who are disrespected by academics and the elite opinion-makers of the New York Times and yet fulfill the most important mission: inculcating virtue and religious belief in the next generation. Also, just because you are a janitor at Walmart doesn’t mean that Our Lady can’t use you to advance the kingdom of God in significant ways.
Our Lady also chose Juan because he was an indigenous person and this showed God’s love for a people that some Spaniards despised. They were seen as a primitive people who had participated in human sacrifice and were easy to write off.
I grew up 18 miles east of Los Angeles and, when I left home for good, my neighborhood and hometown had become overgrown with theft, drugs, gangs, and violence. It was easy to write off.
I came back home five years later and a certain evangelical-charismatic group led by Mexican-Americans had launched a very effective outreach in my neighborhood. People were leaving the gangs, getting off drugs, going to church services, and participating in Bible studies!
What’s easy to overlook is that the Mother of God chose Diego because he was available. Not every self-identified Catholic is available to fulfill her agenda.
Look at the parable of the wedding feast. Many made excuses as to why they couldn’t make it: “I bought a field; I must go and see it;” “I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out;” “I just got married so I cannot come” (Lk. 14: 12-24).
How many will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and regret that their relationship to the King of Kings got crowded out by other things!
Some practicing Catholics may be reading this and feel dejected: “I’m not a saint like Diego. I struggle with ‘X.’ Our Lady can’t love me or use me.”
How wrong you are! Let’s say you grew up with unmet emotional needs (love, acceptance, belonging-ness) in your family of origin and turned to food for comfort and now struggle with over-eating (gluttony).
You’re fine for a couple of weeks and then wipe out a cookie-sheet of brownies. You go to Confession and last another two or three weeks until you eat enough seafood fettuccine for three people.
The tender mercies of Our Lady are turned to you more than Diego because you need them more. Remember: “A righteous man falls seven times, and rises again; but the wicked are overthrown by calamity” (Prov. 24:16).
Keep wearing a path to the Confessional; don’t give up. Also, repeated failures can, in time, produce a fragrant humility in the person that is treasured by both Christ and his Mother.
We see this in the story of the prodigal son, the woman of ill-repute who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, and the tax collector who beat his breast and said, “Lord have mercy on me a sinner.” Yes, sin is never a good idea but God can bring much good out of a protracted struggle with it.
Also, Our Lady can use the person struggling with gluttony. This is what Henri Nouwen called “wounded healers”: the person struggling with over-eating is a good candidate to help others struggling with the same sin.
I’d be remiss not to mention one of the central messages of the Apparition at Guadalupe: the Mother of God is a unifier and loves to bring people together. She wants Bishop Zumarraga to authorize the building of a shrine for her that will bring the natives and the Spaniards together.
In this way she is the one “who crushes the head of the snake” because dividing people is at the top of Satan’s agenda. Just look at his history of discord.
He divided heaven in rebelling against the reign of God and seduced one-third of the angels in his fall from grace. In the Garden of Eden he divided God from Adam and Eve and Adam and Eve from each other.
He divided the first brothers from each other as Cain killed Abel. On a collective level, nation has fought wars against other nations since the beginning.
Mary’s agenda was to bring heaven to earth. This is what the apostle John saw in heaven: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Rev. 7:9; emphasis mine).
Few of us are called to such a spectacular mission as Diego but we all are called, as St. Therese of Lisieux declared, to do small things with great love. This may mean, without sacrificing truth or integrity, bringing people together in small ways, whether it be at home, work, our local churches, and/or in the public square.