The (Mostly) Hidden Life of Juan Diego

Juan Diego, by Miguel Carbera (1695 - 1768)

Amare nesciri – ‘love to be unknown’ – exhorted Saint Philip Neri, who was young unknown teenager in Florence when Saint Juan Diego was, on a cold December morning in Mexico – it does get frigid there, in the mountains- was granted the rare privilege of seeing Our Lady. Juan Cuauhtlatoatzin – he adopted the Diego after he and his wife were baptized into the Catholic Church in 1524 – was a humble peasant who lived a quiet life, who ‘loved being unknown’, attending Mass, devoted to prayer and the good works he might find. His wife, Maria Lucia, died two years afterward, and Juan lived more or less like a hidden hermit.

He achieved unwitting fame for a few conversations with a mysterious lady on the side of a mountain, which began on this day in December, 1531, after which he slipped back into obscurity, caring for the chapel which was built on the site of the apparitions. Well, so he thought; but Juan was known for his holiness, which continued after his death in 1548, and spread throughout Mexico and beyond. Some doubted and resisted the call for his canonization, but at the dawn of the new millennium, Pope John Paul II canonized Juan Diego in the very basilica dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe, on July 31, 2002.

Our Lady of Guadalupe brought millions of souls into the Church, sort of a balance, as some Church historians say, of the millions who were leaving in the Protestant ‘reformation’ (Luther had pinned his 95 ‘theses’ to the church door at Wittenberg in October 1517, beginning the revolt against the Church, and by 1531 it was in full swing).  God always knows how to balance things out, just right and just so, but that will only be revealed at the end of time, as Pope Benedict XVI so eruditely explained in his beautiful encyclical Spe Salvi.  A beneficial read during Advent, the season of hope and expectation.