When Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoazin climbed Tepeyac, a hill 16 miles to the north of Mexico city on his way to Mass, he encountered a beautiful lady, who called him "Juanito," and asked him where he was going. The date was 9 December 1531, at that time, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. She identified herself as " . . . The ever-Virgin Mary, the Mother of the true God" and charged him with messages to the Bishop, a request that a chapel be built on the spot where she had appeared. But Juan was a reluctant messenger. He tried to explain to Mary all the things that she already knew: "I am old (he was 57), I am without influence." He entreated her to send someone else, some member of the nobility, someone with clout.
Mary answered that she wanted him, Juan Diego, for the job. Indeed she did have other servants, more worthy or more fitted for the task, but she wanted him to take her message to the authorities. Reluctantly, without much hope of success, he followed her instructions -- and failed to make any impact on the Bishop. Three times Juan Diego met Our Lady, each time unable to report any success. Knowing he would encounter her again if he followed his usual route home, after the last failure, he found another path, seeking to avoid her. Our Lady, however, had other plans. She changed her route and intercepted him. "Where are you going, least of my sons? And what road is this you are taking?"
How many times, faced with the ordinary encounters of daily life, are we, like Juan Diego, tempted to avoid the issue -- that issue being God's call to recognize Him in every being, every situation we meet -- to allow the God who lives in us to inspire our words, and allow ourselves to risk doing the things that will call others to recognize his presence? "Where are you going?" is not such a difficult question to answer. "What road is this you are taking?" --now there's a query to consider! Juan Diego was called to the road of encounter, the road of disappointment, the road of faith in his own role as instrument of Our Lord and Our Lady. What road are we taking?
St. Francis de Sales tells us that God wants us to "be who we are, and to be it well." That is all He requires. We, the least of Mary's children, have each been given some task that will further the coming of God's kingdom. Only we can do it. Only we live in the particular circumstances that call forth its accomplishment. As Juan Diego said, we are the least, we are not powerful, there are many more efficient or more persuading messengers. It just happens that we have been chosen for the task.
We cannot possibly do it on our own, nor are we asked to. There is comfort in Mary's words to Juan Diego: "Am I not here who am your mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Are you not in the fold of my mantle? . . . Do you need anything else?"
Factual material on Juan Diego is from American Saints by John Fink, Alba House, New York, 2001.