“The Transformative Power of the Encounter with Jesus Christ”
Homily on the Occasion of the Annual Archdiocesan Cruzada Guadalupana
December 9, 2023; St. Mary’s Cathedral
Readings: Rev 11:19a, 12:1-6a.10ab; Jdt 13; Lk 1:26-38
Leer en español.
It is always a joy for us to come together to honor our Mother the Virgin of Guadalupe, and to worship her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. It lifts our spirits and fills us with light as we anticipate the birth of her Son, God’s light coming into the world.
This thirtieth Cruzada Guadalupana we celebrate today adds even greater joy as it was this day 492 years ago that St. Juan Diego received the apparition of the Mother of God and announced her message to the world. We celebrate the Cruzada Guadalupana on his feast day this year. But, just who was Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, really?
Who Was Juan Diego?
His indigenous name means, providentially, “talking eagle”: it is he who would speak our Lady’s message to his people, in their language, in their culture, and according to their traditions and ways of thinking. He would be the catalyst to bridge two worlds and blend them together into one new people, one new Christian civilization.
In the homily he gave at Juan Diego’s canonization in 2002, Pope St. John Paul II spoke to this reality with the following words:
What was Juan Diego like? Why did God look upon him?… It is moving to read the accounts of Guadalupe, sensitively written and steeped in tenderness. In them the Virgin Mary reveals herself to Juan Diego as the Mother of the true God.… In accepting the Christian message without forgoing his indigenous identity, Juan Diego discovered the profound truth of the new humanity, in which all are called to be children of God. Thus he facilitated the fruitful meeting of two worlds and became the catalyst for the new Mexican identity, closely united to Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose mestizo face expresses her spiritual motherhood.”
This is the way the Church works in proclaiming God’s word to the world: she does not destroy, but builds upon – she recognizes what is good and noble in a culture and consistent with the gospel and purifies it and builds upon it, transforming the culture with Christ. Once Christ is introduced into the culture, everything changes, everything is improved. What is of death and darkness is cast out, and what is of light is purified and leads us to the life of heaven.
And in this case, the Church had plenty to build upon. Just as God worked through His original Chosen People in preparing the world for the coming of His Son, which He fulfilled through the Blessed Virgin Mary, so in His inscrutable wisdom He was working through the Aztec people for this appearance of the Mother of His Son by which she would give birth once again, this time to a new Christian people.
In recounting his experience of the apparition, Juan Diego uses the expression in his native Náhuatl language in xochitlalpan in tonacatlalpan, in reference to the Flower World Paradise, which, in the Aztec religious imagination, signified the place of ultimate beauty and truth, the source of all creativity, and in the end, the place where we all long to be after we die. He is suddenly surrounded by sweet music and beauty, and in the image of this royal woman before him what does he see on the garment over her womb in which she is carrying a child? The xochitl, the four-petaled flower which is the Aztec symbol of life and divinity, thus pointing to the source of life and divinity, right there in the woman’s womb. In the midst of this experience Juan Diego wonders if he is already in the place his ancient ancestors spoke of, the Flower World Paradise, that place of heavenly and ultimate beauty found. There he found the ultimate beauty and truth, Jesus Christ the Son of God, in whom he had been baptized and in whom he found the way to live with him forever in paradise.
The encounter with Jesus Christ changes everything, as it did for Juan Diego and for his people. The visit of ultimate Beauty and Truth through his Mother led the way to the greatest evangelization event in the history of the Church, with some nine million of Juan Diego’s fellow Aztecs following his example and accepting baptism and living the way of Christ in the following decade. Thus is born a new Christian civilization, a people who were once far off and now brought near to Christ through the revelation of his truth and the saving and transformative power of his grace.
This change, though, is not a matter of one encounter and then all is set straight. For Juan Diego it started with a first encounter leading to his baptism, which began a whole lifetime with Jesus Christ by which he grew into ever deeper union with him, the way to the beauty of the Flower World he learned from his ancestors. That union certainly deepened with the encounter at Tepeyac, so much so that he later decided to spend the rest of his life as a hermit living in a small hut near the chapel where the image of the woman who appeared to him was place for veneration. He spent the rest of his life caring for the place and the pilgrims who came to pray before the image. His life was marked by the practice of virtue and unbounded love of God and neighbor.
From the enlightenment he received in his baptism he learned that this was the way to live his life in this world already with a foretaste of the Flower World. That only comes from the imitation of the woman who appeared to him: the Mother of the one who is the source of all beauty and truth. That is the way of lowliness, which is the only way to say and live out our “yes” to God. She gives us the model in her response to the message of the angel who announces to her that she is to be the Mother of God’s Son: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” “Handmaid”: a servant, a slave – she who is the Mother of the Creator of the universe, exalted above all creation, assumes the position of a slave before her Creator and Son. She is thus the model of Christian discipleship, the path to the place at which we all wish to arrive.
This is how it works for each one of us, for it is the way God designed us as human beings. And it is the way that God works for each of us, preparing us to receive Him, to receive the fullness of his His love, truth and beauty. As He prepared the Aztec people for the coming of His Son through his Mother with the prophecies of the Flower World, and as He prepared the entire world through His original Chosen People for the coming of the Savior through his Mother, so in each of our lives He is at work preparing us to receive the fullness of His truth and beauty. But we are incapable unless we follow her example, lowering ourselves to humbly accept his way, to live a life of virtue and of unbounded love of God and neighbor. Only in this way can we begin to anticipate the life of heaven, and be ready to receive it in its fullness when we pass from this life to the next.
I cannot do better than to conclude this homily with the words of the prayer to St. Juan Diego with which St. John Paul II concluded his homily for that Mass of canonization of the saint of Tepeyac:
Blessed Juan Diego, a good, Christian Indian, whom simple people have always considered a saint! We ask you to accompany the Church on her pilgrimage …, so that she may be more evangelizing and more missionary each day. Encourage the Bishops, support the priests, inspire new and holy vocations, help all those who give their lives to the cause of Christ and the spread of his Kingdom.
Happy Juan Diego, true and faithful man! We entrust to you our lay brothers and sisters so that, feeling the call to holiness, they may imbue every area of social life with the spirit of the Gospel. Bless families, strengthen spouses in their marriage, sustain the efforts of parents to give their children a Christian upbringing. Look with favor upon the pain of those who are suffering in body or in spirit, on those afflicted by poverty, loneliness, marginalization or ignorance. May all people, civic leaders and ordinary citizens, always act in accordance with the demands of justice and with respect for the dignity of each person, so that in this way peace may be reinforced.
Beloved Juan Diego, ‘the talking eagle’! Show us the way that leads to the ‘Dark Virgin’ of Tepeyac, that she may receive us in the depths of her heart, for she is the loving, compassionate Mother who guides us to the true God. Amen.
 Apostolic Voyage Ciudad de México: Canonization Mass of Blessed Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Ciudad de México: Omelia (July 31, 2002) | John Paul II (vatican.va)