Monday December 12th, 2022
Father Michael Phillips
A young Aztec man enters the office of the powerful Spanish bishop. He had waited all day, outside the office with a long line of others wishing to speak with the bishop too. He could have given up. He could have returned home with plans to come again the next day. He could have abandoned the entire visit out of fear or nervousness. After all, who was he to speak to a bishop. He was not important or powerful. He had no expectation of influence with the Spanish leader of the Christian faith, the faith of the conquerors, and a faith he had now embraced. But he had been given an assignment, a task, a charge, by the mysterious woman with whom he had spoken earlier that morning on the slopes of the mountain of Tepeyac. She instructed him to tell the bishop that she wanted a cathedral built on that site, a place where both native people and the Spaniards could worship together. As much as he might have feared the bishop, he worried more about how he could face the woman again if he failed to complete his mission. So, he waited. All day he waited, until finally he was escorted in to see the bishop.
The bishop had spent his day listening to one visitor after another, bringing to him their problems, their worries, their trials, and then asking for his help. With each visitor he needed to give a response. He would either agree to help, or refuse to help, or refer the visitor to someone else. Visitor after visitor came to him, all day long, and then late in the day, a young man from the country entered his office and asked for something no one had ever asked before. People came to him all the time, making every kind of request imaginable. People usually asked for something that would help them like prayers for successful crops, or healing of a family member. But, no one, no one!, had ever asked him to build a cathedral. It came as a complete surprise, even a shocking request. Building a cathedral would be an enormous project. It would take years of planning and construction. It would require a mountain of money, and where was he going to obtain all of that? The only reason he didn’t throw the young man out of his office is because he claimed that he wasn’t asking for himself, but instead, was simply following the instructions given to him by a mysterious woman who had appeared to him that morning on the slopes of a nearby mountain.
The bishop was caught between two choices. He may have wished to dismiss the young man as crazy, and someone making an impossible request. But he had to be cautious. What if the young man was telling the truth? What if the Virgin herself had appeared that morning, and sent the young man on his mission? So the bishop landed in between those two options. He told Juan Diego that before he could act of the request, he would need to have a sign from the Virgin. Only then, could he be certain of the accuracy of his request, and act.
So Juan Diego left the bishop’s office and returned home, not knowing what to do next. He waited, again, not for the bishop this time, but for the vision to appear to him as it had before. Until then, he returned to his life and his work. His uncle had become sick and needed care. On the morning of December 12, he was on his way to his uncle’s house, when the vision appeared once more.
I wonder why the Virgin appeared to Juan Diego and not someone else. I wonder if she found him to be a lot like her: humble, faithful, willing to help others, but also a peer – a peasant like her. She knew peasants and how to talk with them. She knew what their lives were like. Juan Diego was a peasant himself. I think she trusted him to deliver her message without fanfare.
The bishop was not a peasant. He was educated and powerful and probably rich. If she had appeared directly to the bishop he may have seized the opportunity to increase his power and prestige. He may have used the occasion to improve his standing. The Virgin did not want that to happen.
So, what did she want? Did she simply want a building – a cathedral, and nothing more? It don’t think so. I hope not. I think what she wanted was for the indigenous and the foreigner to live in harmony; to find mutual respect and understanding; and to work together to build the reign of God on earth. Today, that continues to be her hope and ours.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.