After yesterday's fiesta, today we celebrate the feast of one who was described by Our Lady herself as one of her humblest children: St Juan Diego. His feast is on the General Calender thanks to Blessed John Paul II, who canonised him. We all know him as the visionary of Guadalupe, the story of the apparitions is well known, and the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is coming up next week.
St Juan suffered the same attack from scholarship as did St Catherine of Alexandria, St Philomena and St Simon Stock. As his Cause was progressing it was said by some that he never existed - that there was not one shred of evidence to support a claim that he ever lived. Now we all know how rigorously the Congregation of the Causes of Saints carries out its work - nothing gets past them. If there is even an inkling of a doubt the shutters come down: that is as true of the search for heroic virtue as it is for a miracle. So I cannot see the Congregation ticking all the boxes for what is said to be a figment of Blessed John Paul II's imagination. Ultimately, I think, this was just another opportunity self-styled progressives took to try and undermine John Paul's papacy, and in particular, his teaching on morality.
There was a joke that was circulating among such progressives during John Paul II's pontificate. "Did you hear about the saints JP II canonised: the saint who was never born, the saint who never died, and the saint who had no virtue? And who are these? Juan Diego - no evidence he ever lived; Edith Stein - no evidence she ever died; Josemaria Escriva - no evidence of any virtue." We were all supposed to laugh then. According to the critics, it is said Curial officials in Rome were living in dread of an old woman turning up during the St Edith's canonisation ceremony claiming to be her. The inclusion of St Josemaria is obviously a jibe at Opus Dei - progressives tend not to be appreciative of the great work Opus Dei does and the holiness which is fruit of the way of life St Josemaria inspired.
And why do I mention all of that? Well I suppose to remind us that we need the humility of St Juan Diego to keep us from the cynicism and lack of faith demonstrated by the above example. He teaches us that there is no shame in being the littlest children of the Holy Mother. He was very much a man after Our Lady's heart: he was docile to the will of God, overcoming his fears to do what she asked him to do. Though some may dismiss it, there is a heroism in the way he carried out his task. Some may say it was simple: just ask the bishop to build a church: while that may be easy for some, it is not easy for all, and not for those who seem, by nature to be timid. The great movement of holiness in the visionary of Guadalupe was that which transformed human timidity and weakness into the meekness which Jesus praises in the Beatitudes. St Juan, then, brings us back to that Little Way which St Therese teaches us: he is a perfect exponent: I wonder if Therese knew about him? Without a doubt, she would have loved him.
As we celebrate this feast of a visionary, we might also remember in our prayers the soul of another visionary who died during the week. Mariette Beco, the visionary of Banneux, who died in Belgium at the age of 90 (Story here). She received eight apparitions of Our Lady between the 15th January and the 2nd March 1933. The visions were judged authentic by the Church in 1949.
The Visionary of Banneux, Mariette Beco
Like St Juan Diego, Mariette lived a simple, hidden life. When asked about the apparitions she said that she was simply the "postman", the messenger. In the apparitions Our Lady called herself the Virgin of the Poor. With the apparitions of Beauraing (in which Our Lady called herself the Virgin of the Golden Heart) which occurred immediately before those of Banneux, Our Lady seems to have been preparing the world for the onslaught of the Second World War: a recognition that her requests in Fatima were not heeded, and so a greater war that the First World War was about to break out. I note these apparitions occur around the time of Hitler's rise to power to Germany.
What wonderful stories! We should read more about these apparitions, particularly in difficult times: they will put new heart into us and remind us that God never abandons us: that our Holy Mother is always watching over us.