During the night of Monday, December 11, the uncle’s condition grew worse. He asked Juan to go and get him a priest. He wanted to confess his sins, and receive the Last Sacraments of the Church. Early on Tuesday, December 12, Juan got up and headed for Tlatilolco to bring a priest back to his uncle. The first inkling we have that Juan remembered the meeting with Mary came when he approached Tepeyac Hill. He had to pass there to get to the city. He realized that if he went the same way he had the previous two days, she would be waiting for him. We’re not sure if Juan was afraid of being chastized for not having kept his appointment to bring the sign to the bishop, or as he told the Lady, he didn’t have time to take care of her request this day, because of his uncle.
Juan decided to avoid confrontation. He went around the other side of Tepeyac Hill, in order to avoid meeting the Lady. But as he passed near the place where they had met, he saw her walking down towards him. She asked him,
“What is the matter, my little son? Where are you going?”
Juan’s reaction reminds us of the little boy who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He acted as if nothing had happened.
He bowed down before her, and spoke. “My Child,” he began, “my littlest Daughter, Lady. I hope you are well and happy. Did you sleep well? Are you in good humor and health this morning, my Lady and little Daughter?”
Juan went on to tell her about his uncle, how he was sick to the point of death, that Juan had to get a doctor for him and nurse him the whole day, and now he was on his way to her house (the Church) in Tlaltiolco to get a priest for him. He continued,
“But even so, I’ll return here right away, tomorrow, to take your message to the bishop. I promise not to deceive you. First thing tomorrow, I’ll be here.”
The Lady stopped Juan Diego with her sparkling smile, before he could say another word. She spoke to him gently but firmly.
“Listen to me and understand me well,my son, smallest of all. You have nothing to be worried about. Have no anxiety about your uncle. He will not die now. Is this not your Mother here next to you? Are you not here in the shelter of my loving shadow? Are you not safe here within my loving bosom? What else is there to worry about?
At this very moment, your uncle is being cured. He will be well.”
Juan Diego breathed a sigh of relief. He believed what the Lady was telling him. With this burden lifted from his heart, he was able to concentrate fully on what Our Lady wanted from him. He begged her to send him to the bishop with the message immediately.
She asked him to climb up the hill to the place where they had met previously.
“There you will see many flowers; gather them carefully and place them together in your tilma; then bring them down and show them to me.”
Juan Diego mumbled under his breath as he climbed the hill. Simple he might be, but not stupid. Flowers never grew up in that place, much less at this time of the year. There was frost covering the ground. How could anything grow up there now? But he was wise enough not to question the beautiful Lady, so he followed her instructions. His eyes grew wide as he reached the appointed place. In an area where previously there had only been thistles, thorny plants, cactus and mesquite, he saw the most beautiful Castillian roses of assorted varieties and colors. They were out of season for the most fertile ground, much less for this barren soil.
He gathered them carefully, and placed them in his tilma (poncho), being sure not to crush any of them. Then he retraced his steps to the other side of the hill, where She was waiting for him. The world’s greatest decorator took the flowers from him, and rearranged them in his tilma. How must Juan Diego have felt having this exquisite child/woman standing so close to him, actually touching him? There was a fragrance about her, so much richer than that of the beautiful roses. It filled his nostrils. He became heady from it. After she had arranged the flowers to her satisfaction, she instructed him to close his tilma, so that they could not be seen.
“My little son, these various roses are the sign and proof that you must take to the bishop. Tell him in my name that they will make him understand my wish, and he must carry it out. You are my ambassador. You are most worthy of my confidence. Now, most important, do not unfold your outer garment or reveal the contents to ANYONE until you are in the bishop’s presence. Tell him everything I’ve said to you. You can do it, Juan. I will be with you.”
Juan held the flowers close to his chest, being careful not to bruise them, as he walked towards the city and the bishop’s palace.
He repeated the Lady’s message over and over as he neared his destination. He wanted to be sure he didn’t forget one word she had said, even her slightest inflection. He was confident now. He had the sign. The bishop had to realize that nowhere in the country could he find roses like these at this time of the year. There was no place they could have come from, other than Heaven. He would believe that Our Lady was speaking to him, and everything would be fine.
What he didn’t take into consideration was that there would be two forces working at the bishop’s palace that day. Our Lady would be there, but the evil one would also be in attendance. Satan had been in control of Mexico for the last ten years. He had good reason for not wanting this sign to come to the attention of the bishop. He knew what would happen. So he put all his forces to work around the residence of the bishop. When Juan arrived at the palace, the guard refused to let him pass. The servants who had lost him the other day, came out and began berating him. He just stood there, his head drooping, not knowing what to do. A long time passed.
The servants realized that Juan was carrying something inside his tilma. Their curiosity got the best of them. They asked what he had there. He did not answer them. They crowded around him, demanding to see what he had inside the cloak. He knew what his instructions were, but he also knew that this crowd would not be satisfied until they saw something. So he opened his tilma slightly to show the roses inside. They marvelled at what they saw. They knew how impossible it was to have Castillian roses at this time of the year. They wanted them. They began to grab at the roses. But as they grabbed a rose, it disappeared, and turned into a painting on the tilma. This shocked the servants.
They ran to the bishop to tell him what was happening, that Juan Diego was here with the sign from the Lady. The bishop, believing that this was important, allowed Juan into his office. The Indian knelt as before, and repeated the entire story over again. He told him about the Castillian roses on the hill, and how Our Lady had arranged them, admonishing Juan that no one should see them before the bishop. Juan ended his report with the words “RECEIVE THEM”. With that, he opened his tilma, whereupon all the roses cascaded to the floor.
Juan looked for an expression of surprise and joy from the bishop as the roses came into his sight. Juan’s eyes followed the roses to the floor, and then looked up at the bishop. He was surprised to see that the bishop was not looking at the precious roses at all. Neither was the interpreter, who was standing next to the bishop. They were both staring intently at Juan Diego’s chest.
He watched incredulously as their expressions changed from surprise to fearsome awe, to exalted reverence. Both men fell to their knees; tears of joy streamed down their cheeks. Juan looked at the tilma, to see what the reason was for their bliss. Before their eyes, the three men saw the image we call Our Lady of Guadalupe take form. It was not there as the roses first fell out of the tilma. It was only beginning. In a short period of time, the entire image was complete, the only true picture we have of the Blessed Virgin, designed by the Master Designer, and painted with joy by the Angels. In this glorious moment in time, the destiny of Mexico was altered. Our Lady had come to the Americas, to change the course of history.
Throughout the account of the Apparition, we hear Our Lady speak of the importance of having the bishop build the temple. She insisted that Juan Diego had to be the one to bring the message to the Church of Mexico. Why, we ask ourselves? It was so difficult. Had she used a more prominent person, as Juan had suggested, wouldn’t it have been easier? Wouldn’t she eliminate the risk of not being accepted?
Happy Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. May She cover you and all of your families with Her Mantle.