Could it get any worse for St. John the beloved disciple than on Good Friday? I mean, he’s standing at the foot of the Cross, just outside the main gate of Jerusalem. Hanging naked in front of him, for all the city to see, is the One he gave up everything to follow. Mutilated and humiliated, treated as a sub-human criminal is the Man he put all his trust in, the Man who had become most beloved to him, the man who had been showing him God Himself. Now everything was turned completely upside down within 24 hours. Could it get any worse?
What did Jesus do in that hour for His beloved disciple? He gave him His Mother: “Behold, your mother!” (Jn 19:27) And what did John do? And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (Jn 19:27) Well, we know the story: that darkest Friday was transformed into Good Friday. And after that, John became the foundation of a whole flourishing branch of the Christian Church, writing a Gospel, three letters, the Book of Revelation, all of which have continued to feed and grow the Church for almost 2000 years. Through him, through one ordinary man, God did one of His greatest works.
So what does it mean, taking her to his own home? What did John do?
OK, for this we need to look at the original language, but it’s not complicated, I promise. In the literal original Greek, this sentence reads, “And from that hour the disciple took her into his own things.” The Greek has another word for house or home that John uses in other places in his Gospel. So he wasn’t just saying that he took Mary into his own home, although he did.
Into his own things? What did John do?
In 1521, the Spaniard Cortez landed in Mexico and encountered the Aztecs, a people who dominated the continent sort of like America does today. The Aztecs were pagans, so they sought God in creation and worshipped creation as gods. This led to some very good things and some very bad things. Some very, very bad things. See, they believed that the sun god, the god of gods, the almighty, needed to be fed as we do, and that the food he required was human hearts and human blood. The Aztecs sacrificed many of their own people to feed these gods.
When the Spaniards arrived, they began to put a stop to the human sacrifice. They also defeated the Aztecs in war and began to seize their land, and the new Spanish government, separated from the eye of the king overseas, abused the Aztecs out of greed and hunger for power.
Chaos was beginning. The Spanish Franciscans had converted some, but were facing on the one side extremely depressed Aztecs and on the other oppressive Spaniards. Finally, in 1531, the bishop wrote to the king of Spain saying that unless God intervened with a miracle, the land was on the verge of being lost forever.
It was complete and total darkness.
Now, bear with me, there’s more, and there’s a point to all this!
So at that time, Juan Diego, a local 50-year-old married man who had converted to the Catholic Church, was walking to church when he heard birds singing atop Tepeyac hill. Upon climbing the hill, to his amazement, he was met by the Blessed Virgin Mary. The beautiful Lady told him that she was his mother, and not to worry about any afflictions, that he was under her mantle and her protection. She wanted a little chapel built atop the hill so that her Son would be known and loved, and sent little Juan Diego to the bishop with her request.
The bishop requested a sign, and when Juan Diego returned to Mary, she told him he would find his sign on top of the hill. There, on a rocky top in the middle of winter, he found fresh roses that only grow in Spain. And even more, flowers indicated the divine to the locals. So he picked them and brought them to Mary on her request, and she placed them distinctively in his tilma.
What is his tilma? It’s an outer garment, but much more. It had so many uses and was so intimate to the Aztec that it literally defined the man. The tilma revealed who the man was, his interior, his soul, his character – what he was all about.
When Juan Diego reached the bishop’s palace, he opened his tilma, and when the miraculous flowers fell out, there also miraculously appeared an image on the tilma:
Amazing, right! Now, to an Aztec, this event meant that the divine (the flowers) had imprinted this image on Juan Diego’s soul (his tilma). In this image, we are looking at Juan Diego’s soul!
And what is there? The sun, the stars, the moon, clouds, flowers, symbols that point to the Blessed Mother’s virginity and motherhood, her being in God and God being in her womb, and many other deep spiritual codes that any ordinary 50-year-old Aztec man would have in his heart to express that Mary was his Mother who centered his heart on Jesus.
The chapel was quickly built, and within ten years of this event, nine million locals were baptized, and the Mexican nation was created as we know it today. It was the greatest conversion event in the history of the world. And it was all done by way of Juan Diego, his soul, and his tilma. One ordinary man. It was one of God’s greatest works.
So, now, why did I tell you this very long story, why all the details?
It’s because in this image, we are seeing Mary, the Mother of Jesus, taken into Juan Diego’s own things. We are seeing what John the beloved disciple meant when he said he took her into his own things. And this whole event in Mexico is the Gospel.
In your darkest hour, when things are the lowest, Jesus gives you His Mother. If, like John the beloved disciple, like Juan Diego, you take her into your own things, then everything changes.
That darkest hour becomes the greatest hour, and God will do His greatest works.