Despite all of the abnormalities attached to the first semester, one thing has remained the same – the reading of The Little Prince by my seniors as their last assignment in the Christian Manhood class. This book is one that on the surface looks like a simple children’s story, yet it is so much more than a modern fairy tale. A book that proposes statements like, “it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye,” is no mere children’s book.
In his autobiography Antoine de Saint-Exupéry discusses his time in the Sahara Desert after a plane crash (he was trying to break the speed record during an air race), and he is grateful to a Bedouin on a camel for rescuing him from certain death. A Bedouin is literally a nomad or a wanderer, and I point out to my seniors that the term we might use in America for such people is “homeless.”
To the eyes of the world such a man as the one who saved Saint-Exupéry’s life is invisible. There are many such people today and throughout history, and their sheer number has become proverbial – it is attributed to Abraham Lincoln that “God must love the common people (sometimes “poor” is used instead of “common”) because he made so many of them.”
Another such common person was Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin who lived just north of the modern boundary of Mexico City. From all accounts he was a good man, plain and simple, who, with his wife, was a devout Catholic devoted to the Blessed Mother. There was literally nothing special about him. Certainly nothing that was visible to the eye.
But on December 9, 1531 he experienced something quite extraordinary and it changed not only his life forever, but helped to create the Catholic nation of Mexico. At the time of this event there were approximately 200,000 Catholics in Mexico, but when Juan Diego died seventeen years later there were a total of nine million who had sought baptism.
What event could be so influential in the lives of nine million contemporaries of Juan Diego and have such a lasting effect that the Basilica dedicated to this experience is the most visited Catholic shrine in the world?
On that fateful day in 1531, as Juan Diego was walking to Mass, he heard what he described as a song as if sung by a multitude of birds. When he looked up he saw a bright cloud on the top of Tepeyac Hill, and he heard a woman calling to him. So he climbed up the hill and saw the woman who had called to him, a woman who, according to her words, was the “Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God… I am your Mother full of mercy and love for you and all those who love me, trust in me, and have recourse to me.”
There are few Catholics in America who are unaware of at least the basic story of Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe. Juan Diego went to his bishop to tell him of this apparition, but the bishop was incredulous. So finally, and this is the most well-known part of the story, on December 12th Mary told Juan Diego to gather roses in his tilma (poncho) and to lay them at the feet of the bishop. When this was done there appeared an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the tilma, an image that remains to this day and it is one of the most mysterious of all relics in Christendom.
This tilma, like the Shroud of Turin, has not only been the object of veneration by the Catholic faithful, but has also been the subject of scientific investigation. As with the Shroud, a number of unexpected conclusions have been drawn. For example, the stars on Mary’s mantle are in the exact position as the stars in the Mexican sky on December 12, 1531. The colors on the image do not exist in any paint in existence – they are like those on birds feathers that change color depending on the angle. And even more strange is that when the image is exposed to more or less light, the pupils contract and dilate.
But it is what the eye cannot see in this image that is the most striking, and both, just like the oddities just mentioned, have been verified by NASA scientists. First, the image on the tilma is always at 36.6 degrees Celsius, the temperature of a healthy human. As amazing as that is, it pales in comparison to another finding.
Among the various means of examining this image has been the use of a stethoscope. When the stethoscope was placed over the belly of the woman, who is visibly pregnant, it registered at 115 beats per minute – a normal fetal heart rate.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is both the Patroness of the Mexican people, as well as the Patroness of the Americas. But, maybe more importantly, as we approach the Nativity, she is the Patroness of the Unborn.
The Bedouin, Juan Diego, the unborn. Those who, in the eyes of the world, are of no consequence.
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”