In her novel Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather describes the encounter between Juan Diego and the Virgin of Guadalupe, then provides a memorable commentary on the apparition. Speaking in the middle of the19th century, one Spanish cleric tells another what happened three hundred years before, in December 1531, as a poor 55-year “neophyte of the monastery of St. James” hurried down Tepeyac Hill to Mass.
When Juan Diego saw a “young woman of great beauty, clad in blue and gold,” he reported it to the bishop, Zumarraga, only to be rebuked harshly and sent away. But Our Lady was persistent, reappearing and comforting the poor man. Following the Virgin’s instructions after seeing Her again, Juan Diego gathered roses in his tilma and returned with them to the bishop as a sign. When he dropped the roses before the bishop, revealing his tilma, “Bishop Zumarraga and his Vicar instantly fell upon his knees among the flowers. On this inside of his poor mantle was a painting of the Blessed Virgin, in robes of blue and rose and gold, exactly as She had appeared to him on the hillside.”
The two clerics continue to discuss the story of Juan Diego, the Virgin, and the bishop. One says: “Doctrine is well enough for the wise, Jean; but the miracle is something we can hold in our hands and love.”
Jean replies: “Where there is great love there are always miracles. One might almost say that an apparition is human vision corrected by divine love. I do not see you as you really are, Joseph; I see you through my affection for you. The Miracles of the Church seem to me to rest not so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always.”
As I have written before, “moments of grace arrive at an acclerating clip” during the final third of Cather’s novel, the only Catholic-titled work on Time magazine’s list of the 100 best English-language novels since 1923. It’s worth (re)reading.
NOTE: We’re taking a break from Undsetomania here at “Witness,” which has seen one, two, three posts already today about Norwegian author Sigrid Undset, the only overtly Catholic female author ever to win the Nobel Prize (1928). We now return to our regular program.