By Denise Trull
The most unglamorous age is middle-age. That time between 50 and 70. When all your children are either leaving the nest or have already gone off to seek their fortunes. When you are left paying off college loans, worrying about retirement, feeling more tired in your bones and a bit more creaky in the morning as you get out of bed. The question: “What if I get sick?” Haunts you more with its import now than it ever did before. And you continue to worry about said flown children. A lot.
Suddenly you find yourself relegated to “senior” status by all those bright, young twenty somethings. But, strangely, at Church there is no ministry for you. There is children’s ministry, young adult ministry, elderly ministry. But no middle aged ministry. I guess they think you are okay - that you can take care of yourselves. Middle-aged people are so capable. They have had practice. They are okay.
So, you find yourself in that rather strange no man’s land between Bingo and crying babies at Mass. Middle age can be quite lonely and filled with fears and questions, even if you appear to all as capable.
That is why today’s feast is cause for joy, then. We celebrate today our own Patron Saint of middle age: Juan Diego. He was Our Lady’s choice. In most of her apparitions, Our Lady has appeared to children and rightly so. They are innocent and guileless. But as Our Lady of Guadalupe, she appeared to a middle aged man.
I was looking at Juan Diego’s holy card last night and it occurred to me that if I met him on the dusty road in his beloved Mexico and told him that one day he would have a feast day and his picture would be on a Holy Card, I imagine he would have laughed softly at me and touched his head telling me kindly that I must be cuckoo. The mother of God did not appear to poor, middle aged men like him. He was nothing special.
But she did appear.
I sometimes wonder if Our Lady watched him for a long before she decided this was the one. This kind, poor, middle aged man was going to be the one whom she would entrust with her simple message, “Am I not here? Am I not your Mother?” I wonder if he reminded her of her own Joseph. Uncomplicated, hard working, faithfully putting God first, always first, without fanfare.
And just as Joseph was trusted with protecting her and her beautiful Unborn Child on the journey to Bethlehem, Juan Diego was entrusted with her beautiful image folded in his Tilma - she and her unborn Child. This was a man capable of that task.
She appeared to him on his way to Mass, probably worrying about his sick uncle and all the other things that middle aged people worry about. She cared about his burden, his need of comforting words, his need still of a mother. It gives me confidence that she follows my day with me and sees my worries, my cares, my need still of a mother to tell me what to do - a place to lay my head as her child.
St Juan Diego’s feast day is a beautiful jewel given to those of us in middle age. We are not forgotten. We matter to the very Mother of God! And even though we are not children, we can fit very comfortably under her mantle.