Saint of the Day – 20 July – Blessed Gregory Lopez (1542-1596) – Hermit, Spiritual Advisor, Writer. Born on 4 July 1542 at Madrid, Spain and died on 20 July 1596 of natural causes near Mexico City.
Around 1585, word of a “Mystery Man” began to leak into Mexico City, a strange hermit who lived out in the lonely valley of Guesteca, who walked miles to go to Mass, lived totally subject to “Lady Poverty” and had travelled from the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Spain (which dates from 712), to her Shrine in Mexico (which dates from 1531). Disturbed by the wagging tongues of the day and the stories becoming exaggerated with the telling, the Archbishop of Mexico, set up an investigating commission to examine the matter. What they discovered was quite remarkable and Blessed Gregory had to find a new place to hide.
He had been a Page in the Court of Philip II of Spain and while visiting the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Estremadura, had heard of the Shrine of the same name in Mexico. He sold all his possessions and gave the money to the poor and then went to Mexico convinced that God would show him what to do. In Mexico, he went in search of a place to live as a hermit. He found a suitable place in Guesteca, walked 24 miles to Mass on Sundays and Feast days and caused a lot of gossip by his unusual way of life. To quiet the tongues, he lived on a plantation for a while to attend daily Mass regularly but after the earthquake of 1566, he returned to his hermitage.
He thought he should perhaps become a Dominican Friar but he found that community life was not for him and returned to his solitude. When the Archbishop approved his way of life and Blessed Gregory became too popular, he went to work in a hospital and wrote a book on pharmacy for the nursing brothers.
In 1589, a priest friend, Fr Francisco de Losa (1536-1634) helped him to set up a Hermitage near his Parish. At this point, Fr Losa could more carefully observe the piety of his charge and the biography focuses on this aspect. Fr Losa was so edified that he retires from his pastoral duties to accompany and observe his friend.
“I then observed both day and night all his actions and words with all possible attention, to see if I could discover anything contrary to the high opinion which I had of his virtue. But far from this, his behaviour appeared everyday more admirable than before, his virtue more sublime and his whole conversation rather divine than human.”
They spent time in scriptural study, long hours in prayer and became Spiritual advisors to many. Fr Losa notes a typical day. Gregory would rise, wash, read a little, then fall into a “recollection”: “All one could conjecture from the tranquility and devotion which appeared in his countenance was that he was in the continual presence of God.” They would dine at one o’clock, afterwards engage in conversation or one might read aloud as a recreation. Then Gregory would return to his room until the next day, though sometimes he received visitors; in his last years the visitors were often ecclesiastics, the learned, or the nobility, going away much edified. Gregory’s routine remained not to use a candle and he retired by about 9:30 in the evening. Towards his last years he had reluctantly accepted the sheepskin quilt offered by Fr Losa and a bed rather than the floor. In any case, he seldom slept more than a few hours.
Among the virtues of Gregory was his mildness, patience, and humility — though he must have suffered greatly from his physical pain (a bad intestinal illness which caused bleeding). He never judged others: “For many years I have judged no man but believed all to be wiser and better than me. I have not pretended to set myself up above others or to assume any authority over others.”
He never complained, and Fr Losa says, “I never heard him speak one single word that could be reproved.” His conversation was never but “useful and spiritual,” though he preferred silence. Gregory used to say that “My silence will edify more than my words” and “I see that many talk well, but let us live well.” Ultimately, however, Gregory no longer identified with this world: “Ever since I came to New Spain I have never desired to see anything in this world, not even my relations, friends or country.”
Fr Losa attests to the vast knowledge of López, of ecclesiastical and profane history, ancient to contemporary, of astronomy, cosmography, geography, botany, zoology, anatomy, medicine and botanicals. These topics did not distract López from his spirituality, however, for he told Losa, “I find God alike in little things and in great.”
But his spiritual discernment was keen and Fr Losa says that Gregory “saw spiritual things with the eyes of his soul as clearly as outward things with those of his body and had an amazing accuracy in distinguishing what was of grace and what of nature.” For this Blessed Gregory was often consulted by visitors as if he was an “oracle from heaven, as a prodigy of holiness.” One can imagine how this edified Fr Losa, for in 1579 he began writing about López, even while yet a rector of a large parish in Mexico City.
Blessed Gregory remained a hermit all his life, wishing always to be alone with God. When he died in 1596 at the age of 54, miracles were attributed to him almost immediately. He was a most unusual man, who took his own path to holiness and remained convinced that it was the will of God for him. His fame reached as far as England, France and Germany. The sickness that had dogged him returned one last time in 1596. He lost all appetite and could swallow only liquids. The bloody flux would not stop and he grew progressively weaker. He told Fr Losa that he had entered “God’s time” and his comportment would consist in doing and not in talking. Fr Losa records that “I never perceived in him during his whole illness any repugnance to the order of God but an admirable peace and tranquillity, with an entire conformity to His will. All his virtue shone marvellously in his sickness, particularly his humility.” López died in July 1595 at 54 years of age, 34 of them spent in the New World. Due to the unflagging efforts of Losa, Gregory López was eventually named “Blessed” but was never formally beatified though he is regarded as having received equipollent Beatification and is highly revered most especially in Mexico and Spain. Interestingly, many Protestants including John Wesley, revered him as a man of wonderful holiness.