Sunday, November 25, 2012

"My kingdom is not of this world": sharing the victory of Life Eternal through humble witness to the truth

Mexico. 1927. A priest is brought before a uniformed military firing squad.  As he walks from his cell to the courtyard and the firing squad, he blesses the soldiers, kneels and briefly prays quietly. Declining a blindfold, he faces his executioners with a crucifix in one hand and a rosary in the other and holds his arms out in imitation of the crucified Christ and shouts out, "May God have mercy on you! May God bless you! Lord, Thou knowest that I am innocent! With all my heart I forgive my enemies!" [5] Before the firing squad were ordered to shoot, the priest raises his arms in imitation of Christ and shouts the defiant cry of the Cristeros, the Christian rebels, "Viva Cristo Rey!" -"Long live Christ the King!".[5] When the initial shots of the firing squad fail to kill him, a soldier shoots him point blank.

Who is this priest and why was he considered such a threat to powerful men that he had to be gotten out of the way?  The priest is Blessed Father Miguel Pro, arrested and executed for doing what priests do: saying Mass and saving souls.

You see, the government had passed laws making it virtually illegal for Catholics to practice their faith and for priests and other religious leaders to make themselves known in public.  Masses and other forms of religious expression had to be done privately if at all by those who had not already given up the practice of the faith out of fear.

“An assassination attempt by bombing against Álvaro Obregón (which only wounded the ex-president) in November 1927 provided the state with a pretext to capture Pro and his brothers Humberto and Roberto. A young engineer who was involved and confessed his part in the assassination testified the Pro brothers were not involved.[7] Miguel and his brothers were taken to the Detective Inspector's Office in Mexico City.

“On November 23, 1927, Fr. Pro was executed without trial.[8][5] President Calles gave orders to have Pro executed under the pretext of the assassination, but in reality for defying the virtual outlawing of Catholicism.[5] Calles had the execution meticulously photographed, and the newspapers throughout the country carried them on the front page the following day. Presumably, Calles thought that the sight of the pictures would frighten the Cristero rebels who were fighting against his troops, particularly in the state of Jalisco. However, they had the opposite effect.
Today we call Father Pro a “blessed” of the Church for his intrepid witness of the Faith in the face of certain death, a hero to us all.  What does his life and death say to us?  He had declared Christ his King and he went to his death with that cry on his lips.  In our Church around the world today we acclaim Christ our King in our public worship.  Do our lives reflect that Jesus Christ is Lord and King?

Before we can answer these questions we must first know what kind of Kingdom it is that Jesus Christ rules over.  In the Gospel He declares that His Kingdom is “not of this world” and that it is of “truth”.  Blessed Miguel Pro seemed to our human eyes to have met defeat at the hands of his enemies and persecutors just as it seemed for so many on Calvary at the foot of the Cross 2,000 years ago.

To our eyes a man dying under a violent death at the hands of his enemies seems lost, abandoned, defeated.  But not so for Christ and those of His Kingdom; not if such a death is as the result of humble witness to the Truth.  In that witness, whether our Sunday worship here, our lives during the week or the death of martyr Miguel Pro, we share in the victory of God whose Kingdom grows in our midst as we thus love and serve Him. 

We speak the truth even though everyone around us may seem to have given in to lies and falsehoods, or false gods and empty creeds.  We live a daily martyrdom that refuses to betray God for any rewards this world may offer for those who live as though He and His Kingdom do not exist.

On the day of Father Pro's funeral the man responsible for his death, President “Calles is reported to have looked down upon a throng of 40,000 people which lined Pro's funeral procession and another 20,000 waited at the cemetery where he was buried without a priest present, his father saying the final words. The Cristeros became more animated and fought with renewed enthusiasm, many of them carrying the newspaper photo of Pro before the firing squad.” These are but a foretaste and promise of the may throngs of heavenly beings who now intercede for us in the Kingdom of Heaven, gathered as they are around the throne of Christ our King, Blessed Miguel Pro and all the holy saints and after a life of humble witness to the truth in this world.

Before we depart today we will proclaim our Faith through the words of the Creed, then we will come forth in procession to receive Jesus Christ whose Kingdom is not of this world.  And we will be empowered by His grace to return our lives in worship to Him each day as humble witnesses of Him by lives of truth, justice and love, thus dying to ourselves and our own will so as to live with Him in His Kingdom forever.  Amen.

Praised be Jesus Christ our King, now and forever.

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