Solemnity of Christ the King, Last Sunday in Ordinary Time (Nov 25, 2012)
Viva Cristo Rey! This was the war cry of the Catholic Rebels, known as the Cristeros, who fought against the anti-Catholic Mexican government during the Cristero War of the 1920’s. Translated it means, “Long live Christ the King!” When we refer to Christ as a King, what images do you conjure up in your mind? I picture Jesus wearing a golden crown sitting on top of a jeweled covered throne holding a sheppard’s staff in one hand.
This may sound nice and fancy, but this is not the image we get from reading Scripture. Jesus was born to a poor family in a stable. He was raised in a humble home as the son of an ordinary carpenter and never had wealth or riches. When he was old enough to leave home and travel, a small group of close followers surrounded him as they traveled from town to town. He would tell stories and perform an occasional miracle, which peaked some people’s curiosity but frightened others. But when things got a little too dicey, these close friends abandoned him to save their own lives. The closest he got to be a king was when he was handed over to the Romans soldiers who dressed him up in a purple cloak and placed a crown of thorns on his head. This apparent “King of the Jews” was then hung on a tree and crucified like a common criminal. Not exactly a pleasant ending for a so-called king.
If, however, that were the end of the story, those Catholic Rebels would never have been shouting “Viva Cristo Rey” while they risked their lives in the name of religious freedom. Yes their King had been crucified, but he conquered death and ascended into heaven to sit on His heavenly thrown next to His Father. You see, Christ was not meant to stay here on earth to rule over this world like an ordinary king. He was meant to come down and open up the gates of heaven and to encourage us to listen to the truth of His voice. So when the extremely anti-Catholic President of Mexico tried to ban all Catholics from practicing their faith, they had a choice to make. They could ignore the truth by staying away from Mass and the sacraments and stay alive, or they could shout, “Viva Cristo Rey” and risk execution.
One such man who had to make this choice was Miguel Agustin Pro. He was a young priest who originally left Mexico in 1914 to avoid the wave of anti-Catholicism that was spreading through his beloved country. After several health issues, his superiors granted his request to return to Mexico in 1926. All Catholic churches during that time were closed and the priests were in hiding. If a priest was caught saying Mass or offering the sacraments, he could he hung or shot on sight. So Fr. Pro, refusing to ignore his duty to his fellow Catholics, turned into a master of disguise. He would dress as a beggar in the middle of the night so he could celebrate Mass and perform baptisms and marriages. He would imitate a police officer and enter the prisons to bring Viaticum to the imprisoned Catholics. Fr. Pro even dressed up as a fancy businessman and went door-to-door trying to collect money for the poor. He did all of these things in obedience to Christ, his King. In 1927, he was arrested and falsely accused of an assassination attempt against a government official. On November 23, 1927 President Calles ordered the execution of Fr. Pro by firing squad. Fr. Pro was marched from his cell into the courtyard where the firing squad awaited.
He blessed the soldiers and then kneeled down quietly to pray.
Declining a blindfold, he faced his executioners with a crucifix in one hand and a rosary in the other and held his arms out in imitation of the crucified Christ and shouted, “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!” He then shouted the defiant cry of the Cristeros, “Viva Cristo Rey!”
…and was then shot to death.
President Calles knew Fr. Pro was innocent of the assassination attempt, but also got word of his clever disguises and thought this was a good way of teaching others a lesson for defying his ban on Catholicism. So Calles had the execution well documented and put photographs in the newspapers throughout Mexico. In spite of this, it was reported that around 40,000 people lined the road for the funeral procession and another 20,000 waited at the cemetery to pay their respects.
Fr. Pro’s witness to his faith gave the Cristeros a renewed enthusiasm and many carried the newspaper clipping of his execution in their shirt as a reminder of what it means to live out the phrase, “Long Live Christ the King!”
Today Fr. Miguel Pro is referred to as Blessed Miguel Pro and hopefully one day will be given the title St. Miguel Pro. He knew that the King he worshiped was not of this world and was ready to lay down his life in hopes to be able to worship his King in heaven rather than ignore the truth he believed in. His faith was the most important thing he had.
I often wonder how many of us in today’s society take our faith for granted. We have the opportunity to attend Mass and receive the Eucharist any day of the week. We can receive God’s mercy and love in the sacrament of reconciliation at pretty much anytime. You need a baptism or want to get married, just call Sara in the office and she’ll get it on the schedule! However, the last time I checked, there was no firing squad outside our church doors waiting for us to come out or preventing us from coming in. So then why do so many Catholics today skip Mass, put off confession for years at a time and don’t make an effort to learn their faith?
What we need is a renewed enthusiasm! We need more people that are willing to stand up and shout “Viva Cristo Rey” without caring who hears them! We need more Catholics to authentically live out their faith like Blessed Miguel Pro so we can inspire others to do the same! This obviously will take some work and won’t happen overnight.
I propose the following suggestions for your consideration to becoming a better Catholic:
1. Learn everything you can about the real presence in the Eucharist. To miss this one is to miss the heart of Catholicism. Today Fr. Noel will commission our Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. Think of these as Cristeros who aren’t afraid to stand up in public and proclaim the real presence of our King in the form of ordinary bread and wine.
2. Attend Mass as often as possible. The Mass is the banquet Christ our King left for us on earth to do in remembrance of Him.
3. Try going to confession once a month. Admitting when you fail is humbling and will make you want to be a better person.
4. Instead of reading those romance novels or watching movies with morally questionable material, take that time to learn something new about your Catholic faith.
5. And finally…pray every single day. It doesn’t matter if it’s the rosary, quiet mediation or just saying, “God, I need your help.” Your Father in heaven loves you and is waiting to talk to you. It’d be a shame if the first time you had a real conversation with Him were on your judgment day!
I say it’s time for Catholics to set the bar. If the 77 million Catholics in the United States start learning and living out our faith, we can create real change in our country. If we as a Church start honoring Christ as our true King and show it in our daily actions, then we will evangelize and change the world. It’s time we as a faith community unite and put Christ back on His throne! Viva Cristo Rey!