May 2, 2009

Viva Cristo Rey!

The seminarians of St. John Vianney in Denver, Colorado provided a compelling performance of a very poignant story. It is the story of a thirty six year old Jesuit priest who loved his people more than his own life and the story of political authorities who hated God and godfearing people. It is the story of the family that loyally supported their courageous son and brother come what come may, and the story of a government which tried to destroy him. It is the story of the power of prayer over the power of violence. It is the story of the inhumanity of men when they turn away from God and how one man's zeal for the Lord was able to help some of them find salvation and rediscover what it means to be human.

"Long live Christ the King" are the last words of a modern martyr. Padre Miguel Pro SJ's witness shows the greatness of our religion and the irrational pettiness of a society that sets itself against God and religion. At the time, the Mexican leader Plutarco Calles enforced laws against the Catholic Church. Mass, confession and even praying the rosary were all punishable offenses. To protect the clergy as far as possible, bishops and religious communities developed plans to remove clergy, but some priests chose to stay and minister to the people. From 1926 - 1929, 160 priests were executed along with hundreds more lay men, women and children.

On the heels of the Russian revolution, there was a wide spread belief that religion was holding up progess. If only people could be liberated from God, the would be more devoted to improving their lot in this life. Even today, there is a popular belief that the real cause of war and misery is religion. Belief in God and practice of one's own faith is presumed to be irrational by many. But such prejudice proved prosaic when throughout the 20th century godless regimes showed impious men were the most inhumane men of all. The persecution of the Church in Mexico and the martyrdom of Padre Pro is part of this larger political story.

Part of the reason things got so out of hand was the story of persecution was not really known. Only journalists sympathetic to the cause of Mexican socialism were permitted to report on positive achievements, and even these journalists highly monitored by the government. Irrationality often leads to rashness - and the rash decision of the Mexican authorities to publically execute a popular 36 year old priest to bring the populace in line would draw the attention of the world and encourage believers to stand up. The anti-clerical laws of Calles would come to an end.

There was a wonderful contrast of the playfulness and joy of Christian family life against the sober malicious emnity of godless officials. Padre Pro himself is shown to be an adventurous man who loves life - against fearful men who seem rather lifeless. Although he is the one who is martyred - he and his brothers are the ones who really live.

This is the historical backdrop for the play performed at St. John Vianny Theological Seminary last night and to be performed again this evening. Deacon Mauricio Bermudez (soon to be ordained priest) played Pro - shoot, he looked almost just like the saint! But there was something fitting, something proportionate, something beautiful in seeing seminarians play out this story. It was as if they were revealing to us why they have the courage to enter the priesthood today. True, priests and seminarians are not being shot - but their reputations often get murdered - especially by the very people they have given their lives to serve. So, they identify with Pro - a man despised by his own nation, but who was completely devoted to serving those who most needed the Lord.

For more on his life, I found a couple good websites :
http://puffin.creighton.edu/jesuit/pro/pro_links.html
http://catholicism.org/padre-pro.html

The play spoke to me about prayer - and its importance not only for the person who prays, but for the whole society in which he lives. Today, for many, prayer is a sort of therapeutic escapism. It is not really connected with apostolic fruitfulness. Programs, even religious programs, are more fruitful than wasting time with God - or so it is thought. But this play which our men performed so well tells a different story. If we really want to change the world and make it a more human place -- prayer is the most important and most human means of all. Men who pray find courage to go where others would run. They see the human and find ways to speak directly to it, even when it is disguised in the inhumane. Such men are never oppressed - they are the one's who are able to cry out, "Viva Christo Rey!