June 12, 2012

For Greater Glory

Over the weekend, I saw For Greater Glory (Cristiada), a movie about the Cristero wars in Mexico (1926-1929).  Until I saw this movie, most of what I had heard about this war was from Graham Greene's Power and the Glory, a few short biographies from some of the martyrs who were beatified and canonized, and word of mouth stories from migrant workers with whom I worked in California, New Mexico and Texas.  I never was able to put together all these different sources.  The movie was deeply moving to this end, especially at this time when religious freedom is being threatened all over the world.  Now I cannot wait to read the book by Ruben Quezada.

For our time and for those who are beginning to pray, the movie helps us think about the connections between faith and culture, religion and society, personal conversion and social change, and holiness and the authentically human; all of which ought to be part of our personal conversation with God.  Humble prayer informed by these considerations helps us discern what it is we are to render unto God, to summon the courage to be good citizens, and to find the joy we need to share the Gospel of Christ.  Here are my thoughts on the Cristeros, their struggles and their witness, thoughts I hope to develop for many years to come.

To God, what belongs to God.  The movie depicts how government overreach incited the Cristeros.  Although it is the teaching of the Lord that we must render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar, the claim of Caesar is not absolute.  There are things to be rendered unto God to which Caesar has no right.  With the battle cry "Viva Cristo Rey!" the Cristeros were affirming that the demands of faith in Christ do not admit of compromise.

Unjust laws are a threat to what is authentically human in society, especially for the poor and the powerless.  The movie shows an escalation in violence proportionate to the attempts of governmental power to suppress people of faith. Sadly, throughout history and throughout the world today, governments have shown a propensity to lay claim to what pertains to the innermost sanctuary of the human person -- and the fruits of this oppression always undermine and destabilize society.  Whenever state power encroaches on obligations of conscious to God, it is always to the detriment not simply of religious institutions but rather of the whole of society.   As has been the case throughout history, the movie depicts the poor and the powerless bearing the brunt the social aggression which results from all sides.  Indeed, the development of a more humane society is thwarted until unjust laws subverting religious freedom are repealed.

Witness to the true freedom of our faith through responsible social participation.  The movie shows bystanders who try to avoid conflict by compromise but end up subjecting the most vulnerable to harms way.  Whenever the followers of Christ have been shamed or bullied into silence, it is always disastrous for the rest of society, but especially for those who most need a voice.  It is cowardly to be a bystander when the rights and dignity of the most vulnerable in society are on the line. Religious freedom is not only about one's own freedom to live one's own faith in private but it is about the responsibility to promote this freedom to build up the common good.  Rendering unto God what belongs to God and to Caesar what belongs to Caesar converge on the responsibility Catholics have for social participation.  We must not be silent in the marketplace of ideas or in the debates that take place in the public square when something so precious as religious freedom is at stake.

Be proud of the Gospel.  The movie puts together in a wonderful tapestry the stories of both the saints and sinners who comprised the Cristero movement.  Among the sinners, we see a purification of faith in the lives of the Cristeros as they come to grips with what it is they are fighting for and why they are fighting for it. At  the same time the movie develops the gradual realization among the secularists of the insufficiency of violent oppression as a means for securing social stability.  Among the saints, the martyrdom of both Blessed Jose Sanchez del Rio and Blessed Anacleto Gonzales Flores are depicted.  By making sure to include their stories, For Greater Glory helps us see that there is no greater glory than to live for Jesus Christ and that even in the worst circumstances if we are faithful to the hope that comes from God victory is assured.