The year is 1927. In Mexico City, a priest named Miguel Pro is led by soldiers to the place of his execution. For months Miguel Pro had defied the virtual ban on Catholicism by the fiercely anti-Catholic Mexican government. He has moved around Mexico City in disguise – often as a mechanic - in order to celebrate Mass secretly in houses. At last the government has caught up with him. Fr. Pro is led up against a wall to face the firing squad. In the final moments before his execution, he extends his arms in the forms of a cross- in one hand clutching a rosary, in the other a crucifix - and cries out, “¡Viva Cristo Rey!”, “Long Live Christ the King!” This dramatic story of Blessed Miguel Pro can help us better understand the significance of the feast we celebrate today, Christ the King.
|Miguel Pro's execution on November 23, 1927|
Nowadays there is a tendency to make faith a merely private thing that has little influence on society at large. It seems that faith is often barred a place in the public sphere. Oddly enough, both those who are against religion and even faithful Catholic can do this. There has always been people who are against religion and do not want it to influence public society. We see this dramatically in Mexico at the time of Miguel Pro. The anti-Catholic government outlawed Catholic schools, prohibited worship outside Churches, closed monasteries, and took away the right of priests to vote. Certainly in Canada we are blessed with the freedom to practice our religion openly. Yet there can be a popular mentality that says religion is a private affair, having little place in the public sphere. This is how many interpret America’s principle of “separation between Church and State”. In this mentality, politicians and private citizens are discouraged from allowing their faith to inform the changes they would like to see in society. Surprisingly, a good number of Catholics can think in a similar way but for very different reasons. Some argue that the only important thing is getting souls to heaven. Sometimes they are not too concerned too about trying to improve society and make it more just and humane. Both non-religious and even Christians themselves tend to isolate faith so that it is a merely private affair which has little impact on the greater society.
The great lesson of today’s feast is that our faith must have a transforming impact on the public sphere because Christ is the King. Christianity was never intended to be a merely private affair that had no influence on society. In the very beginning, our loving God created the heavens and the earth to be His home. He shared the earth with man. The plan from the beginning was that God would be King. The earth would operate according to God’s laws of love and justice. However, God’s great project went off the rails because of sin. Humanity rejected God as their King and the world became ruled instead by greed, jealousy and hatred. Over the course of history, God has tried to save the great project of creation by encouraging humanity to follow Him and His rule. God’s ultimate act of salvation was to send His Son, Jesus Christ into the world. In His life Jesus always announced that the kingdom of God had arrived in His very person. Jesus is the King on several levels. Interiorly, Jesus is our King as He should hold the most important place in our heart – we are to love Him more than anything else. Jesus is also our King because our interactions with our neighbour are to be governed by His law and example. More than this though, that Jesus is King means that all of society should be shaped by His values: national government, international relations and the economic market. In fact, the Feast of Christ the King was instituted in 1925 to emphasize this point in a sea of growing nationalism and secularism. Christianity, far from being a merely private affair, is meant to transform all aspects of human life.
Jesus, however, is a King unlike any other. Jesus exercises His Kingship in a completely new and unexpected way. For a moment, try to picture in your mind a king. What comes to mind? Perhaps you pictured someone sitting on an elegant throne, wearing rich garments and a golden crown on their head. Keeping that picture in mind, how do you imagine the king behaving? Don’t we imagine kings to be powerful, authoritative, dominating and having others at their beck and call? Now, let’s take a look at the image of Christ the King presented in our gospel today. When we look at the crucifix we can see what kind of King Jesus is: His throne was the Cross, His crown was of thorns and His royal garments were rags. Not only does Jesus look different than any other King, His actions are unique as well. The power of Christ the King is shown through His mercy, peace and self-sacrifice. This kind of power, though unexpected, is ultimately stronger than the power of any earthly king. By sacrificing His life, Jesus defeated sin and death. When we imitate the example of Jesus we can experience this power in our own life. For example, at the time of Miguel Pro, many were fighting the government through armed resistance. Though these militias experienced some success, the actions of Miguel Pro and other martyrs who followed the example of Christ and laid down their lives for God and their countrymen was so much more powerful. Their witness and sacrifice inspired many and brought lasting change. Their actions carried so much power because they imitated how Jesus exercises Kingship.
Following Christ the King takes incredible courage because it means nothing less than committing ourselves to changing the world. As followers of Jesus, we are called to strive to build a word that reflects the values of Jesus. There are many people and forces in the world who claim that their ideas and way of doing things should be king. Knowing which of these voices advocates the kind of world that Jesus would want is not easy. Some voices we can agree with, other voices we need to oppose. In his day, Miguel Pro had to oppose the voice of those who tried to limit the Mexican people’s freedom to practice their religion. We can take inspiration from his example. When we look at the society, we should ask ourselves, is this the kind of world that Christ would want? What would need to change? We often hear about the issue of defending human life and marriage. This is very important, but there is more. Recent Popes have drawn our attention to the great injustice that exists between the rich and the poor. Many poor countries are so in debt that they spend most of their funds paying interest to wealthy countries and cannot afford to build up their own country. Is this the world Jesus would want? As another example, we need to seriously consider the effects that our wasteful consumer culture is having on the environment. What kind of world do we want to leave for future generations? How would Jesus have us respond to these challenges? Solutions are not easy to arrive at, yet we must work on them. Saying that Christ is our King is a very demanding statement because we must commit ourselves to building a world that Jesus would want.
Several years ago I had the opportunity to visit the place in Mexico City where Miguel Pro was martyred. The government has not allowed for a large monument there. All you can find is a small plaque attached to the wall. When I visited the site, however, I was surprised to see that many flowers were left by the site. The witness of Miguel Pro continues to inspire. I personally have found his life very encouraging. Today let us follow his example by not falling for the lie that Christianity is merely a private thing. As Catholics we are not meant to stay in some citadel looking out at the world with detachment. We should be interested in creating a world more worthy of what God has called us to be. We should be interested in politics, economics, education and social structures. Today let us remind ourselves that we are called to build the kingdom of Christ the King. This is our call. ¡Viva Cristo Rey!