Homily: Christ the King – Cycle A
“Long live Christ the King!” This was the rally cry of the Cristero rebellion, which fought to restore religious freedom to Mexico in the 1920s. After the revolution of 1910, Mexico enacted a constitution that placed strict limitations on the Church and its clergy. At first, these limitations were not strongly enforced. Under Mexican President Plutarco Elias Calles, however, a strict enforcement of these limitations was put in place, often using violence as the means for enforcement.
In response the Bishops of Mexico suspended all public worship, in the hope that it would rouse the hearts of the Mexican people to respond to the unjust actions of their federal government. This, coupled with the increasing violence against Catholics, led to the uprising that became known as La Cristiada. This rebellion fought against the government forces in order to protect the faithful from their violence and to restore justice by restoring freedom of religion to their country.
Blessed Miguel Agustin Pro was a young Jesuit priest who was killed during this persecution of the Church under President Calles. In 1911, when Miguel was 20 years old, he was expelled from Mexico because he had entered the Jesuit novitiate. He completed his formation and was ordained a priest in 1925. He had a severe stomach ailment, however, and, after several operations were unsuccessful in resolving it, his superiors allowed him to return to his home land, in spite of the persecutions.
By that time, the churches were closed and priests were in hiding. Thus, Father Pro spent the rest of his life in a secret ministry to the sturdy Mexican Catholics. In addition to fulfilling their spiritual needs, he also carried out works of mercy by assisting the poor of Mexico City with their temporal needs. He adopted many disguises to carry out his secret ministry. In all that he did, he remained filled with the joy of serving Christ and obedient to his superiors.
In 1927, Father Pro was falsely accused in a bombing attempt on the President-elect and became a wanted man. He was betrayed to the police and sentenced to death without the benefit of any legal process. On the day of his death, November 23, 1927, Father Pro forgave his executioners, prayed, bravely refused the blindfold, and died with arms outstretched proclaiming "Long Live Christ the King!", in Spanish, Viva Cristo Rey!
Persecutions always have the effect of polarizing people. Violent persecutions will often reveal the depth of a person’s faith, because they force a person to choose a side. Thus, no one stands on the sidelines. This is true of the persecution in Mexico during the last century and for every other religious persecution that has happened throughout history.
There are other, more subtle persecutions, however, that don’t polarize people so absolutely. These, in a way, are just as sinister, because instead of trying to kill the believer with one thrust of the sword, this type of persecution slowly bleeds a person to death by making thousands of little cuts. No single one is enough to force the person to take a stand and so he or she is forced into submission often without realizing that it was happening.
This type of persecution doesn’t affect the person of conviction, however. At the first little cut, these men and women immediately respond. The person that this type of persecution affects the most, rather, is the lukewarm person: that is, the person who is not deeply convicted by his or her beliefs and so is either frozen by fear of choosing the wrong side or unmoved because of apathy (which, in fact, is a tacit approval of the persecutors). It is this lukewarm group that Jesus is targeting with his parable today.
The image that Jesus gives us is an apocalyptic one: It is the end of time and Jesus has come to sit on his throne so as to judge, that is, to polarize, all peoples. He separates them into two groups: one group on his right, the other on his left. The group on his right is composed of those who lived what they proclaimed: that Christ is King and that to serve him is to serve the needs of his people. Notice, however, that the group on the left isn’t made up of persecutors; rather it is made up of the lukewarm: those who, perhaps, proclaimed Christ as King, but who did not live what they proclaimed, choosing rather to enjoy their comfortable lives instead of serving the needs of their King’s people.
Blessed Miguel Pro lived as if what he said was true. He proclaimed Christ as King and gave his life in service to his King: first by becoming a priest, then by serving the needs of his King’s people by serving the needs of the poor, and finally by giving up his life in resistance to the forces that were trying to convince the people that Christ wasn’t King. To him, and to men and women like him, Jesus gives the name “sheep”.
How many of us, however, live like the group on Jesus’ left: calling ourselves “Catholic Christians”, but then resisting the service that demonstrates our convictions; preferring instead our comfortable lives? If we have come here today to proclaim that Jesus Christ is Our Lord and King of the Universe, but then return home and live as if that doesn’t demand certain things from us—specifically, service to the needs of our King’s people—then Jesus has a name for us, too: “goats”.
As we know from elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus ain’t got no love for hypocrites. Notice, he almost never condemns persecutors and public sinners; rather, he condemns the hypocrites: that is, those who profess faith in God, but then fail to live in accord with that faith. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, we must be sincere. If we call Christ King of the Universe, then we must live that conviction: by proclaiming his name, in spite of whatever hardships that may cause us, and by living detached from material things in service to those who suffer because they lack them. If we do, Our King will welcome us to eternal life. If we don’t, however, he will leave us to suffer eternal punishment.
My brothers and sisters, the blood of Blessed Miguel Agustin Pro and thousands of others was shed to proclaim the truth that Jesus Christ is King of the Universe. If our hearts are convinced of the same, let us live as they lived, so that their blood may not have been shed in vain and so as to hasten the coming of our King and the blessed life that he has promised us. Therefore, let us make our own the cry of the Mexican martyrs and proclaim by our words and our actions, ¡Viva Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King!
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – November 22nd & 23rd, 2014