Catholic Liturgy for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, Nov. 24, 2019. Gospel of Luke 23:35-43. Theme: Long Live Christ the King!
At 10 a.m. on Nov. 23, 1927, a 36-year old Jesuit priest, who was among the most wanted men in Mexico, was taken from his death-row cell and marched across the prison yard to the place of execution. As he walked he held a crucifix in one hand and a rosary in the other. One of the guards approached him and with tears in his eyes begged forgiveness for his participation in the tragic event. Reaching out to him, the condemned priest said, “Not only do I forgive you, but I also thank you.”
Upon arrival at the wall of execution, the priest asked permission to pray before being executed. Kneeling before the wall which was riddled with bullet holes from previous executions, he asked God for the grace to be faithful to the end. Then, he stood up, extended his arms in the form of a cross and, facing the firing squad, exclaimed in a loud, but calm and steady voice: “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” “Long live Christ the King!”
Shots rang out and the priest fell to the ground. I am sure Jesus said to him the very same words spoken to the thief on the cross in today’s gospel: “This day you will be with me in paradise.” To the surprise and humiliation of the government authorities - and despite the dangers of persecution - 60,000 Catholics attended the heroic priest’s funeral. Since public religious services we outlawed, the prayers were led by the martyr’s own grieving father. And throughout the ceremony the defiant prayerful last words of the martyr we repeatedly shouted: “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” “Long live Christ the King!”
The priest was Father Miguel Pro, whom we now honor as a martyr and saint. His feast day was just observed yesterday, the date of his death. Born and raised amidst the bloody religious persecution of Catholics in Mexico in the 1920’s, he actually lived for a short time not too far from here in Los Gatos. He had become the most wanted man in Mexico precisely because he believed with all his heart in the meaning and purpose of the solemnity we are celebrating today: that Christ the King is Lord of all things including politics and public social life, and that no earthly government or authority has the right to deny people their religious liberty.
Blessed Miquel knew that our faith in Christ is not meant to be kept within the walls of a church or confined politely to our private lives. He ministered amidst constant danger in a land whose laws forbid people to express and display their faith in public. He preached by his life and testified by his death that our relationship with Christ and our commitment to live his gospel is to be influential in all that we do, 7 days a week, and is not to be reserved just for Sundays, or confined to the walls of a church, or kept politely within the parameters of our private lives.
His words and witness remind us that our allegiance to Christ the King, if it flows from a real life-giving faith, must influence and guide us just as much in our civil life and politics, as it does in our private lives. Our decisions and behavior must reflect our relationship with Jesus in all that we are and do, at home and at work, in business and in the trades, in law and politics, in education and in entertainment. We want the social reign of Christ the King to influence every aspect of our culture because we know his kingship is based upon truth and love and forms the sure foundation for a truly human life.
The Solemnity of Jesus Christ the King reminds us that as Christians, we have a solemn duty to bring the light and truth of Christ into the public arena. And in our nation as a democratic republic, this means that we must express our faith at the ballot box so that the rights of all citizens and peoples can be upheld. What a glaring difference this is from some public figures and politicians these days who on one hand declare quite openly that they are Catholic and yet, on the other hand assure us that they will not let their faith have any influence over their public service and decisions!
Blessed Miguel once said, and I quote, “We ought to speak, to shout out against injustices, with confidence and without fear. We proclaim the principles of the Church, the reign of love, without forgetting that it is also a reign of justice.” And so, we cannot be silent even if our laws and our culture tell us to keep our faith to ourselves. We speak out so that the Lordship of Christ the King can transform our society into something beautiful for God and for the human family. “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” “Long live Christ the King!”
(Below are actual photographs of the martyrdom of Blessed Miguel Pro, SJ)