Who are the ‘Josès’ in Our Lives?

The story of the Cristiada – or Cristero War – was released in the United States under the film title, “For Greater Glory“. It tells of the rise to power of President Plutarco Elias Calles and how he becomes obsessed with the idea the Catholic Church in Mexico is a threat as he tries to enforce the anti-clerical articles of the constitution of Mexico* by writing a new and more stringent law, the Calles Law (1926), penalizing clerics for any infraction of the constitution. At first, there is little resistance, but as Churches are closed and priests are arrested and foreign priests deported, a resistance to the government silently begins to build. The film uses the backdrop of the rebellion to tell the story of a boy, José Luis Sánchez del Río (March 28, 1913 – February 10, 1928) and how his faith and courage opens the heart of the agnostic rebel general Enrique Gorostieta to return to the Catholic faith. Some film reviews have called For Greater Glory “simplistic” story telling. But within its story, there are many lessons to be learned. I’d like to share just one.

On the way home from the movie, my Sisters and I were discussing various scenes in the movie, and how impressed we were with the story of young José and the deep courage he had shown. But where did he get it?

One of the opening scenes depicts an eleven year old boy, José, and his friend playing a joke on the parish priest, Father Christopher (Peter O’Toole). José is caught by his father and brought to the priest so that he can make up for his wrong doing. The light-hearted priest plays down the matter of the joke, and the boy is taken under Father Christopher’s wing. Over the days that follow, a friendship forms between the priest and the boy. One day, José asks Father Christopher why he doesn’t go into hiding like many of the other priests. He tells the boy how God will watch over him in His house. The boy continues to insist, only for the priest to conclude, “There is no greater glory than to give your life for Christ.”  These words impress José very much. A few days later, José is up in the bell tower marveling at the view of hills, when he notices government horsemen riding toward his village. He shouts to warn the people and then goes to find Father Christopher to warn him. José urges Fr Christopher to hide, but he refuses. He gives his rosary to José and sends him off. José returns to the bell tower from where he watches as his priest friend is brought out of the church and shot by a firing squad. As the squad prepares, it seems that the priest and José are repeating the words from their places, aware of the others presence, “There is no greater glory than to give your life for Christ.”

The movie goes on to show this young boy as a person of deep moral fiber, courageous and zealous for the things of God. Towards the end of his young life, he is tortured to reveal the base camp of the rebels, and in his refusal they cut the bottoms of his feet. He is then led through the village – his personal via crucis – his feet bleeding, to the spot prepared for his execution. With his parents standing by, he is given the chance to walk away, if only he will say Christ is dead. He continues to say “Viva Cristo Rey!” He is stabbed and topples over, tracing the sign of a cross in the ground with his blood shortly before he is shot to death.

Reflecting on his character, I mused:

  • “What if Father Christoper had gone into hiding?” 
  • “What if – in his moment of confrontation – the priest gave in to his prosecutors and denied his faith there in the square under the watchful eyes of young José?” 
  • “What if others chose not to get involved, risking their personal safety, for the sake of the war for religious freedom?”

The movie doesn’t tell us, but hints at the inspiration in Jose’s life in a simple parish priest who lived – and died – well for Christ.

This lesson is one we all must take to heart. We might not be called to die – as many did in the Cristero War did – for what we believe in. But we can ask ourselves, “Who are the Josés in our lives that might be carefully watching, wanting to do what is right but need someone to show them the way?”

Will the witness of our life and faith be such, that when José must choose, we have helped prepare him to be courageous to do what is right, no matter the cost?

Viva Cristo Rey!

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Film Review: For Greater Glory, by Ed Morrissey

To know more about José and the other beatified martyrs of the Cristero War.
 
RELATED:
 
In the United States, now, there is a threat to religious freedom brewing, that would not even allow Mother Teresa and her works of charity to continue.
 
The Sacred Heart and Religious Freedom
 
For more information on religious freedom, please visit US Conference of Catholic Bishops website.
 
* The Mexican Constitution, ratified in 1917, was based on a previous version instituted by Benito Suarez in 1857.
 
This story was originally posted under the title “For Greater Glory: A Lesson” at:
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You Are Witnesses of These Things

There I was looking up into the clouds wondering what it must have been like for the disciples on the day of our Lord’s ascension into Heaven.  He had just finished telling them, “You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:48).  I turned a page back in my Bible asking myself, “what things?” And so begins each disciples contemplation of the  Risen and Ascended Lord and his or her individual place in the story of Salvation. What things are we witnesses of?

The seasons of Lent and Easter are summarized nicely in these verses of Luke, 24:45-47:

Jesus said to them, “Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentence, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

This story is summarized in the heart of every Christian in the Eucharistic acclamation: Keep in mind that Jesus Christ has died for us and is risen from the dead. He is our saving Lord; he is joy for all ages.”

Christ has died. Lenten time of penance. Christ is Risen. Easter time of celebration. These two movements of the Christian reality, however, are often where we close the book, but the story doesn’t end there – and neither should our telling of it. The Gospel of Luke tells us Jesus was taken up into heaven. The Ascension of our Lord. Yes, Life conquers death with His resurrection, and is “seated at the right-hand of the Father” through his Ascension. This is recalled through the prayer of Psalm 110, prayed at Vespers every Sunday evening: “The Lord’s revelation to my master: “Sit at my right: your foes I will put beneath your feet.” Jesus our Lord now reigns from heaven, and does not leave us alone, but remains with us in particular ways to strengthen us against the things of this world which may try to make themselves first-place in our lives. Eucharist, and Holy Spirit.

Over the last 90 days – 40 Lenten days of penance and 50 days of Easter joy – we have immersed ourselves in the recollection of the Christian mystery, “Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again!”  And with the ascension we are standing with the Disciples looking up at the clouds rejoicing, and yet asking, what next? What do we do with the mystery we have lived in a liturgical way through the last 90 days?

“You are witnesses of these things.”

We are witnesses. What does that mean? The greek word used, μάρτυρες (martoores), reminds us of the word martyr, a word that has come to mean in our modern use one who has testified to the death of their belief in something. Is this what Jesus had in mind for us? Are we called to become martyrs? The Latin text uses the word “testes”, from testimoniare : to prove, to give evidence, to witness. The Christian life is a combination of both these words: martyr and witness.

First, we are called to be martyrs through our being baptized into Christ, as St. Paul teaches (Romans 6:3-4,11):

Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as (being) dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.

However, our martyrdom is not, usually, a physical death, but a letting ourselves die to the ways the world tries to shape our thoughts, our ways of acting, and even more craftily, to desensitize us from thinking about the right things, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise” (Phil 4:8). This ‘martyrdom’ accepts that the world will hate us because we stand against the current, stirring up in the souls of others the Truth the exists in every human heart. In this thought, we begin to see where our second word becomes intertwined in our every day living.

Jesus told his disciples “you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The idea of witnessing – to give testimony to our faith – is not a by-product of the Christian faith; it is the central stage on which Christ is made known and thus, made loved. Our witness sometimes requires words, but always requires right act. And what is it that we are giving testimony to in our daily lives? Are we proclaiming Christ through our words and actions in a way that leaves those who encounter us to confirm in their hearts a goodness deeper than civility expects. Our testimony — if rooted in the Christ-love we contemplate on the Cross — touches others to see Christ through our loving them.

How do we combine these two necessary components of the Christian life? To die to ourselves so to give living testimony of God’s love?

There is the old saying, “you are what you eat”. What is the nourishment that carries us from Sunday to Sunday? What is it that our senses take in when we are not at Mass being refreshed by God’s Word and His very Body and Blood in the Sacrifice of the Eucharistic Celebration? My confessor and I were discussing the media of today as a real stumbling block for all of us – priests, religious, and laity alike. Images are often suggestive and violent, lyrics and words do not lift up our thoughts to God, and the worst part, our society that claims to be believers in God see nothing wrong, as though the human being can separate itself from that which it takes in through its senses.  We’ve heard the reasoning before: “It’s just a movie!” “The kids are just dancing!” “Abstinence isn’t a viable option.” All of these reasons try to justify a shift in moral norms. But do we have to listen to them?

What message do we send to those around us by the films we watch, the books we read, the music we listen to, the things we “like”. By our using media we morally might disagree with, we are choosing to support them – we create a market for them to thrive. It reaffirms the current trend that these are acceptable to us Christians. Our witness is lacking, in these small things, perhaps.

As we look up into the heavens at the Lord’s ascension, let us also reflect what made it possible. The Cross. Sacrifice. Obedience to the Father. Let us pray, that we too might follow the example of our Lord Jesus, that when our day to meet Him comes, He may not find us lacking.

The Definition of Christian Faith – the Cross

From the Passion of Christ

In the western hemisphere, we read the Gospel, and recount the passion of Christ’s journey from the Last Supper to his suffering and death on the Cross at Golgotha. Many times, the account of our redemption seems far removed, as though we are reading a fiction novel. It inspires, yes, and we claim with Peter, we say in our hearts, “Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.” (Matthew 26:35). But, living in the western hemisphere where, Christians can publically worship, are we certain that if our faith was tested, would it be found solid?

We can learn the reality of the Christian life in reading the accounts of the Martyrs through the ages; those who, when threatened with their lives, made it perfectly clear where they stood; their place was firmly fixed at the foot of the Cross, willing and ready to die for their faith in Jesus Christ. But such is the reality of the Christian witness (from the Greek word μάρτυς, from which we get the word martyr).

Such men and women exist today, in countries where to openly profess to be Christian brings condemnation to oneself, and danger to his family. One such account is unfolding in Afghanistan, in the life of Christian, Said Musa. Matthew Archbold reports, “An Afghanistan Christian and father of six, is imprisoned and scheduled to die. His crime? He believes Christ is his Savior. And he is scheduled to die because of it. No defense lawyer will take his case for fear of retribution. And he has been told that if he renounces Christ things would go easier. But he doesn’t. He won’t. Musa wrote a public letter which I will excerpt here, courtesy of The Barnabus Fund. The English is rough but I think you’ll understand what he’s saying:

Said Musa

“To the international church of world and to the President Brother Barak Obama President of the United States and to the head of ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] in Afghanistan!

“My name is Said Musa 45 years old. I have been working since 15 years as a Physiotherapist in I-C-R-C [International Committee of the Red Cross] orthopaedic centre in Kabul, Afghanistan. About four and a half months before by security force of Afghanistan I [was] captured, due to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, Saviour of the world.

…Since that time I am in jail. The authority and prisoners in jail did many bad behaviour with me about my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. For example, they did sexual things with me, beat me by wood, by hands, by legs, put some things on my head, mocked me ‘He’s Jesus Christ’, spat on me, nobody let me for sleep night and day. Every person spat on me and beat me. Also the prosecutor wrote something wrong against me. He told from himself something wrong against me on my file.

“He is stimulating every day the prisoners against me, ‘He is also in jail due to spy for Iran country’, to reveal the church in Kabul. I’m in a very and very bad condition in the jail.

“I agree with long imprisonment about my faith even for long life. Because I’m the sinnest person in the world. Because sometimes they treated for died I refuse my faith due to died. Sometimes I tolerate the persecution but immediately I acknowledge my sin before Lord Jesus Christ: ‘Don’t refuse me before your holy angels and before your Father.’ Because I am very very weak and sinful man…

“I am alone between 400 handlers of terrible values in the jail like a sheep. Please, please, for the sake of Lord Jesus Christ help me. Please send a person who should supervise my document and my file, what I said in it. My prosecutor has told something wrong to the judge because he asked [for] money but I refused his request. Please, please you should transfer me from this jail to a jail that supervises the believers. I also agree with died on cross of my pride. I also agree with the sacrifice [of] my life in public, I will tell the faith in Lord Jesus Christ son of God and other believers will take courage and be strong in their faith. Hundred percent I am stable to my word. I have family of seven – one wife, three daughters and three sons. My big son [is] about eight years old. One of my daughters can’t speak, she has some mental problems.

“This is a request from me to all over the world, people please help me. I could not have any person to help. For [the] sake [of] Lord Jesus Christ please pray and immediately help me and rescue me from this jail. Otherwise, they will kill me, because I know they’re very very very cruel and hard hearted!

“Your destitute brother in the world.

“Please my English writing is not enough good. If I did some mistake please forgive me! From Kabul Provincial jail.””

As I finished reading, I said to myself, “here is my brother Christian teaching  us all how to live our Faith in Jesus Christ!”  Our brother Said is living the passion of our Lord. I pray anew that I too might have such resolve in my daily choices, and I thank the Lord for him, for his testimony (μάρτυς) of faith, that others might believe, and all Christians might be strengthened.

We must support our brother and his family with our prayers, and do what we can in our own sphere of influence to get others to join our efforts to bring justice for Said, and all others who face religious persecution around the world.

It is a call, an echo of little Adam’s cry (the three-year-old Coptic Christian who was killed in Baghdad in December) to end the violence and hatred in the world: “Enough! Enough! Enough!”.

Said, my brother, my prayers are with you, begging that you may be strengthened throughout this unimaginable test of faith, for your perseverance, and for your deliverance. Lord, in your mercy, hear and answer us.

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UPDATE: Said Musa was released from prison in February 21st, due to international pressure and human rights groups. Via Persecution.Org. Yet, another Christian convert is behind bars for giving another a Bible. The Christian testimony continues…

Related Posts:

Said Musa’s handwritten letter, posted by the Barnabas Fund

I am in Awe of Such Faith, Matthew Archbold

A Saint Invites us Toward Christian Unity

The Letter to the Ephesians exhorts us:

“Be a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to serve unity of the spirit through the bond of peace.”

Today, the 12th of November, we remember Saint Josephat Kunsevych, born in 1580 in the Ukraine; a man who took these words of St Paul to heart. He was raised in the Orthodox tradition and was trained as a merchant’s apprentice. He was attracted, though, to the rigors of religious life, with a desire for a deeper spiritual life. During his youth, he experienced first-hand the separation by the Orthodox churches from the Holy See, and longed to see all Christians united under Christ.

On the 300th anniversary of St Josephat’s martyrdom, Pope Pius XI wrote the Encyclical, Ecclesiam Dei (The Church of God, promulgated on 12 November 1923):

The Church of God, by a wondrous act of Divine Providence, was so fashioned as to become in the fullness of time an immense family which embraces all men. The Church possesses—a fact known to all—as one of its visible marks, impressed on it by God, that of a world-wide unity… Since this communion of all the peoples of the earth in a world-wide unity is, above all things, the work of God, and therefore to be had only with the divine help and assistance, let us have recourse with all care to prayer, following in this both the teachings and example of St. Josaphat, who, in his apostolate for unity, trusted above all else in the power of prayer. Ecclesiam Dei, #1, #23.

The deep longing St Josaphat experienced, for Christian Unity, is the call of every Christian who has found the deep treasure of Salvation through Christ. May we one day be able to share our joy in union with our brothers and sisters at the Table of the Lord.

Lord,

fill your Church with the Spirit

that gave Saint Josaphat courage

to lay down his life for his people.

By his prayers

may your Spirit make us strong

and willing to offer our lives

for our brothers and sisters.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

One God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Saint Josaphat, Pray for us!

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More on this topic:

St. Josaphat, martyr for Church unity, to be remembered Nov. 12

Biography of St. Josaphat Kuncevyc

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On Christian Unity:

The restoration of unity among all Christians