Viva Cristo Rey!
Let us have a little American History quiz of famous sayings. First one – who said, “Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead”! Answer – Admiral Farragut at the Battle of Mobil Bay, Civil War. Second one – “Do not shoot until you see the whites of their eyes”! Colonel William Prescott, Battle of Bunker Hill, American Revolutionary War. Last one – “Viva Cristo Rey”. This saying, “Long Live Christ the King” was the defiant battle cry of the Catholic Cristeros who fought the radically secular Mexican government’s persecution of the Church.
Sunday, 29 November 2020, is Christ the King Sunday! It is the last Sunday of this Liturgical Year with Advent beginning next Sunday. It was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI for the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. Pope Pius XI wanted this feast to impact the laity. Pope Pius states, “If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire.” And God’s empire was being stripped away where the fervent Mexican Catholics, Cristeros, rose to defend His dominion, Christ the King.
The Mexican 1917 socialist constitution sparked a terrible conflict with the Catholic Church that came under the strict control of the Mexican State. This control included regulating Catholic preaching, fixed number of priests per state, dictated Mass attendance, baptisms, weddings, the Sacraments, and tithing. Even the ringing of Church bells was hampered, and clergy caught disobeying these laws were exiled or killed.
The worst persecution was unleashed on July 31, 1926, that prohibited the practice of the Catholic religion in public. All education was removed from the care of the Church and put under direct State control. Religious vows were illegal. Monasteries and convents were dissolved, and religious could no longer use clerical clothing. Church property was confiscated and anyone, to include priests, could not speak out against the government or the constitution. Those that disobeyed were imprisoned with execution for repeated offenses.
God provided a strong reaction to this injustice, the Cristeros. Among these Catholics we find the heroic figure of young José Sánchez del Río. José witnessed the persecution of the Church and, following his brothers, desired to join the Cristeros. He was very young (14 years old), and his parents were reluctant. Jose pleaded and was finally given his parental blessing. Before departing, he declared: “For Jesus Christ, I will do everything.” His Cristero jobs were to carry water, prepare the fire, serve food and coffee, wash dishes, feed the horses, and clean rifles.
During a battle on February 6, 1928, Jose was supporting an ambush on Federal soldiers. When the order was given to retreat, Federal machine gun fire opened on their position, ripping through the rocks that gave the Cristeros cover. José saw the General’s horse drop dead beneath him. Although the General himself was not seriously injured, José rushed over, jumped off his own horse and urged him to take it. Jose gave his own horse to save the general and remained behind to provide covering fire. After running out of ammunition he was taken prisoner.
José’s captors asked him to deny his faith and the Cristero cause. José refused and was tortured terribly. Refusing to renounce his faith angered the government soldiers so much that they cut off the bottom of his feet. Prior to his death, José was forced to walk through town, he recited the rosary, prayed for his enemies, sang songs to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and proclaimed, “I will never give in. Viva Cristo Rey y Santa Maria de Guadalupe!”
Saint José Luis Sánchez del Rio is the newest Mexican saint, recently canonized on October 16th. Although José was young and died as a martyr at age 14, he was a powerful example of youth, bravery, and faith. “Viva Cristo Rey – Long Live Christ the King!” Blessings – Dcn Jim