November 25, 2023 Column Father De Celles

Long live Christ the King! Some of you may be familiar with a movie that came out a few years back, called For Greater Glory. It’s a true story about 1920’s post-revolutionary Mexico. The former rebels, after defeating the ruling aristocratic government, and firmly establishing a new government, believed they had one enemy left to defeat: the Catholic Church.

They understood that the Church, so much a part of Mexican life, had a separate type of authority –it was truly a separate kingdom of Christ that, although it was not of the world, it was definitely in the world, especially in the world of Mexico. And so was a direct threat to their absolute authority to reshape Mexico as they saw fit.

So they began to persecute the Church, especially by making laws aimed at restricting her freedom and cultural influence. Of course, the Church—both clerics and laity— could not comply with these restrictions and so there was public disobedience and protests.

Eventually the revolutionary government, which had come to power by brutal violence, responded to the Church with brutal violence: executing disobedient Catholics, especially priests (for example, the parish priest St. Christopher Magallanes, the inspiration for the character played by Peter O’Toole in the film). This in turn led to many Catholics taking up arms against the government, and for three years they fought and died for their Church and freedom. They called themselves “Cristeros,” and fought under the banner and the cry: “Viva Cristo Rey!” “Long live Christ the King!”

Some say that we are beginning to live through a similar time of persecution of the Church in our own country. I am one of those who say that. But as terrible as that might be, before we address that threat, we have to face an even more basic, and more terrible, threat. And that is the threat that comes from us—Catholics and all Christians.

The truth is that most of us have rejected, in whole or in part, the kingship of Christ for ourselves. Even those of us who go to Mass, how many of us really embrace the Kingship of Christ? How many of us live our lives obedient to His laws? How many allow Him to serve us, by accepting His grace that give us the strength to rule over ourselves, and so to live in freedom from sin? To think and choose for ourselves, and to live as we were created: in true love for God and neighbor.

I think of the young Cristero, named Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio (portrayed in the film). A young boy of only 13 when he joined the Catholic army, who became a hero to all the Cristeros. But not for his fighting prowess, nor for the number of enemies he had defeated. In fact, the Cristero general wouldn’t even let him carry a gun in battle. No, what he became beloved for was his unwavering faith in Christ as his king. The way he truly accepted the kingship of Christ, not as a dictator, but as a beloved father. And not out of cowering fear, but out of joyful love. The way he lived his life in the freedom and grace of Christ, rejecting all sin and living an exemplary life of holiness in the midst of so much depravation and violence. And finally, bleeding to death at the feet of the government soldiers who had tortured him with their machetes, and then offered him his freedom if only he would renounce the kingship of Christ, Jose would only smile, look to heaven and say: “que Vivo Cristo Rey.”

Young Jose died a martyr for Christ the King, and so today Holy Mother Church calls him “Saint José Luis Sánchez del Río.”

And yet how many of us deny the kingship of Christ every single day? And not after being tortured, or even at the point of a bayonet. But only because we’d simply rather do things our own way than Christ’s. Or because we’d rather be slaves to the opinion of our peers or family or even political party. We’d rather be slaves to sin or to other people, than follow the one who created us and sustains us, Jesus Christ the King.

Thanksgiving. I hope all of you had a great Thanksgiving. Although it’s a secularholiday” and not a Catholicholy day,” it’s a wonderful day of celebration. In fact, instead of “secular,” meaning “worldly, or “of the world,” which has all sorts of very negative connotations in the Christian context, let’s call it a “cultural holiday.” In that context, it reveals how deeply our culture is influenced by Christianity and how firmly it is rooted in Christian values.

In particular, the Christian virtues of fortitude and diligence (reflected in working hard to provide for oneself and one’s family), and charity (reflected in being willing to share the fruits of one’s labor or good fortune with others), and, of course most importantly and above all, gratitude or thankfulness to God for the gifts He’s given us.

In the end, everything we have is God’s gift. As St. Paul says, “What do you have that you did not receive?” This, of course, is not at all to discount individual hard work and ingenuity, but rather to realize that whether it’s the skills and talents we have or develop, or the opportunities we make or stumble upon, or the free will we exercise to choose to use and develop all of that, in the end all of it comes to us from God’s generosity and our response thereto. Whether it’s our salvation and grace, or material goods, health, family, love, faith, or human dignity, rights, and liberty, God is the giver of all good things. And for that He deserves our constant thanks and praise.

Advent. Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent, as we prepare spiritually for the celebration of the birth of our Savior at Christmas. Please take some time to plan ahead for the penitential season of Advent so that it will truly be a time of holiness, not merely the shopping time between Black Friday and the day Santa Claus comes.

Next weekend we will have an insert with the full schedule of Advent events. But for now let me remind you to take particular advantage of the increased Confession opportunities as well as the many existing opportunities for weekday Mass. Also, I invite you all to attend our three Friday night Advent Holy Hours, which will include Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament (continued from earlier in the day), a short talk by Fr. Bergida, followed by silent prayer and  Benediction. This year Father’s topic is The Mystery of the Church in the Incarnation and Nativity: The Relationship of the Church to Mary and Her Son.”

Please also plan ahead to attend “Lessons & Carols” on Sunday, December 10, at 7:00pm.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles