Some people have trouble calling Jesus the Christ as our King. In this country we don’t have a king so let’s not call Jesus our King but rather our infallible leader, our God. God is different than virtually every other leader in that his only and sufficient message is Love and his primary action is service.
As one of God’s followers we are expected to follow the truths God has given us and be willing to accept whatever sacrifice is necessary to accomplish that even if it is the ultimate sacrifice, our life. How many people can you think of who have been or are willing to die rather back off on the beliefs they held? There are multiple examples of people in Scripture, in recent history and in current events, who were, or are willing to die rather than back off on the beliefs they held. One of the examples of that kind of individual in Scripture was recorded in the 2nd Book of Maccabees a part of which was the reading in last Tuesday’s Mass. In it we hear that Eleazar, one of the foremost scribes who was a man of advantage age and in good shape was being forced to open his mouth to eat pork. As it reads, he was given a choice of death or what was defined in his mind, as a life of defilement. He went forth of his own accord to be tortured because he rejected the food which was unlawful for him to eat as a faithful Jew. His friends urged him to substitute some meat which he could legitimately eat for the pork Eleazar refused to do that because he felt he would not be loyal to what he believed was the “holy law given by God”. He believed that action would be seen as his decision to go over to an alien religion and he would bring him shame and dishonor in his old age just to add a short time to his life. In addition he felt he would be giving bad example. That occurred about 200 years before the time of Jesus.
The New Testament contains many people including all the apostles and Jesus himself who chose to be put to death rather than abandon the truths which Jesus had taught.
A more recent example occurred in Mexico in the 1920’s when a totalitarian regime gained control of Mexico and tried to suppress the Church. To resist the regime many Christians took up the cry, “Viva Cristo Rey”, (long live Christ the king). They called themselves “Cristeros”. The most famous Cristeros was a newly ordained Jesuit priest named Padre Miguel Pro.
He had studied for the priesthood in Europe and was ordained in 1926. On his return to Mexico he was not immediately recognized by the government as a priest and was able to celebrate the Eucharist as a priest and minister to small groups of Catholics in Mexico City. After a short time the government arrested him and sentenced him to be executed by a firing squad on November 23, 1927. The president of Mexico thought that Padre Pro would beg for his life so he invited the press to the execution. Padre Pro didn’t plead for his life but instead he knelt holding a crucifix in his right hand and a rosary in his left and prayed. When he finished praying, he stood up. Holding the crucifix and the rosary, kissed the crucifix, extended his arms and shouted, “Viva Cristo Rey”. At that moment the soldiers fired. The journalists took pictures which you can find on the internet entitled Padre Pro.
In our current event we see many examples of people like Padre Pro who are willing to die rather than become Muslims. Others are willing to convert and I have always wondered why. That question led me to read more on Islam and spend considerable time watching and absorbing a DVD program entitled Christian and Islamic Theology. As a result of that effort I was more convinced than ever that Christianity is a religion of love and that Islam is a religion of conquest in which there is lack of respect for various categories of people such as women, homosexuals, Christians, Jews, and for that matter all non-Muslims. It is difficult for me to understand why anyone would leave a faith and way of life based on love for the Islamic religion/way of life.
So where does it lead us? Are we willing to accept and live the truths which our leader Jesus gave us, which leads us to happiness here and hereafter and be willing to trust God as Eleazar did in Old Testament times, as Jesus and the apostles and many did in New Testament times and Padre Pro did in our time, accepting the hardships which come into everyone’s life, knowing the God, our leader, will provide our true needs.
Are we willing to say and mean as Padre Pro said, “Viva Christo Rey”?