I love Jesuits. Unfortunately, I must explain myself. Because I’m not talking Georgetown Jesuits here, I’m talking for-real, hard-core, old-school Ignatian Jesuits.
Besides the fact that I will readily admit to having a somewhat Ignatian, militaristic spirituality (in case you hadn’t noticed that already) I find myself, as a pro-lifer, increasingly drawn to the smashingly glorious Jesuit saints: St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis Xavier, St. Edmund Campion, St. Isaac Jogues.
And, most recently, Blessed Miguel Agustin Pro.
If you don’t know him, I beg you, look him up.
While you’re looking him up, get the movie called Padre Pro – Miguel Agustin Pro Martyr of the Lord, and watch it. I watched it about 2 weeks ago, and my first reaction to that movie was, “Oh, Lord, let me be shot to death as a martyr exactly like that, please.”
After a while though, I realized that wasn’t necessarily what I was supposed to learn from this beautiful priest, this other Christ. Padre Miguel Pro was a man from Mexico, a man forced to leave his country as a seminarian because of the political climate. He went to Europe, had formation in Spain, was ordained in Belgium, and sent back to his homeland to begin his ministry just as a ban prohibiting worship (essentially the practice of the Catholic faith) was announced and two weeks before it was enforced. He went undercover, using disguises and his own bold nature and lively sense of humor to work right beneath the noses of the police (literally, at times) to be a true spiritual father to his people and bring them the sacraments. Finally falsely accused by the government of taking part in the attempted assassination of an official, he was condemned to death on this pretext, but in reality, because he was a priest.
The president, Calles, ordered the execution photographed, in order to display photographs of what he supposed would be a groveling Catholic priest begging for mercy and his life. His hope was that the underground Mexican Catholics would grow both disillusioned and disheartened at the loss of their beloved Padre Pro.
Calles picked the wrong man. Within 3 weeks he declared it illegal to possess the photographs of Padre Pro’s martyrdom. Look them up on the internet now, and you’ll see why. Any secular anti-Catholic government would be horrified for people to see those pictures.
Standing before the firing squad, Padre Miguel Pro was asked what his last wish was. His response: “I want to pray.” Scoffing, the soldiers allowed him to kneel. Before rising the priest drew a Crucifix and Rosary from his pocket, and placed one in either hand. He turned to face the guns, and as the men raised their rifles, he stretched out his arms, cruciform, looking resolutely ahead of him. Moments before the fatal cry of “Fuego!” and the sound of the shots, the martyr shouted, “¡Viva Cristo Rey!“
Who was this man?
Poet. Cartoonist. Master of disguise. A man whose students described him as “the best teacher in the world.” A man who strode out towards death as he had towards his everyday earthly life: with radiant joy. A man who faced a firing squad and saw not just the bullets rushing towards him, but eternity. A man who stretched out hands cradling the promises of the Christ’s Passion and Mary’s protection in death as he had in life. A man who looked into the eyes of death and saw not terror, but freedom and the reward promised by the Lord he gave his life to serving. A man who, when he reached his arms a final time towards his Crucified Love and saw Him reaching back, was filled with such overwhelming joy at the sight that his final words were a cry of victory and triumph, “Long live Christ, the King!”
The anti-Catholic President Calles had some serious damage control on his hands. He made it illegal to attend the martyred priest’s funeral. But 30,000 Mexicans flooded the streets in procession behind the body of their beloved Padre Pro, singing from the depths of their hearts:
“Long live the Martyrs!
Long live the Mexican Clergy!
Long live the Catholic Religion!
Long live Our Bishops and Our Priests!
Long live the Pope!
Lord, if You want martyrs, here is our blood!”
Again I say: sigh. How one’s soul aches and yearns at the beauty of it. But, sighing alone does not, alas, lead to sanctity.
After a few days of thinking about him almost constantly, I came to the conclusion that what I was meant to learn was that Blessed Miguel Pro was not a martyr of a few moments, but a martyr of 36 years. The man could not be turned back by the taste of death because he had already tasted it, had already drunk the chalice of suffering and so could not be frightened at the sight of it. He had died to himself a hundred thousand times already. Blessed Miguel Pro did not suddenly attain heroic virtue in his final moments. He could not have died the death he did without living the life he did.
When he left his beloved Mexico in order to receive the formation he needed to come back as a father for his country and his people, when he persevered in the Jesuit order as a student whose teachers did not consider him very intellectually gifted, he was a martyr. When he ached at the absence of his family at his ordination Mass and returned to his room to give his first priestly blessing over treasured photographs of them and wrote to tell them of it, and when his beloved mother died while he was still abroad, he was a martyr. When he suffered operations attempted to cure him of painful stomach ulcers which crippled his newborn priestly ministry, he was a martyr. When he returned home to a country which forbade him the public celebration of Sacraments of the Church he had given his life to and even forbade him his priestly cassock and collar, when he risked his own safety countless times to bring the healing of Baptism and Confession and the food of the Eucharist to his people, he was a martyr.
In dozens of big ways and hundreds of small ones, thousands of unseen, small, daily acts of self-sacrifice, Miguel Pro offered himself as a true priest, another Christ, a living immolation for the soul of his country. He lived out a dying to himself that meant when it came time to meet death, he found himself meeting the truest freedom and everlasting life instead. As the Son who is the light of eternity began to reach into time and gather the soul of this faithful son into His Heaven, the response of the well-refined gold of the priest’s heart was to blaze up in splendor.
“¡Viva Cristo Rey!”
“¡Viva Cristo Rey!”
Oh Lord, through the intercession of Blessed Miguel Pro, grant us the hearts of faithful martyrs, so we may live every moment of our lives in holy love as true witnesses to Your Love, and so lead the world to intimacy with You. Amen.