The Undercover Priest
Homily for November 26, 2017 (Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe)
Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; Psalm 23; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28; Matthew 25:31-46
Because we celebrated Thanksgiving Day here in the United States on Thursday, we missed the celebration of Blessed Miguel Pro Juarez, a Mexican hero and martyr who died ninety years ago. Blessed Miguel, a Jesuit, lived when the church in Mexico was under severe persecution. He was born into a devout and prosperous family but struggled with bad health. Because of the troubles in his home country, he was forced to study at a seminary in Spain. After ordination in Belgium he received permission from his superiors to return to Mexico and serve as a priest incognito.
In Mexico the churches had been closed by the government and priests were subject to arrest. Blessed Miguel became known as the “undercover priest.” He celebrated Mass, baptized babies, heard confessions, visited prisoners, helped the poor, and served as a pastor for thousands. The government tried to arrest him, but the people protected him. However, an informant betrayed him and others who helped him. He was arrested on false charges of trying to assassinate the president. He was quickly convicted and sentenced to death at age 36.
As he walked from prison to face a firing squad, he stopped to kneel and pray. He refused to accept a blindfold. Instead of begging for mercy from his captors or the president, he prayed for them and forgave them. Although he was shot multiple times, he did not die until a soldier walked up to him and shot him in the head.
What gave Father Miguel Pro the courage to die such an unjust and brutal death? It was his faith. But it was also more than his faith. It was the One in whom he put his faith. It was Jesus Christ. His faith was not in President Plutarco Calles or any other earthly leader. He knew in his heart what our scripture readings today tell us about God: God cares, God rules, God loves and God judges.
When earthly rulers fail to live up to their responsibilities and are tyrants rather than servants, God is still our shepherd. When hatred of God and of God’s church is rampant, God’s love is still more powerful. When people seem to prosper and live as if God does not exist and forget to see God in their brothers and sisters, God still stands as the judge of every person in every age. Even when people fail to recognize that food, clean water, clothing and shelter are human rights and that all people—including those who are sick, imprisoned and even the dead—have dignity, God still remembers.
As he prepared to execute Miguel Pro, President Calles invited news photographers to record what he expected to be a shameful death. But instead of a coward, the photographers and soldiers discovered a hero. Moments before he was executed, with his arms outstretched like Jesus on the cross, with a rosary in one hand and a crucifix in the other, Miguel Pro shouted: “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” Long live Christ the King. +