By Father Kyle
“Viva Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King!” These were the last words of Blessed Miguel Pro, a Catholic priest, who at the age of thirty-six, gave his life in loyalty to Jesus Christ and the Catholic faith in Mexico in 1927, during one of the most intense periods of Anti-Catholic persecution in the nation’s history. Stretching out his arms in the form of a cross and joyfully shouting these words, this young man stood in front of the firing squad and was executed for clinging to His King. The story of his life and death is a reminder to us that Christians are facing persecution and martyrdom in the world today. Blessed Miguel Pro is one among the countless multitude of God’s holy servants who have been persecuted and put to death over the centuries for their uncompromising allegiance to Jesus Christ. To us living in a nation with religious freedom, this might seem like a tragedy to be averted at all cost, but the suffering that our persecuted brethren have endured and still endure has much to teach us, three points in particular.
Point #1. The plight of persecuted Christians first reveals to us how lovable our King is. Why would the martyrs give up their lives for Him if He were not worthy of all our love? Their love for Him and His love for them inspired them to make the ultimate sacrifice. In the first reading from the Book of the prophet Ezekiel, we heard the Lord repeatedly affirm His commitment to us, His flock. After many of Judah’s leaders had failed to live up to their calling and proved to be foolish shepherds, the Lord promised that He Himself would look after and tend His sheep. He promised to pasture His people, to give them rest, to seek out and bring back the lost, to heal the injured, and administer justice to the wicked. In this Old Testament promise, we see that Jesus is a King who is personally and unconditionally invested in us, in our earthly and eternal welfare. He is the Good Shepherd who is the inspiration and example for all His followers who undergo persecution, the Shepherd who laid down His life for us. Jesus’ kingship was evident throughout His life on earth, but at no time was He King more than when He was on the cross. We are able to obey and serve Him to the end, knowing that His love for us and commitment to us far surpass our deepest longings.
Point #2. There can be no rivals, however, to this loving and devoted King, and the plight of persecuted Christians shows us this in a powerful way. Our persecuted brothers and sisters in the Church have been offered many different types of bribes throughout history – money, land, political power and influence, social recognition, and sometimes simply their earthly lives – to give up their faith in Christ and surrender to His enemies. The martyrs like Blessed Miguel Pro and many others were victorious over these temptations, loving Christ above all and remaining faithful to Him in the face of torture and death. When Pope Pius XI instituted the Solemnity of Christ the King in 1925, he said, “He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the teachings of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desiresand love God above all things and cleave to Him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls….” This is what today’s feast demands of all of us, but our fellow Christians undergoing persecution and martyrdom are being tested for this to the greatest degree. They need our prayers and our support. They need to know that they are not alone, and we need their prayers and example to help us remain true to Christ in our daily lives. We all face temptation every day to betray our King. If we are striving to be faithful to Christ, we all face persecution of different kinds that try to pry us away from Him, and so in the Church we need to stay together and stand together.
Point #3. Letting Christ reign in us and over us involves much more than fending off idols, though. In today’s Gospel passage, we heard about what the Last Judgment will be like. Our King will judge all humanity, each of us and all of us, on whether we recognized Him and loved Him in His followers and in all the poorest of our brothers and sisters during our time on earth. Jesus is a King who disguises Himself among His people in the most unexpected ways. He is present to us in many ways, and one way that He seeks our love and devotion is in those who are poor and suffering. Do we see Him in their faces? Do we respond to His needs in them? For those who are being persecuted and led to martyrdom, do we come to their aid, or do we just stand afar off and mistakenly pity them? We will be judged by our answers to these questions, by our service to the King of Kings in the most hurting of His subjects.
Opportunities abound for us to prove our love and loyalty to Christ. Because He is infinitely loving, wise, and powerful in working to bring us to eternal salvation, He is worthy of all our love in return. To claim Him as the King of creation, of our lives, and of our hearts, we must do much more than simply call upon Him or show up to church on Sundays. We must invite Him to really reign over us and in us, casting out all the idols in our lives and letting Him take His throne in our minds, hearts, and bodies. We must stand together with our brothers and sisters in the Church being tested by trials, and we must be willing to walk with the poorest among us, recognizing and serving our Lord in them. Only then can our voices and our lives shout with conviction for all to hear, “Viva Cristo Rey! Long Live Christ the King!”