Christians are not strangers to persecution. Throughout Salvation History we see persecution and martyrdom of those who refuse to renounce their Faith in God.
Most people don’t realize this, but less than a hundred years ago, Mexico was one of the most advanced Catholic countries in the world, with Catholic schools, Catholic hospitals, orphanages, monasteries and convents. Less than a hundred years ago, in Mexico, a 14 year-old Mexican boy, José Luis Sánchez del Río, “Joselito”, was detained by Mexican soldiers in the Cristero War. They tortured him for his faith, even cutting off the flesh souls of his bare feet and made him walk barefoot through the town to the cemetery where he was killed by the soldiers. Along the way they cut him with machetes and taunted him to get him to renounce Jesus Christ. At times they stopped him and said, ‘If you shout, “Death to Christ the King” we will spare your life’. José would only shout, ‘I will never give in. Viva Cristo Rey!’” “Joselito”, as he was called, was canonized as a Saint by Pope Benedict XVI. Saint Joselito. This fourteen-year old was faced with “apostacy”, as the church calls it, the renouncing of our faith. He stood firm against apostacy and held on to his faith.
The Cristero War began when the Mexican government began eliminating church privileges and seizing church properties throughout the country, in accordance with anti-clerical laws written into the Mexican Constitution. The Church was considered “evil” by secular forces. President Plutarco Calles, who took office in 1924, focused on the Roman Catholic Church, which led to seizure of church property, the closing of religious schools, monasteries and convents, and the exile or the execution of priests. The people rebelled, and the ensuing war cry was “Viva Cristo Rey!”
A priest martyr was photographed by newspaper photographers being executed for refusing to denounce his faith. Saint Miguel Pro, a Jesuit priest, is shown holding his rosary as he is shot by Mexican soldiers, shouting, “Viva Cristo Rey!”
Mexican Catholics rose up and rebelled against the tyranny. That war became known as the “Cristero War”. The Cristeros lost. The government remained in power, and Mexico has not fully recovered. I can recall, when I lived in Mexico, that it was still illegal for a priest to wear clerical garb, his collar in public.
If you think that can’t happen here, you don’t know your history, Salvation History, the history of the Church, the history of Secularism and Communism and hatred for our faith and our Church. We have 2,000 years of similar stories of persecution of people loyal to Jesus Christ. If you don’t believe in the Devil, just take a look at the history of persecution against Christians. Religious freedom must be defended by our witness, our faithfulness, even to death. Our struggle is not imaginary or obsolete. Just look at government attempts to close Churches during the pandemic. The City of Austin sent inspectors to our parish when we began Masses again in 2020. Just look at the assaults upon truth and justice in the past week, the trial in Kenosha, the obvious lies and public manipulation that is becoming more and more common-place in American society.
On the other hand, look how God has revealed himself and prepared His Faithful to understand our place in the world and the Universe.
Almost 200 years before the birth of Christ, Greek rulers in Israel were attempting to wipe out God’s faithful and to encourage apostasy among the Jews. It was a brutal time. The visions of Daniel in Exile in Babylon were told to the Jewish people to encourage them. Daniel shared in his vision,
… the one like a Son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not be taken away,
his kingship shall not be destroyed.
Jesus was persecuted for his faith by the Jewish leaders and hauled before Pilate, who asked Jesus if he were a king.
Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.
If my kingdom did belong to this world,
my attendants would be fighting
to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.
But as it is, my kingdom is not here.”
So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?”
Jesus answered, “You say I am a king.
For this I was born and for this I came into the world,
to testify to the truth.
Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
And for this response he was crucified.
If we stand for truth against the world, we will be ridiculed. The world has its narrative and warns that no one should challenge this narrative. This is being played out right now in many arenas, even in the Kenosha trial this past week. The world’s narrative demands chaos as a response to the inconvenience of truth. This narrative and this violence has been playing out in the streets of our nation over the past year and a half. If you challenge the world’s narrative, then you do so at your own peril. Ask those who stand against abortion and are pro-life. Ask San Joselito. Ask the “Cristeros” who cried out, “Viva Cristo Rey!”