Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Wednesday of the 34th Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of Blessed Miguel Pro
November 23, 2016
Rev 15:1-4, Ps 98, Lk 21:12-19
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today Jesus continues to describe in the Gospel what will happen at his second coming. Yesterday he described many of the physical, international, meteorological and geological events, from the destruction of the temple, to wars and insurrections, to earthquakes, famines, plagues and mighty signs from the sky. Today he turns to what will happen to his followers. It may make the events he described yesterday seem beautiful by comparison: he describes how we will be seized and persecuted, handed over to religious and civil authorities, put into prisons, betrayed by parents, siblings, relatives, and friends, hated by all because of his name, and some of us will be killed. And insofar as the “eschaton” is always “imminent,” that we’re always to some degree living in the final time, called by the Lord to be ever alert and awake as we’ll be hearing this Sunday on the first Sunday of Advent, Jesus’ descriptions are not just about the future but the present.
- Yet Jesus doesn’t preach this as bad news. He says that there is a two-fold purpose for all of this. First, it’s meant to help us to secure our salvation: Jesus says “by your perseverance you will secure your lives.” Second, he says it will lead to our effectively carrying out our apostolate: He says that all of this “will lead to your giving testimony.” With regard to the latter point, he assures us that “I myself will give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.” He also assures us that even though we will be hated, suffer and some of us will be put together, “not a hair on your head will be destroyed,” since every follicle is under his providential care, he’s numbered each one and we’ll get back every one at the resurrection of the body. In order to grasp this passage, however, it’s key for us candidly to acknowledge two things that occasionally make us and other Christians uncomfortable.
- First, Jesus never promised that being a Christian would be easy. He said, in fact, the opposite. He told us that to be his disciple we’d need to deny ourselves, pick up our Cross each day and follow him whose footsteps eventually became bloody and whose feet were once nailed to a Cross. There’s a saying of a British military commander who wrote home to some friends saying, “Heads are rolling. Come and add yours!” We need to face squarely what Jesus says about the Christian life, because unless we grasp it we will not persevere and save our souls. If we don’t grasp, for example, that we will be hated by many people, that we will be betrayed by family members and friends, that we may have to suffer from civil and religious believers on account of our fidelity to Jesus then when those things happen, we might lose heart and abandon Jesus. If the martyrs never grasped that Jesus was saying that as Christians they might be martyred, they might never have remained faithful when they were being arrested and tortured for Christ. If a wife didn’t realize she might suffer from her husband if she seeks to love Jesus with all her mind, heart, soul and strength, she might not persevere in fidelity. I don’t know how some priests and religious would survive the barrage of criticism we normally get for faithfully preaching and teaching the Gospel of life and love or about treating immigrants as we would treat Christ unless we knew that, like Jesus, we would be hated, even by some good people, for doing so, even sometimes from our own families . Jesus is telling all of us clearly about the “cost” of being his disciple, so that we don’t have “buyer’s remorse,” but rather give all we have to obtain the “pearl of great price” knowing that the purchase price may require even our own blood.
- Second, Jesus clearly has a one-track mind when it comes to our life on this earth. He doesn’t consider it an absolute value, just like he didn’t consider his own life an absolute value. Rather, he tells us that in order to save our life we have to lose it, that in order to bear fruit we need to fall to the ground like a grain of wheat and die. That’s the only way to make sense of what he says today. He’ll allow us to be persecuted, imprisoned, interrogated, betrayed, hated and even killed in order to bring about our eternal salvation and give us a chance to share the Gospel with others. Our physical life isn’t as valuable to him as our salvation or our preaching the Gospel in suffering. God permits our suffering and even our physical death in order to bring about these more important goods. We know from Church history how many conversions happened due to the preaching with words and witness of the martyrs. St. Stephen’s death was the occasion of the conversion of St. Paul. So many guards converted seeing and hearing the joy of the martyrs as they approached death, like we saw yesterday with St. Maximian’s conversion at the martyrdom of Saints Valerian and Tiburtinus. Jesus’ own death, we know, led to the conversion of the centurion and countless others. Jesus will easily permit our death if through our death we may bring others to the path of life. This is an important lesson for us. Jesus may likewise, for example, allow us to get cancer if through our suffering we may not only grow in faith to secure our eternal life but convert some of the other patients or the medical personnel in the oncology ward. God has a one-track mind when it comes to what’s most important, our salvation and others’. And unless we’re willing to sacrifice our life for our and others’ salvation, we may not persevere and we may not bear apostolic fruit. But we also need to see that Jesus doesn’t leave us on our own with regard to these challenges. He promises us that he will give us himself to sustain us. “I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.” He himself will ensure that “not a hair on your head will be destroyed” eternally. So we should never fear when this occurs because we know Jesus will be with us.
- All of these lessons about perseverance toward salvation and witness are depicted in the Church in triumph in today’s first reading from the Book of Revelation. There St. John says he saw a “great and awe-inspiring sign,” and we would expect to see something beautiful and uplifting, but what he says, at first glimpse, seems frightening: “seven angels with the seven last plagues through which God’s fury is accomplished.” He goes on to day he was a “sea of glass mingled with fire” — fire is a sign of judgment— and people standing on today of the sea of glass and fire. Now we get to what was great and awe-inspiring: they were “holding God’s harps” and they sang two songs: the “song of Moses” and the “song of the Lamb.” The reference to Moses helps to bring it all together. After the ten plagues, Moses had led the Israelites through the desert and through the Red Sea to the promised land. Even though the Jews had been enslaved by the Egyptians, even though they were being persecuted and chased and hunted down for destruction, God saved them, helping them to do the impossible, pass through the Red Sea on dry ground, to salvation. And we know what they did immediately after the arrived on the other shore and saw those who were following them as if they were prey perish in the Red Sea behind them. We hear it every Easter vigil: “Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord: ‘I will sing to the Lord, for he is gloriously triumphant; horse and chariot he has cast into the sea. My strength and my courage is the Lord, and he has been my savior. He is my God, I praise him; the God of my father, I extol him. The Lord is a warrior, Lord is his name! Pharaoh’s chariots and army he hurled into the sea; the elite of his officers were submerged in the Red Sea. The flood waters covered them, they sank into the depths like a stone. Your right hand, O Lord, magnificent in power, your right hand, O Lord, has shattered the enemy. In your great majesty you overthrew your adversaries; you loosed your wrath to consume them like stubble. … Who is like to you among the gods, O Lord? Who is like to you, magnificent in holiness? … In your mercy you led the people you redeemed; in your strength you guided them to your holy dwelling. … The Lord shall reign forever and ever” (Ex 15:1-18).
- That’s the song that those who had “won the victory over the beast [the devil] and its image” were singing as they were standing on the sea of glass and fire. They had in the Lamb won an even greater victory and experienced an even more important Passover, from death into life, through the fire of suffering and judgment. They sang the “song of Moses” and the “song of the Lamb,” and the latter was one, as we heard on Monday, that “seemed to be a new hymn” and could only be learned by the “hundred and forty-four thousand who had been ransomed from the earth” and who “follow the Lamb wherever he goes.” It could only be sung by those who had experienced suffering together with the Lamb and had triumphed over the beast. What was their hymn? The Book of Revelation tells us. It’s a hymn that ties together so many parts of the Psalms that the saints and martyrs lived on earth. Notice that it’s all about God, not about them: “Great and wonderful are your works, Lord God almighty (Ps 92:5; 139:14). Just and true are your ways, O king of the nations (Ps 145:7). Who will not fear you, Lord, or glorify your name? (Ps 86:9) For you alone are holy (Ps 99:3). All the nations will come and worship before you (Ps 86:9), for your righteous acts have been revealed” (Ps 98:2). That’s a hymn that God wants us all singing! But in order for us to sing it, we, too, have to pass through fire, we have to be willing, like the saints and martyrs, to persevere in faith, to be persecuted, hated, even struck down by family members, by civil leaders and religious leaders, as a pretext for our giving witness that will proclaim that God and all his works are truly wonderful, true, just and holy.
- Today the Church celebrates three people who sang this song of the Lamb.
- The first is Blessed Miguel Pro. His story is one of the most powerful for me in hagiography. In 1910, there was a revolution in Mexico against the “old order” and one of the first results was anti-clerical persecution based on a militant atheism. Religious orders were banned. Many priests, brothers and nuns needed to flee across the border into the United States. Churches, monasteries, convents and other religious buildings were confiscated by the State. To survive, the Church needed to go underground. Many Catholic priests, at the risk of their lives, donned various disguises to try to bring the sacraments to those who were dying, to celebrate Mass and confessions in people’s homes, to teach the catechism to young children, to attend to the needs of the poor and destitute, and to care for the many orphans the government was making by the summary executions of parents. One thirty-six year-old Jesuit priest named Fr. Miguel Pro used his younger brother’s bicycle to crisscross the city, doing all of these things and more. He was eventually identified as a cleric and a warrant was issued for his arrest. For almost a year he evaded the authorities so that he could continue his priestly ministrations, but he knew that eventually he would be caught and killed. He was. 89 years ago today, November 23, 1927, Fr. Miguel Pro was arrested and sentenced to death by the Mexican dictator, Plutarco Calles, without a trial. Calles wanted to use Fr. Pro as an example, to teach other clandestine Catholic priests and the Catholic faithful who sought their pastoral care what would happen to those who continued to try to practice the Catholic faith in defiance of the government’s dictates. So Calles sent out his henchmen to assemble a crowd and photograph the event. They crowd gathered and Fr. Miguel Pro was brought before the firing squad. He was asked if he had any dying wishes. He requested two minutes to pray. After he was done, he stood up and said to those who were about to end his life, “May God have mercy on you. May God bless you.” Then he turned to the one who would give him his life back and said, “You know, O Lord, that I am innocent. With all my heart I forgive my enemies.” As the firing squad raised their rifles and took aim, in a firm, clear voice, Fr. Miguel Pro said his last words, “Viva Cristo Rey!” — “Long live Christ the King!” “Viva Cristo Rey!” Those words — the song of the Lamb! — began to echo throughout Mexico. The photographs of the execution, taken at Calles’ instigation to terrify Christians, emboldened them. The photographs spread so fast as a witness to Pro’s faith and Calles’ brutality that the dictator soon banned their publication and use. But it was too late. The following day about ten thousand Mexicans, at the risk of their lives, accompanied Fr. Pro’s body to Dolores Cemetery. The cortège diverted itself by the Dictator’s home so that they could be sure he saw it, and as they processed, the Mexicans echoed the message Pro preached so effectively in life and in death: “Viva Cristo Rey! Viva Cristo Rey!” These ordinary Christians, and the valiant priest they had come to honor, were all giving witness to a truth that no amount of firing squads could kill: the truth that there is a God, that that God sent his Son into the World, and that he, their Creator and Redeemer, is Lord and King of all and worth their very lives.
- The second example is St. Clement, the fourth Pope, whom the Church likewise celebrates today. He seems to have been a slave early in life who heard the Gospel from Peter and Paul and eventually became their successor. He led the Church to remain true to God during the ferocious persecution not only of Nero but later, during his papacy, of Domitian. After it was done, he wrote a letter to the Church of Corinth, which had deposed priests challenging them to greater fidelity to God. In the first exercise of papal primacy by the bishop of Rome outside of Rome, he wrote a letter to the Corinthians telling them they needed to take back their priests. Eventually, it seems, St. Clement was sent into exile and died a martyr, a genuine witness to his willingness to live the fruitful words Christ proclaimed in today’s Gospel as he himself proclaimed how great, wonderful, righteous and true is the Lord and his ways.
- The third saint is St. Columban, the 1400th anniversary of whose death the Church celebrated last year. He was a Celtic monk and abbot who called people, by his example and his words, to total commitment to God. Even though he had a beautiful life as a monk, through many sacrifices and sometimes great risk he went out to try to reevangelize Europe, starting from France. Along the way initiated the practice of individual auricular confession after centuries where confession happened in public before the Bishop and the Church. They also attracted multitudes through their prayer, community life, study and sober work. Pope Benedict focused on St. Columban’s courage in facing persecution from both the Church and state in helping people overcome spiritual compromises in a Catechesis about him back in 2008. He said, “Columban introduced Confession and private and frequent penance on the Continent. It was known as ‘tariffed’ penance because of the proportion established between the gravity of the sin and the type of penance imposed by the confessor. These innovations roused the suspicion of local Bishops, a suspicion that became hostile when Columban had the courage to rebuke them openly for the practices of some of them. … Intransigent as he was in every moral matter, Columban then came into conflict with the royal house for having harshly reprimanded King Theuderic for his adulterous relations. This created a whole network of personal, religious and political intrigues and manoeuvres which, in 610, culminated in a Decree of expulsion banishing Columban and all the monks of Irish origin from Luxeuil and condemning them to definitive exile. But that was a witness too.
- Today as we come forward on their feast days to enter into the new and eternal Passover in the Holy Eucharist, we ask God the Father to send the Holy Spirit to strengthen us to enter into Jesus’ suffering and death so that we might enter into his life and eternal glory on the other side of the sea of glass and fire. We ask him to fill us with Jesus words, with a wisdom in speaking that everyone will be powerless to resist and refute, so that we bring others to him and persevere with them until the eschaton where we hope to sing the Song of Moses and of the Lamb with Miguel, Clement, Columban and all the saints!
The readings for today’s Mass:
Reading 1 rv 15:1-4
seven angels with the seven last plagues,
for through them God’s fury is accomplished
On the sea of glass were standing those
who had won the victory over the beast
and its image and the number that signified its name.
They were holding God’s harps,
and they sang the song of Moses, the servant of God,
and the song of the Lamb:
Lord God almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
O king of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
or glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All the nations will come
and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”
Responsorial Psalm ps 98:1, 2-3ab, 7-8, 9
Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done wondrous deeds;
His right hand has won victory for him,
his holy arm.
R. Great and wonderful are all your works, Lord, mighty God!
The LORD has made his salvation known:
in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.
R. Great and wonderful are all your works, Lord, mighty God!
Let the sea and what fills it resound,
the world and those who dwell in it;
Let the rivers clap their hands,
the mountains shout with them for joy.
R. Great and wonderful are all your works, Lord, mighty God!
Before the LORD, for he comes,
for he comes to rule the earth;
He will rule the world with justice
and the peoples with equity.
R. Great and wonderful are all your works, Lord, mighty God!
Gospel lk 21:12-19
“They will seize and persecute you,
they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons,
and they will have you led before kings and governors
because of my name.
It will lead to your giving testimony.
Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand,
for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking
that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.
You will even be handed over by parents,
brothers, relatives, and friends,
and they will put some of you to death.
You will be hated by all because of my name,
but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.
By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”