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Witness to the Truth of God's Love

Rev. Paul V. Redmond
Professor Emeritus
Mount St. Mary's University

(11/22/09) At the end of Graham Greene's gripping and most powerful novel, The Power and the Glory, the "whiskey priest" who had fathered a child finds himself on the run. He is the last priest in the totalitarian state of Tabasco in Mexico with a reward on his head. The passionately communist lieutenant finally captures this priest, who with the courage of the bottle had been doing what was forbidden by the government: the priest had slipped into various villages to celebrate Mass, baptize the children, and hear confessions. As this priest stands before the firing squad, he shouts out "Viva Cristo Rey"-"Long live Christ the King" . At the very end of this stirring novel a stranger knocks on the door of a frightened family household and whispers "I am a priest." With silent, heartfelt joy they welcome him.

The Power and the Glory is great fiction. Other than fiction is the true story of Father Miguel Pro. On November 23rd we celebrate the 82nd anniversary of this martyr's death. Pope John Paul had declared him blessed.

When he was only two years ordained Miguel was condemned for ministering to people in Mexico despite a government ban on the Catholic Church. In a time of persecution of the Church Miguel, popularly called God's "secret agent", used various tricks and disguises to outwit the government's agents. Finally he was captured. Elias Calles, the President of Mexico, had encouraged the world press and photographers to attend the execution. He wanted to show that Catholics were groveling cowards. His propaganda move backfired. Father Pro carried his small crucifix and his rosary as he walked steadily across the prison courtyard in Mexico City on that November day in 1927. Facing the firing squad he said: "May God have mercy on you. With all my heart I forgive my enemies." The last words of this 37 year old Jesuit priest were "Viva Cristo Rey"---"Long live Christ the King". The photos taken by the press spoke eloquently of the heroism of Catholics. (You can find these photos and a brief life on Miquel Pro on the Internet). Thousands defied government restrictions to attend his funeral.

On today's feast of "Cristo Rey" - Christ the King-what comes to our minds when we hear the word "king" influences the ways in which we react to today's feast. Monarchs and monarchies have had a less than praiseworthy history. If we can put aside what usually comes to our mind when we hear the word "king", the idea of "Jesus as King" remains a challenge for us.

Jesus came to establish a kingdom, In his preaching from the time of his baptism, his Inauguration Day, he made it clear that "the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand." (Mk 1:15). The parables that he preached unpacked what he meant by kingdom: the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed . . .leaven . . . treasure hidden in a field. . . a merchant in search of fine pearls. . . a net thrown into the sea." You and I, the people of God, are the kingdom of God. The kingship of Christ is his rule over our hearts; the kingdom of God is rooted within us.

Jesus himself did not particularly like the title "king". When people were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he took "to the hills." (Jn 6:15). John the Evangelist portrays Jesus as the one who alone can speak and reveal the truth about God. When Pilate asks him: "what have you done", Jesus replies : "My kingdom does not belong to this world." The kingship of Jesus - "Jesus' rule over us" is not a kingship of political power or dominion. His kingship is a "witness to the truth".

Jesus is the one who testifies to the truth. Pilate misses the meaning of Jesus' words. Pilate, alone at that time with Jesus, could have opened himself to the gifts that Jesus could surely have given him. Yet, as far as we can tell, Pilate did not accept Jesus or his truth. He heard his voice, but did not listen. Perhaps John the Evangelist has included such details of Pilate's one-on-one with Jesus in order to challenge you and me to listen more deeply to Jesus, the Word made flesh; to listen to him as we receive the sacraments, as we hear the Word proclaimed in the Scripture readings and the homily-and to be more keenly alert to the presence of the Lord in ourselves and in one another. Do we allow ourselves to be changed by Jesus?

Jesus gives us a life that never ends, an unending life that begins here and now in our surrendering to his love for us. He welcomes into his kingdom all who turn to him for forgiveness and healing. What difference does Jesus make? For those who believe -- Jesus makes all the difference between death and life, darkness and light, hell and heaven.

Jesus gives special attention to areas of humanity where many of us fear to tread. He is king of the lost and the losers; He sides with the dregs-the decaying masses who are forced to scratch and starve. He is Lord and leader of the strange, the questionable and those on the margin in our Church and society.

The Lord Jesus in his rule over our hearts binds us to himself with cords of love. He roots and grounds his kingdom within you and me. The Kingdom of God is already present in us; the fullness of the Kingdom is yet to come. You and I are challenged to mature to the passionate love of our King for us-as we open our eyes, ears, and hearts to the needs of others. During the joyful season of Advent which begins next Sunday may you and I grow as witnesses to the truth as we listen to the voice of the Lord in the countless ways in which he comes into our lives.

Do you and I recognize ourselves and other persons as "images of God," that is, as "God's representatives on earth" Can we somehow see each person as having the "face of God"? In the powerful words of Gerard Manley Hopkins, the premier poet of the Victorian Age:

"Christ plays in ten thousand places, Lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his - (he plays) to the Father through the features of (human) faces" -- "Christ plays to the Father through the features of human faces."

Friends, let me springboard from that joyful expression. Later today take a good look yourself in your bathroom mirror. . . .a grateful, prayerful look. Each and every one of us wears an invisible masque of Jesus. At the time of our death God the Father helps us to realize that our own features have somehow become the face of Christ, his Son. Look in that mirror again and give a prayer of thanks.

Read other homilies by Father Paul