What a beautiful spectacle this, that is thus given to the world, to angels, and to men! How worthy of eternal praise are such deeds! Many individuals, members either of the Knights of Columbus, or officers of the Federation for Religious Freedom, of the Union of Catholic Women of Mexico, or of the Society of Mexican Youth, have been taken to prison handcuffed, through the public streets, surrounded by armed soldiers, locked up in foul jails, harshly treated, and punished with prison sentences or fines. Moreover, Venerable Brothers, and in narrating this We can scarcely keep back Our tears, some of these young men and boys have gladly met death, the rosary in their hands and the name of Christ King on their lips. (Iniquis afflictisque 27)
Pope Pius XI wrote these words in 1926, in his encyclical letter about the persecution of the Church in Mexico.
The question asked by the Mexican authorities was: ¿Quien vive? Who lives? –The Revolution? The supreme government of the socialist republic?
The soldiers asked St. Rodrigo Aguilar Aleman this question three times—tightening the noose around his neck each time they asked, because he did not give the answer they were looking for.
¿Quien vive? Viva…Cristo Rey.
In the geographic center of Mexico, a large hill holds an enormous statue of Christ the King, re-built from the ashes. The Mexican bishops first conceived of erecting it in 1914. In 1923, Father Jose Maria Robles Hurtado led a procession of 40,000 people to pray for peace at the shrine. In 1926, the statue was bombed to smithereens by order of the President. And on June 26 of that year, Fr. Hurtado was hanged.
“We are always courageous,” writes St. Paul, “because we walk by faith…faith in the One Who died for us and rose again.”
In Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet reflects on human nature: “What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?”
Good question, Hamlet. What is this quintessence of dust, man? What makes us make sense?
Are we meant to make everything work perfectly on earth? Right all wrongs, balance all scales of justice—make life easy and comfortable and low-maintenance for everyone?
How could a Mexican soldier in 1928 bring himself to cut the soles off the feet of a 14-year-old boy, just because the boy would not say “Viva la Revolucion?” How could the soldier then bring himself to march the boy through the streets and bayonet him to death, when the boy cried out, “Viva Cristo Rey?”
The soldier could do it because he was certain that the Church stood in the way of Mexico’s progress toward utopia. Because social engineering could lift the poor out of their kneeling stupor. And only the old-fashioned, foreigner-controlled, popish superstition of the rosary-clutching women stood in the way. If we can just get this intransigent, reactionary Catholic Church to knuckle under, then true progress will finally be possible!
…What is this quintessence of dust, man? Fed, sated, rested, lesiured, sensually satisfied—marking the days till the long sleep with amusements and recreations of constant diversion? Is this what we are? Just one more technological advance away from perfect computerized comfort?
Sure. Perfectly comfortable. On the backs of people waiting for the bus by the side of the smog-choked highway. On the backs of children who lost their one chance at reading a book when the local library lost its funding. On the back of our Mother Earth, who groans more and more under the weight of all the noxious compounds we spew out into the air, water, and soil in order to keep ourselves comfortable.
This quintessence of dust. What point can we really have? What makes us the paragon of animals and the beauty of the world?
Only one thing: God. God has distilled the dust of the earth to its quintessence, and produced us, for one reason: that we would know Him, love Him, serve Him, hope in Him.
The dignity of man: to glorify God. What a wretched mess our lives become when we forget this.
This week we begin our fortnight of prayer and fasting for religious freedom. We need religious freedom because we need God. We make no sense without Him. Let’s pray and fast and come together because we know we cannot live without God.