Cristero Movie

a.k.a. “101 Ways to Smoke and Drink Tequila While Defending the Holy Faith”

Movies in which the stirring orchestral score cues up before the five-minute mark make me suspicious. “For Greater Glory” will not be outdone as a music video of the Cristero War. Some resourceful acting manages to cover the relative lameness of the script. Andy Garcia makes sense by smoking in meaningful ways. Rubén Blades as President Plutarco Elias Calles almost steals the Opening-Scene-Menace Award from De Niro’s Al Capone as “The Untouchables” begins.

I wish I were a better priest, a better friend of the Mexican nation, a better Knight of Columbus. If I were, then I would know more facts about the Mexican martyrs than I do. I do know that Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory makes the whole business 10,000 times more real that this film does. The novel gives us one of the greatest heroes I have ever encountered, and this film makes Greene seem all the more brilliant by comparison.

But “For Greater Glory” gives us some lovable heroes, too. I never really doubted that I am fighting for the right team. But if I had doubted it, the scene in which “El Catorce” tells the federal (who just hanged a priest for saying Mass) to “spend your money in hell, c-bron!” would have dispelled any doubts I had. Our church has room for bad-sses.

And fifteen-year-old Mauricio Kuri, playing Bl. José Luis Sánchez del Rio…In real life, the saint was not even yet fifteen when martyred. I wept when they cut up his poor little feet, to torture him. Come on, evil federales! But it really happened.

The Spanish-isms of the movie struck this gringo as patently ridiculous, even offensive. In what world does using “Mejico” instead of “Mexico”—in the middle of English patter with bad accents—in what world does this achieve verisimilitude?

But, al otro lado, the movie does give us Mexico, mainly by the authentic use of tequila in the interactions between men and in the open, airy style of the churches.

The main thing: Don’t die without going to Confession to a Catholic priest. Or die as a martyr. Don’t leave this world via any other exit. This movie makes it magnificently clear that leaving the world in any other way is really lame.

In the 1920’s, the Mexicans played big-league spiritual ball, while we dithered as a nation of t-ball strikeouts. The Spanish-speaking world made the rest of us look like piker Catholics. (The Spanish Civil War of the late 30’s produced scores of holy martyrs, too.)

Graham Greene grasped this fact a long time ago. Hopefully, “For Greater Glory” will remind us—and prepare us for whatever battle we will have to face.

Friend, Faith, Facts

[PREVIEW PREVIEW: Your unworthy servant gives his final apologia for not being on the Religious-Freedom bandwagon.]

Like any God-fearing person, I consider the red solo cup a friend. But: Can we really count on the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution?

In my book, an idea is reliable as a friend precisely to the degree that the idea is clear. The clearer the idea, the better a friend.

“Stay out of trouble” makes for a good friend. But “keep the needle on the speedometer within 10 mph of the posted speed limit” makes for a better friend, owing to its greater clarity.

Now, I do not mean to suggest that

Congrefs shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

does not make for a respectable friend, as ideas go.

This sentence makes nicer with the Church than a sentence like “La ley, en consecuencia, no permite el establecimiento de ordenes monasticas”—by which the original Mexican Constitution of 1917 forbad religious orders.

But, as a friend, the First Amendment of our Constitution can get prickly. Quickly. Because what it actually means is, well, not clear.

Does the state have the right to bind believers with laws that impede the exercise of religion? Well, yes—when the protection of the common good is at stake. The Supreme Court has so ruled, I believe–as well it should.

But, of course, there is no telling how a court will rule in any given “separation of church and state” case. Because the idea itself is really quite opaque.

Does it mean that the President can’t appoint bishops? Or does it mean that he can’t appropriate money to support the work of Catholic social workers? Does it mean that the government can’t prevent me from praying in public? Or does it mean that no law can prohibit the ritual use of narcotic mushrooms? Or polygamy?

Having read somewhat widely on the subject, I am left with the following impression: The First Amendment is much more an object of faith than Pope Paul VI’s encyclical about artificial contraception is.

I applaud any couple who refrain from using artificial contraception simply because “the Church teaches it’s wrong, and I believe in the Church.” Beautiful exercise of faith.

But I would venture to claim that, for the most part, the great army of people who eschew artificial means of contraception do so because the practice is evidently unnatural, unwholesome, and unbecoming a mature person.

As I have tried to point out before, Pope Paul VI himself never proposed his doctrine on artificial contraception as an object of faith. Spilling semen intentionally is a bad business. We can read about this in Genesis 38. But we do not need to read the Bible to get the drift.

And killing an unborn child? Better to consult a sonogram than Scripture, if you want to know why no one should ever do it.

If it gets boring, please forgive me. But I cannot help but return to one of the great themes of my silly little life:

When it comes to sexual morality, what the Church teaches is a matter of sound science. It is based on a combination of the following: cold, hard biological facts and one simple proposition, “People who live as if God does not exist do not thrive.” (This proposition has been demonstrated repeatedly by psychological and sociological studies.)

The Church teaches many things about supernatural truths that must be accepted on faith—e.g., Christ in heaven, the sacraments, etc. But Her sexual morality is not one of these things.

On the other hand, it seems to me that “the separation of church and state” has become more of a shibboleth, mouthed religiously, than a clear idea.

So, here is my little apologia: Continue reading “Friend, Faith, Facts”