Our story this week follows a little boy nicknamed Cocol, growing up as the 1800s became the 1900s, right at the center of Mexico, in the city of Guadalupe, Zacatecas, in a mining family. He joined the Society of Jesus at the age of 20, but just 3 years into his formation, his tremendously Catholic homeland, in 1914, after a rigged election, and subsequent power struggle, decended into revolution, and the new government supressed and then persecuted the Catholic Church. First, no Catholic schools, then no religious orders, then the Church couldn’t have property at all, and finally, priests were told not to wear their clerical garb, could no longer vote, and were forbidden to speak about the political situation … or else death. Miguel and his classmates were forced to flee the country to continue their formation and when he was ordained far from home (in Belgium at that point), he could not even offer his first blessings to his family, who remained in Mexico, persecuted and hiding, but could only beg God’s grace down upon the photographs that he cherished of them.
Fr. Pro surrepticiously returned to Mexico one year later. His life emulated so many thousands of priests down through the Church’s history who endured persercution and risked death to bring the sacraments to the faithful: from the persecutions of the 200s in Rome, the 700s in Arabia, the 1500s in England, the 1600s in Japan, the 1900s in Europe, … to those currently in North Korea, Afganistan, India, Colombia and so many other countries. Within 3 months, a warrant was out for his arrest, and by the fall of 1927, he was captured, and then executed without trial. It was crime enough that he was a priest.
So much for God’s Kingdom coming, huh?
But then the voice of Christ resounds down through the ages: “My Kingdom is not of this world.” Our Lord spoke that truth, beleagered and beaten and berefit of any power or influence before the might of the Roman Empire, and was promptly crucified and killed outside the city meant to be the place where God reigned … but as Miguel extended his arms in the shape of the cross, the firing squad raised their rifles, and the priest shouted “Viva Christo Rey!”, Christ’s Kingdom won another victory, because one more life had been captured by their carrying the cross after Him.
Padre Cocol, as he humbly signed his letters, received the martyr’s crown that day, but lest we think that his death was still a loss for everybody else, perhaps even earthly results can give us an indication of the fruit born by his sacrifice. President Calles ordered the photographs capturing Pro’s execution distributed around the country to cow any remaining Christians. But, as always, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”, and those very images – an icon of the thousands of lives lost in those years, and during the continued persecutions in spots that lasted until the anti-Catholic laws were taken off the books in the 1990s – only invigorated and inspired the remaining followers of Christ to stay faithful to Him. 60,000 of those Christians came to Fr. Pro’s funeral!
We are not, right now, torn from our family and friends, to follow God’s call, but when the day comes, will we be willing to “sell everything” in order to purchase the Kingdom of God? We are not, yet, destined for the firing-squad by professing that our King is Christ, but if we are not willing today to “suffer for the sake of the Name”, when that price is put on our faith, will we be willing to pay it? We were traced with the sign of the cross at our baptism, and most of the time it doesn’t hurt too much, but do we act now in such a way to make that sign evident? If not, will we have the courage when our last day comes to extend our own arms, and still profess Jesus’ victory within our own death?
“Cocol” is actually a simple, sweet bread found around Mexico, and loved by Miguel Pro. Perhaps it is a fitting image for his own life – the wheat flour, mixed with a little salt, a little sugar, butter, yeast, eggs, and anise – all very normal ingredients, but transformed into something wonderful by grinding and kneading and baking. Our lives are captured for Christ’s Kingdom, when we allow His cross to be imprinted on us … when we allow ourselves to be ground, and kneaded, and baked by the trials of this life, in order to become God’s holy bread as we join His victory in the next.
– Fr. Dominic Rankin has celebrated approximately 1000 Masses as this goes to print. That is probably more than Bl. Miguel Pro would have celebrated in his short 2 years of priesthood, yet he was ready for martyrdom when the time came. Do we allow ourselves to be conformed to Christ, crucified, when we receive His Body and Blood poured out at the Mass?