Feast Day: May 21st
I hate to disappoint anyone, but there is not an overarching scheme in my choice of the saint for each week. I look ahead to see who the Church is celebrating, I keep somewhere in the back of my mind the theme of our faith-formation for the month (our Journey to Heaven), and then I do some digging on each saint to see whether one leaps to the top of the list.
This week it was immediately St. Christopher Magallanes and Companions. I emphasize “and companions” because as soon as I saw that I knew I had to look into these saints. Saints often come in pairs or triplets – think of Basil, Gregory, Gregory, Macrina, Naucratius, and Peter (of 4th century Cappadocia), or John of the Cross and Teresa of Ávila (of 16th century Spain), or St. Teresa of Calcutta and John Paul II (of 20th century Europe) – and then there are the abundant moments when God pours out grace for many to come to sanctity at the same time.
The 22 others canonized with Christóbal were not all martyred at the same time, but they were martyred with the same heart. As persecution gripped Mexico in the 1920s, these priests and laymen each chose to continue to minister as they could under the radar. It was a crime to celebrate the Mass, to baptize, or teach, but they continued to walk from village to village and offer the sacraments and the solace of grace to those who would come for it. Violence exploded around them as churches were burned, looted, and desecrated. One particular governor named his sons “Lenin”, “Satan”, and “Lucifer” and his livestock “God”, “Pope”, “Mary”, and “Christ”. Such was the society these men found themselves living in.
It was not a slow, imperceptible squeezing of Christianity out of life, it was a quick and brutal attack on Jesus and His followers. So also would be their deaths. I turn my focus upon just Father Magallanes and Father Caloca (his companion), who were walking out to celebrate Mass for the feast of St. Rita of Cascia (May 22nd). They encountered a shootout between the Christeros and Federal forces, were arrested and hauled off to the local governmental headquarters. They had no rights, no defense, and no trial, and after three days were marched from their cells to their deaths. The two priests gave each other absolution, encouraged each other in faithfulness, and Fr. Magallanes shouted his final words “I am innocent and I die innocent. I forgive with all my heart those responsible for my death, and I ask God that the shedding of my blood serve the peace of our divided Mexico.”
These were average men and ordinary priests. Fr. Magallanes had worked as a priest for 20 uneventful years before persecution broke into his world. He was angry, as anyone would be, at the injustice of his arrest and the absurdity of the hatred directed against him, against the Church, against the poor Christians trying to keep their faith, and against Our Lord Who came to bring us into the Father’s Love. Yet he held onto that love not only in the ordinary years, but also those last horrible days, and so did all those who are now venerated with him, and so must we. – Fr. Dominic Rankin would be very happy to just be a companion of a saint: Just latch onto the holiness and love in someone else and, through and with them, hang on to Jesus all the way to heaven!