Not that long ago, a country here in North America was convulsed by a brutal civil war. The country was starkly divided into liberals and conservatives. An election was held but there were widespread accusations of fraud causing the president to resign, and a new president, who claimed to be a friend of the poor, took power. He was assassinated leading to an outbreak of violence throughout the country. The Church, through the Bishops, spoke out against the violence and thus became the enemy of the ruling power.
It was a time of upheaval in the world–the Russian revolution being the hallmark. The rise of Communism encouraged authoritarian regimes to restrict religious freedom. In the country I am speaking of a new leadership had come to power, along with a new constitution that forbade public religious ceremonies, closed monasteries and convents, and deported priests on penalty of death.
I am speaking of Mexico, and the events that led to the Cristero War of 1926-1929. You may have seen the movie For Greater Glory, which is an historically accurate depiction of these events. The people of Mexico fought back against the suppression of the Mass and the normalization of anti-Catholic violence. They knew in their hearts that it is impossible to separate the Kingdom of God from the Church. Over 90,000 died in the war. They are represented in the 25 saints and martyrs of Mexico canonized by St. John Paul the Great in 2000.
The battle cry of the Cristeros was “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” Long Live Christ the King! It was on the lips and in the hearts of thousands who risked their lives and freedom for the right to go to Mass.
¡Viva Cristo Rey! Our commitment also is to Christ the King. Like the martyrs of Mexico, we cannot allow anything to destroy the passion within us for the One whose death showed us the way to life. We work to help bring about the Kingdom. This means standing up against the materialistic forces of our society that threatens every day to destroy the family. Standing up against the murder of the innocent and the devaluing of human life.
¡Viva Cristo Rey! means seeking out those who are longing for the Kingdom, for truth, for love, for the presence of the Lord. We must put people at the center of our lives — especially those people whom we, or society, can easily run roughshod over. This means serving the presence of the Lord in those who are scattered and where it is cloudy and dark – the stranger and imprisoned, naked and the sick. These works of love call us to solidarity, they challenge us to recognize Christ in one another, where we might least expect to find him.
¡Viva Cristo Rey! means that The Kingdom of God is forever. We counter evil with the overwhelming, good that flows from a heart in love with an infinite God. The work begins in our minds and hearts but does not end there. The struggle is in our homes, workplace, neighborhoods, social media and even our churches. We serve the Kingdom in reaching out to the lowly of the Gospel reading. We serve it in our workplaces and in our schools, proclaiming our faith with voices that many would rather be silenced. Sometimes the battlefield is a literal one, as in the case of our persecuted and martyred brothers and sisters in Christ.
¡Viva Cristo Rey! means that, as St. John Paul the Great once wrote, the Kingdom is the concern of everyone: individuals, society, and the world. Working for the kingdom means acknowledging and promoting God’s activity, which is present in human history and transforms it. Building the kingdom means working for liberation from evil in all its forms.
Scandals come and scandals go. Nations rise and fall, but the Kingdom is eternal. We pray for the kingdom to come even as we live in it. We pray: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). We proclaim the kingdom by rejecting a secular society, by recognizing Christ in one another, by fearlessly proclaim our faith, by asserting the dignity of human life, and by crying out for the liberation promised us.
¡Viva Cristo Rey!