Wednesday February 20, 2019
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¡Viva Cristo Rey!

(haz clic aquí para leer en español)

Homily for the Ordination to Priesthood if Father Jesús Alatorre,
Father César Izquierdo and Father Jesús Mariscal for the Diocese of Yakima 

Christ the King Catholic Church, Richland, Washington, July 3, 2018

Jeremiah 1:4-9; Hebrews 5: 1-10; Matthew 22:41-50

Most Reverend Joseph J. Tyson, Bishop of Yakima

Christ the King! Long Live Christ the King! ¡Viva Cristo Rey! How do we understand this liturgical cry? Let’s start with reality: Refugees flooding across the southern border. Unaccompanied minors fleeing for their lives. The border zone awash in financial corruption and bribery. Boisterous, ineffective, and immoral politicians. Racist language and rhetoric. Political polarization. This is the reality – the reality of 1925.

In 1925, Pope Pius XI in his encyclical “Quas Primas” designates the Feast of Christ the King as the final feast at the end of the liturgical year centering on Jesus Christ as the high priest and the eternal king. He does so with a watchful eye on the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, its growing political influence across Europe and its sweeping persecution of the Church. He also does so with a careful eye to the parallel threat with the Mexican Revolution and its 1917 constitution outlawing the Catholic Church. Pope Pius XI will go on to write three more encyclicals condemning the religious persecution in Mexico.

The year before this new Feast of Christ the King is proclaimed, the bloodiest and most murderous of the Mexican revolutionary leaders becomes president: Plutarco Elías Calles. He implements the most radical provisions of the 1917 Mexican constitution. Churches are closed. Priests are murdered. The Knight of Columbus chapters in Mexico are outlawed. The racist and anti-Catholic Ku Klux Klan sends money over the border to Mexico in support of the church persecution.  President Calles demands that Mexican citizens renounce their baptism and make a secular faith promise to him. Thousands upon thousands refuse the oath. Their response: Long Live Christ the King! Viva Cristo Rey!

In the United States, the Knights of Columbus raise over a million dollars – an extraordinary amount of money at that time – to support the estimated 250,000 refugees that flooded north across the border. The Knight of Columbus help fund St. Philip seminary in Castroville, Texas to form and educate seminarians expelled from Mexico – today we might term them “unaccompanied minors.”  These men become Mexico’s future priests.

In a three-year period, from 1926 to 1929, 30,000 Cristeros die.  After the 1929 peace accord brokered by the Vatican and the United States, the Mexican Revolutionary government violates the agreement and proceeds to kill another 5,000 Cristeros, including 500 key Cristero leaders. It takes another decade and the election of a practicing Catholic to the office of president in 1940 for the peace to truly take effect.   In the year 2000 Pope Saint John Paul the Second canonized 25 of the Cristero martyrs – nine of whom were members of the Knights of Columbus. Their cry: “Long Live Christ the King!” “Viva Cristo Rey!”

“Viva Cristo Rey!” That cry: Long Live Christ the King – where does it come from?  It comes from the cry in the opening lines from the Gospel of St. Mark.  When St. Mark opens his account of Jesus with the words: “Here begins the Gospel of Jesus Christ...” the original Greek is “εὐαγγέλιον” – “euangélion.”  “Good News!”  This “εὐαγγέλιον” was the cry of the Roman Caesar’s messengers send to carry the “good news” of his latest military victory or conquest.  But gutsy St. Mark begins by saying: No!  That news from the Roman Caesar – that’s “Fake News!”  Mark is telling us right at the beginning of the Gospel, I’ve got the real news – the “Good News” the truthful “εὐαγγέλιον”.  That “εὐαγγέλιον” is Jesus Christ! Jesus is Lord!  Jesus – not your pagan god Caesar – but Jesus – Jesus is Lord! Christ is King! Viva Cristo Rey!

Is this cry of the “Cristeros” – this echo of St. Mark’s Gospel – political? No! Quite the contrary. It pushes back against the “Caesars” of the Sacred Scriptures and the “Caesars” of every age. As Father Jacques Philippe notes: “No circumstance in the world can ever prevent us from believing in God, from placing all our trust in him, from loving him with our whole heart, or from loving our neighbor. Faith, hope, and charity are free because, if they are rooted in us deeply enough, they can draw strength from whatever opposed them! If someone sought to prevent us from believing by persecuting us, we always would retain the option of forgiving our enemies and transforming the situation of oppression into one of great love. If someone tried to silence our faith by killing us, our death would be the best possible proclamation of our faith! Love, and only love, can overcome evil by good and draw good out of evil.”

This cry of the Cristeros “Viva Cristo Rey!” is not the lifting up of a political slogan.  It’s about lifting high the cross!  Lifting high the banner of the cross who is Jesus Christ! Unique to the Church’s Rite of Ordination, after their families present me the bread and the wine for the sacrifice of the Mass, I will turn to the newly ordained priests and say:

Receive the oblation of the holy people

to be offered to God.

Understand what you do,

imitate what you celebrate

and conform your life

to the mystery of the Lord’s Cross.

“…the mystery of the Lord’s Cross.” As priests, we conform our lives to the mystery of the Lord’s cross. This is core to our ordination into the singular and eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ dies a slow, agonizing and painfully excruciating death on the ultimate instrument of human torture: the cross. Jesus – fully human and fully divine – travels to the most horrific and forsaken places of our humanity. Jesus – as God – brings God into the darkest and most sinful aspects of the world.  This is what you are ordained to do! As we heard proclaimed today from the Book of Hebrews:

“Every high priest…is able to deal patiently with sinners, for he himself is beset by weakness and so he must make sin offerings for himself as well as for his people.”

Why sin offerings? Because, as Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI notes in his book, “Jesus of Nazareth,” the sin and the struggles of the world today are not that much different from those Jesus faced. “What did Jesus actually bring, if not world peace, universal prosperity, and a better world? What has he brought?”

“The answer is very simple: God. … He has brought God, and now we know his face, now we can call upon him. Now we know the path we human beings have to take in this world. Jesus has brought God and with God the truth about our origin and destiny: faith, hope, and love.  It is only because of our hardness of heart that we think this is too little.”

Why sin offerings? Because our people need God. You will bring them God.  And this is never too little. You will bring God amid their sins, their sufferings and their struggles. As priests you will feed them the very presence of God as you place their heartaches – and yes – their persecutions separations and deportations alongside the bread and the wine in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Why sin offerings? Refugees flooding across the southern border. Unaccompanied minors fleeing for their lives. The border zone awash in financial corruption and bribery. Boisterous, ineffective, and immoral politicians. Racist language and rhetoric. Political polarization. That was the reality in 1925 and in many ways it’s still our reality today in 2018.  What’s our answer? What’s our answer to these ongoing and recurring struggles? Jesus!  Jesus Christ! Jesus Christ in his Body and his Blood.  Jesus Christ in the Eucharist!  Jesus Christ in all his humanity and all his divinity. Jesus is Lord! Christ is our King! Viva Cristo Rey!