So many times, what appears at first glance to be a coincidence turns out to be something quite different. How often, for example, do you find that the Scripture readings at Mass, which were selected decades ago according to a complex schedule, apply directly and decisively to a situation that you are facing that very day?
The same thing just happened on Sunday with our liturgical calendar.
In the traditional calendar, which is still operative for those who observe the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, yesterday was the Feast of Christ the King. Under the new calendar, it was the feast of the English Martyrs, which we didn’t celebrate this year because it fell on Sunday.
To me, this is no coincidence, but the work of the Holy Spirit, who is trying to remind us of something very important. Think of it. Here we are, in the midst of a highly charged political season. Election Day is around the corner. The health care reform bill — with its requirements for abortion coverage and taxpayer funding for elective abortions — is nearing its final stages of preparation. The Governor of New York is again talking about pushing the bill to re-define marriage from its immemorial meaning, so that it would include same-sex couples. For many of us, we put so much stock in the political order, and we follow politics as if it were everything to us.
But the fortuitous confluence of the calendars reminds us of something different. The real ruler of the world and our lives is not the temporary office holder who happens to inhabit the White House, the Speaker’s chair, or any other position of secular power. The real ruler of our world is Christ the King, and we are his subjects.
This lesson wasn’t necessary for St. Margaret Clitherow, who was one of the English Martyrs, whose feast day was yesterday. St. Margaret was an ordinary married woman of York, England, who was condemned to death for hiding priests during the Elizabethan persecution of the Church. She was offered opportunities to recant her crime, but she refused, and was judicially murdered by being pressed to death between heavy stones. (For more on her story, see here)
St. Margaret never faltered during her agony. Instead, her last words were a plea for clemency, not to the rulers of this world, but to her real King — “Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, have mercy on me”.
Nor would this lesson have been needed by Blessed Miguel Pro. Blessed Miguel (who was a brother Knight of Columbus!) was one of the priests who went into hiding in Mexico during its government’s war against the Church in the early 20th Century. He ministered to the people, celebrating the Sacraments, all the while being hunted by the authorities. When they finally caught him, they condemned him without trial and put him up against the wall to be executed. Bizarrely, they took photos of his entire execution, with the intent of using them as propaganda against the Church. Instead, they captured one of the most heroic martyrdoms ever. (You can see the full story here, but be prepared for graphic pictures).
Blessed Miguel held out his arms in the form of the Cross, and as the soldiers murdered him he gave out the immortal cry, “Viva Cristo Rey!” — “Long Live Christ the King!”
One of the temptations of our day is the same as that offered by the Evil One to Christ — an obsession with, and even the worship of powerful people and of power itself. Thanks to our Roman calendar, both traditional and modern, and the example of some great saints, we’ve been reminded of the antidote to this perennial sin — remembering who our real King is.
Viva Cristo Rey!