Friday 23 November 2012

Blessed Miguel Pro - the priest who thanked his captor

Today is the anniversary of the martyrdom of one of our greatest Priest martyrs of the 20th century, Blessed Miguel Pro SJ.
Fr Pro was born in Mexico in 1891 and ordained to the ministry in 1925 and, as with so many of our martyrs, he suffered with ill health, a cross that he bore without complaint.

He had a keen sense of humour and was well known in the Pro family circle for his practical jokes.

After his ordination her returned to Mexico in much the same way as his fellow Jesuits had returned to England and Wales in the Reformation years, certain in the knowledge that ahead lay a road of capture, torture and death.

At the time, the Mexican Government was carrying out one of the most violent and genocidal purges of the followers of the Catholic Faith and Pro entered an arena where every other household harboured an informer, keen to claim the Judas reward for handing in a priest.

Fr Pro had many escapes from the authorities and he employed a rather Scarlet Pimpernel sort of role inasmuch that he would materialise in one village to hear confessions and celebrate Mass but would immediately after Mass, disappear without trace leaving the forces of General Cruz angry and frustrated.

On one occasion, when given chase, Fr Pro ran up to a young woman, grabbed her arm and told her that he was a priest; without hesitation the girl and priest linked arms and sauntered down the road like two lovers, passing through the cordons set up by the police.

Following an assassination attempt on the President, General Calles on November 13th 1927, when the authorities were determined to capture Fr Pro, he was duly apprehended and thrown into jail.

Within days he had been found guilty and sentenced to death by firing squad.

General Calles, thinking to make an example of this young man, ordered that the execution be witnessed by the press; little did he realise that the images that resulted were to resonate around the world resulting in the condemnation of his despotic regime.

As Fr Pro was led out to the yard where the firing squad awaited him, one of his captors, a police officer, begged his forgiveness. Fr Pro responded:
"You not only have my forgiveness, you also have my thanks"

"Viva Cristo Rey"

As he was placed in front of the squad, he was allowed a few minutes of prayer during which he knelt and recited his Rosary.
Refusing a blindfold he stood, arms outstretched forming a cross and shouted the words:

"Viva Cristo Rey" (Long live Christ the King)

As he lay, riddled with bullets, the officer in charge held a rifle to his head to deliver the coup de grace - it could have been a lance.

Fr Miguel Pro bore witness to Jesus Christ and to Holy Mother Church. He also left one particular prayer that he had composed.

It is, at first appearance, a rather harsh prayer, pleading with God to increase one's pain.

But to those who are sick or bear a cross of some kind, it is a great prayer and one that inspires fortitude and encourages resignation.

                                                Prayer of Blessed Miguel Pro

Does our life become from day to day more painful, more oppressive, more replete with afflictions? Blessed be he a thousand times who desires it so. If life be harder, love makes it also stronger and, only this love, grounded on suffering, can carry the cross of my Lord  Jesus Christ.
Love without egotism, without relying on self but enkindling in the depth of the heart an ardent thirst to love and suffer for all those around us: a thirst that neither misfortune nor contempt can extinguish…..I believe, O Lord; but strengthen my faith….Heart of Jesus, I trust in Thee; but give greater vigour to my confidence.
Heart of Jesus, I give my heart to Thee; but, so enclose it in Thee that it may never be separated from Thee.
Heart of Jesus, I am all Thine; but take care of my promise so that I may be able to put it in practice even unto the complete sacrifice of my life.

                                                Blessed Miguel Pro - Ora pro nobis

Richard Collins - Linen on the Hedgerow

Friday 16 November 2012

Claiming Sinners

Tennessee Williams

I've recently been preparing to teach Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie to my lower sixth (16-17 year olds), and this has caused me to meditate on Williams' life. Williams, a very public sinner, was baptised into the Catholic Church in 1969, having been raised as an Episcopalian (his grandfather was an Episcopalian minister). This was some years after his long-term lover Frank Merlo had died of cancer, and he had entered a period of depression that would haunt him until he choked on the cap of a pill bottle at the age of 71.

Williams' conversion doesn't get a mention in his Wikipedia article. Nor is it mentioned in the potted biography at the front of my student edition of The Glass Menagerie. But of course there is plenty about his homosexuality and his struggles with alcohol and drug dependence. So often, in the life of a publicly known person, we hear about their falls from grace, but how often do we hear about their search for grace?

From an eternal perspective, Williams' baptism was the most important event in his life, and yet it is often overlooked. Another example of this tendency is Oscar Wilde, whose wild living and wit are frequently mentioned, but whose conversion is often conveniently forgotten.

We can never presume to know the state of another's soul, and yet writers often seem deliberately to expose it, using their own inner life as artistic raw material. This makes it difficult not to speculate about what was happening in the silence of their communion with their Maker, away from the noise and glare of publicity.

We cannot know the immortal destiny of Williams' tortured soul, which endured so much suffering in this life. But as I ponder on his struggles, I am filled with an overwhelming feeling of compassion, rather like the sense I have when I pray for the repose of my grandparents' souls, none of whom were Catholics. As Fr Hugh Thwaites once observed, it's no joke going through life without the Sacraments.

May they rest in peace.

[Posted by A Tiny Son of Mary]
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