Monday, November 23, 2009

Blessed Miguel Agustín Pro (1891-1927)

¡Viva Cristo Rey! (Long live Christ the King) were the last words Father Pro uttered before he was executed for being a Catholic priest and serving his flock. Born into a prosperous, devout family in Guadalupe de Zacatecas, he entered the Jesuits in 1911 but three years later fled to Granada, Spain, because of religious persecution in Mexico. He was ordained in Belgium in 1925. He immediately returned to Mexico, where he served a Church forced to go “underground.” He celebrated the Eucharist clandestinely and ministered the other sacraments to small groups of Catholics. He and his brother Roberto were arrested on trumped-up charges of attempting to assassinate Mexico’s president. Roberto was spared but Miguel was sentenced to face a firing squad on November 23, 1927. His funeral became a public demonstration of faith. He was beatified in 1988. In 1927 when Father Miguel Pro was executed, no one could have predicted that 52 years later the bishop of Rome would visit Mexico, be welcomed by its president and celebrate open-air Masses before thousands of people. Pope John Paul II made additional trips to Mexico in 1990, 1993 and 1999. Those who outlawed the Catholic Church in Mexico did not count on the deeply rooted faith of its people and the willingness of many of them, like Miguel Pro, to die as martyrs.

During his homily at the beatification Mass, Pope John Paul II said that Father Pro “is a new glory for the beloved Mexican nation, as well as for the Society of Jesus. His life of sacrificing and intrepid apostolate was always inspired by a tireless evangelizing effort. Neither suffering nor serious illness, neither the exhausting ministerial activity, frequently carried out in difficult and dangerous circumstances, could stifle the radiating and contagious joy which he brought to his life for Christ and which nothing could take away (see John 16:22). Indeed, the deepest root of self-sacrificing surrender for the lowly was his passionate love for Jesus Christ and his ardent desire to be conformed to him, even unto death.”

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke(21.1-4)

As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. I tell you the truth, he said, this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.

Giving all
(Homily by. Fr. E.J. Tyler)

The scene of our Gospel passage (Luke 21: 1-4) is the Temple of Jerusalem, and our Lord has arrived in Jerusalem, cleansed the Temple of its commercial traffic, and imposed a regime of prayer and teaching in its precincts. The hostility of the chief priests, the scribes and other prominent persons is intense (19:47; 20:19), but they are helpless before the admiration of the people for Jesus. While our Lord continues to teach in the Temple, the bulk of the chapter prior to our passage today is given over to the attempts by the chief priests, the scribes as well as the Sadducees to confront him or trap him in his teaching. He sovereignly confutes them all, leaving some in admiration (20:39) and others conclusively cowed in debate before him (20:40). Despite this, the hostility of the leaders remains implacable. In our Gospel passage today our Lord is there, Master of the Temple and Teacher of the truth of God. He “looks up,” and observes the rich as they cast their gifts into the treasury. His eye catches “a certain poor widow” who dropped in two small coins. Now, the word for “poor” here (Greek: penichran) signifies one for whom life is a struggle (21:2). But we notice that when our Lord draws the attention of his disciples to this widow (21:3), he himself describes her poverty by means of a more drastic word - she is ptoke, one who is in abject poverty, a virtual beggar, one in danger of starvation. The two small coins she gave to the treasury were two lepta. The lepton was the smallest Jewish bronze coin. F. W. Madden in his History of Jewish Coinage (Reprint 1967, p.296-302) tells us that it was worth about one eighth of a cent of his day. It must have been something like the old farthing - or, I suppose, less than the modern single cent. In any case, it had scarcely any value. Presumably St Luke was drawing on the Gospel of St Mark (12: 41-44) for this incident, and Mark’s Gospel is recognized as being the account of St Peter. So we may take it that the eye-witness source for our event here is Simon Peter who may have been next to our Lord as he pointed to the widow and spoke of her.

Now, in drawing attention to her, our Lord was not just speaking of generosity in the matter of giving to the Temple treasury. He was speaking of generosity: the remarkable generosity to God of one who had virtually nothing. It is to be remembered that while the rich person can be profoundly attached to his wealth, the poor person can also be profoundly attached to the little he has. He can be found clinging on to it for dear life. But this destitute widow was not attached to anything. She was attached only to God, and she wanted to give to God all she had. She was a widow, and possibly bereft of relatives and support. She had her two small coins, and anyone would have expected her to carefully husband any small means that came her way. But no - she, elderly and without support, gave it to God and trusted in him alone. It was yet another example of the holiness that was indeed to be found in the chosen people of God - and the Gospels give us other examples of this holiness. Holiness of a kind was seen even outside the chosen people. Our Lord said, in astonishment, that he had not seen in Israel the faith that he encountered in the centurion who had asked him to cure his servant. Here, though, our Lord holds aloft before his disciples the magnificence of the poor widow. Simon Peter took careful note of it, related the event in his preaching, and perhaps directed that it be included in Mark’s Gospel. This gift of all that we are and all we have is the ideal for every disciple of Christ. Our Lord said on one occasion that no one could be his disciple unless he gives up all his possessions. He meant that his disciples must be like the poor widow, and give all to God. We must devote all our mind, heart, soul and strength to Jesus. It means doing our very best in the fulfilment of God’s will every day. There is a particular application of this which comes to mind as we think of the context of this event. The context, as we saw, was Christ’s conflict with the leaders due to his bearing witness to the truth of God. For our part, we are called to give our best in bearing witness to the truth of Christ. This we do in our homes, at our work, among our friends and associates.

Let us resolve to love Jesus Christ and to do our best for him. It is often said that love is not just a feeling - in fact feelings can be largely absent. I remember one person who, for five years, went to visit his mother in hospital. She never knew him, because her mind had gone. Love is not a feeling, it is a decision. Let us make the decision to love Jesus, and to show our love by giving him all we have and all we are. Let us take to heart the example of the poor widow, for Christ himself has held her up to his disciples, and through them to the whole Church.

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