“Long live Christ the King!  Long live the Virgin of Guadalupe!”

February 3, 2013 - Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

© Rev. Thomas J. Hennen

Diocese of Davenport

Director of Vocations

780 W. Central Park Ave.

Davenport, Iowa 52804-1901


   Three years ago I returned from a month of studying Spanish in Mexico, and while I was there I learned for the first time about the persecution of the Church that took place there in the 1920’s during the presidency of Plutarco Calles.  I learned about the “Cristeros,” who rose up to defend their religious liberty and I was particularly impressed by the story of José Sánchez del Río.  I was reminded again of his story recently when I watched the movie For Greater Glory, in which José Sánchez is depicted.

   José Sánchez, a young man of deep faith from the town of Sahuayo, desired very much to join the Cristeros movement, but was time and time again rejected.  Finally, they let him join, but only to take care of the horses.

   When the government forces raided their headquarters, the horse that belonged to the “general” of the Cristeros was killed.  And so, the story goes that José Sánchez gave the general his own horse so that he could get away with the others (saving the movement), but it meant that José was left there by himself, a prisoner.  They turned the church in the town into a stable and a brothel.  Naturally, José was very upset by this sacrilege, and so he let the horses loose and drove out the prostitutes.  Sadly, one of the fiercest of José’s persecutors was his own godfather, who told him that if he did that again, they would kill him.  José told his godfather that he would do it again because it was right.

   Sure enough, the opportunity presented itself again, and José did as he had done before, letting the horses looses, driving out the prostitutes, and killing the prize roosters, which they used for cockfighting inside the church.  This time, they showed him no mercy.  They cut off the soles of his feet and made him march through town to the cemetery where a grave had already been dug for him.  He went cheerfully, singing the praises of God.  When they arrived at the cemetery they had him stand at the end of the grave.  He stood before them (to use the words of the Prophet Jeremiah in our first reading) as “a prophet to the nations.”  He stood before them like “a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass.”  They could not bring themselves to shoot him while he was facing them, and so they had him turn around.  He cried out in a loud voice, “Long live Christ the King!  Long live the Virgin of Guadalupe!”  They shot him in the back and he fell face first into his grave. José Sánchez was thirteen years old.  He is known as the “child martyr” of Sahuayo and his cause for canonization is in process.  Indeed, he was “a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass.”  They would “fight against [him], but not prevail over [him],” because of his deep faith.

   Not only is this an example of deep faith in Jesus Christ, but this is also an example of that kind of “love” of which Saint Paul speaks so eloquently in our second reading.  Saint Paul says that true love “does not seek its own interests.”  Certainly José Sánchez did not seek his own interests in the defense of his Catholic Faith.  Saint Paul says the true love “rejoices in the truth.”  Certainly José Sánchez rejoiced in the truth, even singing as he went to his own martyrdom, so ardent was his love for Jesus Christ and for His Church.  Saint Paul says the true love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  Certainly José Sánchez possessed this love that “endures all things” for the sake of Jesus Christ.  This love, exemplified in the life and martyrdom of José Sánchez in imitation of his Lord on the cross, is the love that “never fails” and the love without which we are nothing.

   I think too of Our Lord in the Gospel.  One moment the people are singing His praises, and the next moment they are ready to throw him off a cliff.  But, like José Sánchez, they could not crush him, and He passed through their midst.  Even when finally they did condemn Our Lord to a shameful death, He stood like “a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass.”  And even when they crucified Him they could not crush Him, they could not overcome Him.  He “passed through their midst” once more as on the third day He rose from the grave.  This is what we celebrate this morning, and every Sunday that we gather for the Eucharist, the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead and the promise that it holds for us.

   Let us pray in this Eucharist, then, for the faith, the love, and the courage of José Sánchez, for the faith, the love and the courage of Jesus Himself.  And as we share in His suffering, for the sake of the truth, may we also come one day to share in His resurrection.