This is the tenth reflection, commemorating the two hundredth anniversary of the Restoration of the Society of Jesus. A reflection on the life of Bl Miguel Pro.
The nuns of Mary, Queen of Apostles, sing the hymn Jesu dulcis mermoria. Sweet is the very thought of Jesus; giving true joy to the heart. But sweeter than the sweetest honey, is his very Presence.
Miguel Pro was martyred in 1927 having been arrested and executed for the crime of being a priest at a time which was described by the English author, Graham Greene, as the “fiercest persecution of religion anywhere since the reign of Elizabeth”. Born in 1891, he was forced by anti-clerical laws to leave Mexico in 1914, Pro studied for the priesthood in California, Spain, Nicaragua, and Belgium, but in 1925 he returned to Mexico to help establish an ‘underground’ Church. For two years, with great imagination, energy and joyful good humour he moved from house to house, often in disguise, and brought comfort to the beleaguered Catholics by his preaching and the celebrating of mass and the sacraments. Following his arrest in 1927, he was accused of involvement in a bombing, and was convicted without trial. As a public lesson the President of Mexico invited many diplomats and journalists to witness the execution by firing squad, but this move rebounded badly as images of the execution of the priest were published around the world and drew wide-spread condemnation of the regime. Pro’s final words of ‘Viva Cristo Rey!’ (Long Live Christ the King!) became a rallying cry for opposition. Miguel Pro was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1988.
In the inadequate light he could just see two men kneeling with their arms stretched out in the shape of a cross – they would keep that position until the consecration was over, one more mortification squeezed out of their harsh and painful lives.
He began the prayer for the living: the long list of the Apostles and Martyrs fell like footsteps – Cornelii, Cypriani, Laurentii, Chrysogoni – soon the police would reach the clearing where his mule had sat down under him and he had washed in the pool. The Latin words ran into each other on his hasty tongue: he could feel impatience all around him. He began the Consecration of the Host (he had finished the wafers long ago – this was a piece of bread from Maria’s oven); impatience abruptly died away: everything in time became a routine but this – ‘Who the day before he suffered took Bread into his holy and venerable hands . . .’ Whoever moved outside on the forest path, there was no movement here – ‘Hoc est enim Corpus Meum.’ He could hear the sigh of breaths released: God was here in the body for the first time in six years. When he raised the Host he could imagine the faces lifted like famished dogs. He began the Consecration of the Wine – in a chipped cup. That was one more surrender – for two years he had carried a chalice around with him; once it would have cost him his life, if the police officer who opened his case had not been a Catholic. It may very well have cost the officer his life, if anybody had discovered the evasion – he didn’t know; you went round making God knew what martyrs – in Concepcion or elsewhere – when you yourself were without grace enough to die.
The Consecration was in silence: no bell rang. He knelt by the packing-case exhausted, without a prayer. Somebody opened the door: a voice whispered urgently, ‘They’re here.’ They couldn’t have come on foot then, he thought vaguely. Somewhere in the absolute stillness of the dawn – it couldn’t have been more than a quarter of a mile away – a horse whinnied.
He got up to his feet – Maria stood at his elbow. She said, ‘The cloth, father, give me the cloth.’ He put the Host hurriedly into his mouth and drank the wine: one had to avoid profanation: the cloth was whipped away from the packing-case. She nipped the candles, so that the wuck should not leave a smell . . . The room was already cleared, only the owner hung by the entrance waiting to kiss his hand. Through the door the world was faintly visible, and a cock in the village crowed.
Maria said, ‘Come to the hut quickly.’
‘I’d better go.’ He was without a plan. ‘ Not be found here.’
‘They are all around the village.’
Was this the end at last, he wondered?
The reading describes the final mass of a martyr priest isolated and vulnerable yet acting with courage to serve his people. What did you feel as you listened to it, did any word or phrase particularly strike you, or any image make an impact on you?
The words 'the day before he suffered he took bread into his holy and venerable hands' are at the heart of the reading. Can you think of a time when you faced the uncertainty of suffering, or of isolation or vulnerability. What thoughts or emotions now come to mind about such a time.
At his execution by firing squad Blessed Miguel Pro smiled and held his arms out in the form of a cross. In the reading some at mass make the same gesture. What possible value has such pain and suffering in our lives today?
The extract ends with a cock crowing and the dawn of a new day. What echoes do these images have for you or for your future?
Listen now to the reading again in the light of your reaction to these questions
Speak to the Lord about any feelings or responses you have, and listen quietly to what he might want to say in return.