Blessed Miguel Pro is … overwhelming. There was a time in my life where he seemed to be everyone’s favorite Saint, except mine. I did all the things so he could be my favorite: read the books, watched his movie, prayed his prayer, yet we just didn’t seem to connect. I wanted to be friends with him but we simply weren’t. I think his intense personality and dramatic martyrdom overwhelmed my more natural, quiet temperament.
An Impish Faith
Even as a young child, Miguel was precocious, mischievous, and adventuresome. As a child he would read aloud to the family sermon notes from a book belonging to his mother. Then he would exclaim, “That is another matter! I do not understand it. Come, let us have a little music,” and reach for his guitar.
He said of Heaven, “If I meet any long-faced saints there, I will cheer them up with a Mexican hat dance!”
His sisters (two of whom later became religious sisters) were often the recipients of his pranks. He loved sweets, and secretly ran up the tab at the local shop until the bill was sent to his mother.
A Greater Call
After one of his beloved sisters entered the convent, he began to think about what God might want for his life (after consoling himself by eating the box of chocolates he meant to take to her when he visited). At the age of 20, he entered the Jesuit novitiate in his native Mexico. Because of the anti-Catholicism raging through Mexico, he and his novitiate class had to flee to the United States, and Miguel was sent to Spain and then Belgium for his seminary formation and ordination to the priesthood. His severe stomach issues did not allow him to stay in Belgium, and he returned to Mexico at the beginning of the Cristero War.
War against the Church
The Cristero War began when the government, intending to become a socialist state, closed all the Catholic churches in August of 1926. Baptisms and the celebration of Mass became a crime. Even dressing as a priest was outlawed.
Hero in disguise
Blessed Miguel Pro, just 35 at the time the war started, would become one of those martyrs. He never lost hope and wrote at the height of the persecution:
The Goliath will soon lose his head by means of the shepherd’s staff…and then Christ alone will reign, Christ alone will conquer, Christ alone will command…already the splendor of the Resurrection can be discerned, for the darkness of the passion has reached its greatest intensity.
He made his mark on the local church, basically becoming a secret agent for the Church.
He would dress in disguises—often as a street sweeper, detective, or a wealthy businessman—to bring the sacraments to those in need. There is a great picture of him smiling almost smugly in his three-piece suit, hat, mustache (real or fake, I am not sure) and cigar, with a policeman strolling right past him.
He once dressed as a mechanic to give a conference to cab and bus drivers. Another time he accompanied the police as they searched a house where he had been saying Mass. They were looking for the priest, not knowing that the man accompanying them as the “owner” was their priest. He said in one of his letters, “I assure you that I spin like a top from here to there with such luck as is the exclusive privilege of petty thieves.”
He was bold and zealous, a heroic witness. Later he wrote:
I see God’s hand so palpably in everything that almost—almost I fear they won’t kill me in these adventures. That will be a fiasco for me who sighs to go to heaven and start tossing off arpeggios on the guitar with my guardian angel.
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In mid November 1927, Miguel and his brother were wrongly accused of plotting an assassination attempt. Caught and arrested, his brother requested to go to Confession. When he was refused by the authorities, Miguel boldly said, “Whether allowed or not, I shall hear him.”
When called to his execution from his jail cell and the guard helped him with his coat, Miguel responded, “Goodbye brother, until we meet in heaven.”
He forgave the policeman who apologized for his part in the arrest and execution, and then refused the blindfold that was offered to him. With arms outstretched in the shape of the Cross and a Rosary in his hand, he died with the words, “Viva Cristo Rey” (Long live Christ the King) on his lips.
The government wanted his death to serve as a warning, and so had it widely documented with photographs.
This ultimately backfired and instead it spurred hope among the people. His funeral brought tens of thousands witnesses in defiance of the law against public demonstrations.
In my cloud of witnesses
I think Blessed Miguel Pro’s story is amazing and I love to use him when teaching about the Saints, particularly because there are pictures of him. Yet I just can’t seem to connect with him. It used to bother me, but now I realize that just as some human friendships are easier and more natural, the same thing happens with our spiritual friends.
In both human and saintly friendships, we can have natural and supernatural friendships. Some may be particularly present for a season or a major life event, and some will be lifelong friends. Some friendships will be supernatural, taking a bit of work but are ultimately God-given and blessed.
And although I may not have a natural, easy friendship with Miguel Pro, I know I have a supernatural one. I know he will be in my corner when I need him, encouraging me to be creative in my ministry, to pray, “Viva Cristo Rey” in difficulty. I know he is cheering me on in the pursuit of sanctity and will hopefully be in my long greeting line when I get to Heaven.
I think this knowledge is even more comforting than if we had an easy natural friendship, because it’s our Christian life. It’s what we do: cheer each other on as we run this race to Heaven where Blessed Miguel will be waiting for us to sing arpeggios with him and his guardian angel.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. // Hebrews 12:1-2
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