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For Greater Glory: A Lesson

June 2, AD 2012 11 Comments

The story of the Cristiada – or Cristero War – was released today in the United States under the film title, “For Greater Glory“. It tells of the rise to power of President Plutarco Elias Calles and how he becomes obsessed with the idea the Catholic Church in Mexico is a threat as he tries to enforce the anti-clerical articles of the constitution of Mexico* by writing a new and more stringent law, the Calles Law (1926), penalizing clerics for any infraction of the constitution. At first, there is little resistance, but as Churches are closed and priests are arrested and foreign priests deported, a resistance to the government silently begins to build. The film uses the backdrop of the rebellion to tell the story of a boy, José Luis Sánchez del Río (March 28, 1913 – February 10, 1928) and how his faith and courage opens the heart of the agnostic rebel general Enrique Gorostieta to return to the Catholic faith. Some film reviews have called For Greater Glory “simplistic” story telling. But within its story, there are many lessons to be learned. I’d like to share just one.

On the way home from the movie, my Sisters and I were discussing various scenes in the movie, and how impressed we were with the story of young José and the deep courage he had shown. But where did he get it?

One of the opening scenes depicts an eleven year old boy, José, and his friend playing a joke on the parish priest, Father Christopher (Peter O’Toole). José is caught by his father and brought to the priest so that he can make up for his wrong doing. The light-hearted priest plays down the matter of the joke, and the boy is taken under Father Christopher’s wing. Over the days that follow, a friendship forms between the priest and the boy. One day, José asks Father Christopher why he doesn’t go into hiding like many of the other priests. He tells the boy how God will watch over him in His house. The boy continues to insist, only for the priest to conclude, “There is no greater glory than to give your life for Christ.”  These words impress José very much. A few days later, José is up in the bell tower marveling at the view of hills, when he notices government horsemen riding toward his village. He shouts to warn the people and then goes to find Father Christopher to warn him. José urges Fr Christopher to hide, but he refuses. He gives his rosary to José and sends him off. José returns to the bell tower from where he watches as his priest friend is brought out of the church and shot by a firing squad. As the squad prepares, it seems that the priest and José are repeating the words from their places, aware of the others presence, “There is no greater glory than to give your life for Christ.”

The movie goes on to show this young boy as a person of deep moral fiber, courageous and zealous for the things of God. Towards the end of his young life, he is tortured to reveal the base camp of the rebels, and in his refusal they cut the bottoms of his feet. He is then led through the village – his personal via crucis – his feet bleeding, to the spot prepared for his execution. With his parents standing by, he is given the chance to walk away, if only he will say Christ is dead. He continues to say “Viva Cristo Rey!” He is stabbed and topples over, tracing the sign of a cross in the ground with his blood shortly before he is shot to death.

Reflecting on his character, I mused:

  • “What if Father Christoper had gone into hiding?” 
  • “What if – in his moment of confrontation – the priest gave in to his prosecutors and denied his faith there in the square under the watchful eyes of young José?” 
  • “What if others chose not to get involved, risking their personal safety, for the sake of the war for religious freedom?”

The movie doesn’t tell us, but hints at the inspiration in Jose’s life in a simple parish priest who lived – and died – well for Christ.

This lesson is one we all must take to heart. We might not be called to die – as many did in the Cristero War did – for what we believe in. But we can ask ourselves, “Who are the Josés in our lives that might be carefully watching, wanting to do what is right but need someone to show them the way?”

Will the witness of our life and faith be such, that when José must choose, we have helped prepare him to be courageous to do what is right, no matter the cost? Viva Cristo Rey!

___

To know more about José and the other beatified martyrs of the Cristero War.
 
In the United States, now, there is a threat to religious freedom brewing, that would not even allow Mother Teresa and her works of charity to continue.
 
For more information on religious, please visit US Conference of Catholic Bishops website.
 
* The Mexican Constitution, ratified in 1917, was based on a previous version instituted by Benito Suarez in 1857.

About the Author:

Sister Lisa Marie Doty is a Canossian Sister. She enjoys giving retreats and vocational talks to teens and young women, and providing on-going formation to her Institute’s Lay Canossian Associates. She is a director of youth and young adults at Our Lady of the Annunciation Church in the Diocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the national director of the Association of Lay Canossians, and regional coordinator of vocations for her religious family. She also gives retreats and talks on various religious topics. In her spare time, she enjoys graphic design, learning guitar, taking walks and making rosaries. Her website is Nunspeak.
  • Beautiful post.
    Did you notice that after Jose died, General Gorostieta confessed just in time to meet Our Lord, right after asking Fr Vega the purpose of Jose’s death? Fr Vega told the General about how God can turn tragedy into triumph. So, the legacy of Fr Christopher set off a chain of grace filled events, saving souls, giving witness to Christ, and winning partial victory for religious freedom.
    This is the normal way priests work in the Church, one which our priests are too seldom given credit for, since this action of grace has been overshadowed in the public eye by the sin of a handful of priests. We should thank the Fr Christophers in our parish for their preaching and example, and perhaps buy them a movie ticket!

  • Thank you, Leticia, for your great insight on the chain reaction (for the good and/or for bad) that our actions can have. And, yes, the greater majority of us are graced to have faithful priests in our midst, and we should let them know often how much we appreciate their sacrifice and service. In this month of June, as we recall our Lord under the title of the Sacred Heart, and celebrate the Solemnity of His precious Body and Blood (Corpus Christi), may we ask for a strengthening of all of our priests and bishops to set holy “chain-reactions” in our parishes toward greater faith and courage. God bless!

  • BlueFox94

    I am appalled by how the secular film critics have trashed this film. Does someone wish to discuss the films unpopular reception?

  • Mal

    BLUEFOX94: Atheists will trash this film. It does not suit their Marxist views. By the way, they did like the fictitious violent movie – Avatar.

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  • Perinatal Loss Nurse

    I cant wait to see this movie…this era of history is the reason my husbands grandfather emigrated from Mexico to the US…I was told that his brother was killed and his family sent him away telling him never to return (I dont know why…the family was Catholic but no Priests in the family). He settled in the northwest. He had a family but his wife died young. When my husband graduated from a respected university, they put his picture on the front page of the local paper where his grandfather lived. We named our first son after him. I would love if this movie helped people gain a better appreciation for Mexican history and culture.

  • Micha Elyi

    In the United States, now, there is a threat to religious freedom brewing…

    Oh it’s much worse than that. The Obama administration intends to pervert the Church via federal mandate.

  • Thank you, Sister Lisa, well written. I cannot wait for the chance to see this movie with my Sisters. Santayana was right, “those who do not know the past are doomed to repeat it!”

  • Joe from San Antonio

    Great article sister! I urge all of you to research another Cristero martyr named Saint Toribio Romo. Oh and it’s Benito Juarez not Suarez 🙂

  • Mary

    I was overwhelmed to see so many men with so much love and passion for the Eucharist and the Church. They were willing put their life on the line for their bride.

    Let’s keep it moving in the box office by doing all we can to promote and get as many tickets sold as possible each weekend it is open. Ticket sales will force the critiques to eat their words.

  • Ruth

    This is a wonderful movie with amazing story, acting, location, costumes, etc with everything perfect. The violence was to show truth and appropriate. The ONLY thing difficult that could warrant criticism and that I would change was the shaking of the camera for effect even when people weren’t moving. It was distracting, makes one nearly sick, and did NOT add to the story.

    I’m so glad to learn of the great witness of these men and women for our faith and to be able to see the movie that gave a face to them. Viva Cristo Rey!