Dear Padre Miguel Pro

 

November 23rd was the anniversary of the death of Fr. Miguel Pro, SJ. He died a martyr for Christ during the persecution of Catholics following the Mexican Revolution which erupted in 1910.

Dear Michael,

We shared your story at dinner last night. It was the 88th anniversary of your execution, and my husband and I wanted to honor your memory, passing on your story to our children.

Some people may think it’s strange for me to write you a letter, I know. Obviously, I will never find a mailbox capable of getting this letter to you, but I know we’re connected. As Jesus reminds us in Mark 22:32, the Lord proclaims he is “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Even when we die, we live in God who has no beginning and no end. Disciples of Christ needn’t bother about space and time. You’ll get this.

I wanted to write to you because I am so grateful for your life—and your death. While you were still a young man you chose to become a Jesuit, a priest to serve the people of God. You had other options, of course. You were handsome, wealthy, musical, mischievous, lively, and interested in all sorts of people and pastimes. In the midst of this bounty and joy, you felt the call to live as a servant. Unattached to any particular family, you gave yourself generously to all who needed you.

My children need you now. My husband and I need you. We like to think of you and consider what generosity looks like in times of brutal persecution.

The 1917 Mexican Constitution outlawed public worship, seized church property, restricted priests’ rights and movements, and much more. Our own time is not so very different. In Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, many western countries—just about anywhere, actually—public worship is in danger. Believers of all faiths wonder if they are truly free to worship God according to their conscience. Religious, economic, and political violence dominates the news, choking the life out of our communities.

But you, Michael, you brought the love of Jesus to desperate, oppressed people. As a priest in disguise, you offered help both immediate and eternal: food; clothes; the health and strength of the Sacraments.

Artwork by Nielson Carlin (Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, LaCrosse WI). Photo courtesy of David Urbanski.

Artwork by Nielson Carlin (Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, LaCrosse WI). Photo courtesy of David Urbanski.

When soldiers led you to the spot where they shot and killed you, you spoke quietly, gently, mercifully. You forgave them with all your heart. You asked for a moment to pray. You gave your body to their bullets, crying out:

¡Viva Cristo Rey!
Long live Christ the King!

I don’t know what’s in store for our family. Each one of us is called to live generously in our own time, that much I’m sure of. But some nights I lie awake fretting about what seems like the inexorable erosion of freedom around the world. Images of drowning refugees and kidnapped schoolgirls make my spirit groan and my stomach churn. What does it mean to live generously in this moment?

Then I remember you, and the way you lead me to Jesus. Your joy, resourcefulness, and sacrifice didn’t come from you. Not really. They were gifts, freely given by our Lord, freely accepted by you in difficult times.

Suffering has entered our world, to be sure. It entered a long time ago, followed by waves and torrents and floods of God’s grace.

Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more.
-Romans 5:20

Violence, persecution, acts of terror—these things break my heart. But I will not fear. Jesus has destroyed death. Thank you, Fr. Miguel Pro, for reminding our family that death, even a cruel death like yours, is not the end. Long live Christ, indeed!

The LORD is my shepherd;
there is nothing I lack.
In green pastures he makes me lie down;
to still waters he leads me;
he restores my soul.
He guides me along right paths
for the sake of his name.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff comfort me.

-Psalm 23:1-4