By John Rieping | Published 8 Nov 2014 in The Madera Tribune | All rights reserved |
My thanks to those readers who called last week. Samuel of Tulare, California, asked for a list of books about Rev. Miguel Pro, SJ, who died for his faith in Mexico in 1926. I haven't read any -- just many articles. But one highly rated on the website www.goodreads.com is "Blessed Miguel Pro" by Ann Ball. Another book to consider would be "La Cristiada: The Mexican People's War for Religious Liberty" by Jean Meyer.
On Wednesday, someone online asked others to share their worst experience leading a tabletop role-playing game. The niche hobby combines elements of a board game with the storytelling of a game of "let's pretend." One person often acts as a kind of referee.
A few years ago I stepped up to lead one such game after one of our playmates moved away. But I decided to majorly re-invent the game we were playing. I worked for weeks writing about a new world of my own invention and filling it with peoples and mysteries.
Eventually the game began, and the adventurers portrayed by my real life friends found themselves in a foreign world they did not understand. I had imagined it would be, metaphorically, like a sandbox in which children can invent their own fun. So I gave them no guidance or help.
I realized they weren't having fun, so I planned during the week and even recorded a silly song to aid the storytelling.
We played a week later and this time I wasn't hands off. I used a forest fire in the story to try to force the lost adventurers into an ambush I thought they could handle. Instead my silly song scared them and they chose to nearly burn to death rather than face unknown foes.
That game session ended in a real life argument.
The third session went even more badly, and by the fourth week only one of my friends bothered to even show up to the scheduled game. The rest never offered an excuse.
The story had died.
Both before and after that experience, I've led enjoyable role-playing games for others. Yet that failed one is one I've pondered most in hopes of not repeating my mistakes.
And I see myself in the characters played by my friends.
When I lack guidance or direction, I too flounder. I want God or others to clearly point out where to go or what to do. Yet I'm not docile. If afraid, I rebel. If pressured, I rebel. If bored, I rebel. If uncomfortable, I rebel. If offended, I rebel.
But the divine creator of this world, unlike my fictional one, is trustworthy.
I suspect a frequent unspoken prayer is "God, lead me where I want to go and help me do what I want to do. Grant me adventures without serious danger, and heroism without prolonged hardship. I will taste the cup of suffering before me, then hand it back. Not your will, but mine be done."
Can you imagine a movie or book featuring a hero with that attitude?
Journalist and author G.K. Chesterton once wrote, "We do not really want a religion that is right where we are right. What we want is a religion that is right where we are wrong."
He explained that some want a faith that is compatible with their social life, with practicality, with science, and so on. Yet they would be social, practical, scientific, and so on even without religion.
"They say they want a religion like this because they are like this already," he continued. "They say they want it, when they mean that they could do without it. It is a very different matter when a religion, in the real sense of a binding thing, binds men to their morality when it is not identical with their mood."
God, grant us grace to be bound for glory.
By John Rieping | Published 31 Oct 2014 in The Madera Tribune | All rights reserved |
This Saturday, I will start a new “lectio divina” (“reading God”) group from 11 a.m. to noon at St. Marello Bookstore, 211 N. J St., Madera, California, on “Learning to Pray in Scripture.”
All who respect the Bible will be welcome as I (and I hope others) look at how people in the Bible prayed and what we can learn from them about prayer. Contact me about it at my website (wambly.weebly.com).
Viva Cristo Rey
Less than a century ago, my grandfather left Mexico with a price on his head, set by the state of Jalisco. His homeland’s atheistic government wanted to cripple the church and had no pity for one who stubbornly taught his creed and assisted priests.
Yet the United States wouldn’t be entirely welcoming, and he never abandoned Mexico in his heart.
Higinio Lozano first worked as a cook for a railroad line crew in the South. Once, he received a strong dose of poison oak while carrying water to wash the pots and pans. That evening his younger brother Natalio, seeking medicine, walked miles along train tracks to the nearest town.
Natalio arrived at a drugstore cold and wet from a storm. As he scraped off his muddy shoes, someone yelled, “What do you want?! Don’t you get on my floors. You wait out there until I’m ready!”
Natalio waited as a customer loitered. Eventually the pharmacist came to the door and took his order for calamine lotion. A sign in the window explained: “No Negroes, Mexicans, or Dogs Allowed Inside!” The experience soaked in as Natalio made his way back to camp in the dark.
The brothers now spoke often of heading west.
By the late 1920s, they did so. Though lacking strength and agility, Higinio worked in the fields of San Fernando, California. But he applied his mind to his church and community. He volunteered with the Catholic Association for Mexican Youth, and wrote, directed, and performed in religious dramas.
The execution of Rev. Miguel Pro, SJ, in Mexico City on Nov. 23, 1927, inspired one such drama. My grandfather portrayed the priest. A young Maria del Carmen Najar played another role. This led to a relationship, marriage, and my own existence.
But the truth behind that play deserves repeating.
Born in Mexico of a mining engineer, Miguel Pro joined the Jesuit order Aug. 14, 1911, at age 20. Three years later he left his homeland due to its revolution. He fled to Texas and California before studying in Spain, teaching in Nicaragua, and learning theology in Belgium, where he was ordained a priest Aug. 31, 1925.
He wrote: “How can I explain to you the sweet grace of the Holy Spirit, which invades my poor miner’s soul with such heavenly joys? I could not keep back my tears…”
Though he had a serious side, Pro loved quips and pranks. As a seminarian, he’d amuse with tricks, stories, American English slang, and by singing random lines of popular songs.
He ministered first to Belgian miners. But his superiors let him return July 8, 1926, to Mexico, in hopes the food and climate would ease his chronic stomach problems. Despite the nation's deportation of many Catholic priests, no Mexican authorities bothered to check his passport or bags.
Pro created “Eucharistic Stations” throughout Mexico City to secretly distribute Holy Communion to hundreds daily. He aided the sick and poor. He even impersonated a prison guard to pray with prisoners and hear confessions.
He once met policemen guarding a house at which he’d planned to offer Mass. He strode up, opened his vest as if showing a badge, and declared, “There’s a cat bagged here.” Hoodwinked, they saluted and let him in.
Another time, police invaded a home while Pro celebrated Mass. He rushed everyone into other rooms, hid the Eucharist in his suit pocket, and then joined police on their fruitless search for a priest. When Pro left, he told a guard posted at the door he’d have helped longer but he had a date with his girlfriend. He later wrote, “I returned to the place, but, somehow or other, the priest had not yet appeared…”
He would be jailed repeatedly, which aided his prison ministry.
Finally, the Mexican government had enough. A few days after a bomb injured former president Alvaro Obregon, Pro and his brothers were arrested on false charges of attempted assassination. A trial was set for the next day, but morning brought a firing squad.
President Plutarco Calles had requested the execution six months beforehand, and photographers had been hired to document a cowardly death. But instead Pro forgave his guard, prayed, and blessed his executioners. He refused a blindfold and with arms outstretched yelled, “Viva Cristo Rey!” Long live Christ the King.