By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published August 3, 2012, in The Madera Tribune
The talented musician, Ludwig, wanted little to do with the Catholic Church or its priests, which isn’t completely surprising.
The archbishop of Cologne ruled his birthplace, Bonn, within the Holy Roman Empire of the 18th century. Only two centuries before, a religious and political conflict — the Cologne War — devastated the Electorate of Cologne.
The war began because an archbishop, never known for priestly character, resolved to marry an attractive nun without renouncing his princely position. The pair had a love affair for two years before Archbishop Gebhard von Waldburg announced his conversion “to the light” on Dec. 19, 1582.
His switch from Catholicism to the teachings of John Calvin, a French pastor and theologian, upset the delicate balance of power between Protestants and Catholics in the Holy Roman Empire. The archbishop of Cologne was one of the seven imperial governors who elected future emperors. Previous converts had resigned from office to avoid bloodshed, but Gebhard did not.
So it was that, with the future of the empire at stake, Protestants and Catholics fought for five years with the support of co-believers and mercenaries from elsewhere. Villages disappeared, and the formerly richest region of the empire would be ruined economically.
By the 18th century, life had become normal again. But such recent history hardly inspired trust. Moreover, Ludwig had a passion for more than beautiful music in the major city of Vienna. Prostitutes and young female students would also occupy the elegantly dressed musician’s time.
If he was in a church, it was for the music.
There were exceptions, such as when his mother — the only family member he had a loving bond with — died at 41 in July 1787 of tuberculosis and poor nutrition. His father surrendered more deeply to alcoholism, and Ludwig had to petition to become head of the household — at the age of 19.
His parents had seven children, but only three boys had survived. Ludwig took seriously his responsibility for his two younger brothers. Once when he discovered one cohabiting with an employee, he demanded they marry or he would report them to the authorities. They did so.
A decade later, his own life would change further after he was diagnosed with syphilis, a common sexually-transmitted disease. Though the connection wasn’t known at the time, syphilitic meningovasculitis likely damaged a nerve in his head, and slowly caused deafness.
Fear of what people would think caused him to isolate himself from others to protect his secret. The society he loved was taken from him.
In 1815, his brother Kaspar died. He left behind a wife and son, Karl. On his deathbed, he had asked Ludwig — who never married — to be co-guardian of the 9-year-old boy. That relationship would be difficult and full of heartache and disappointments.
Yet, through his deafness and trials, Ludwig’s relationship with God did grow.
“What is to be done?” he wrote to a friend shortly before his death. “What is to become of me if this lasts much longer? Mine has indeed been a hard doom; but I resign myself to the decrees of fate, and only constantly pray to God… The Almighty will give me strength to endure my lot, however severe and terrible, with resignation to His will.”
During a thunderstorm, Ludwig von Beethoven would die of a cold surrounded by close friends on March 26, 1827. More than 10,000 attended his funeral in the church of the Holy Trinity. The deaf pianist is considered one of the greats of classical music.
Only God can judge anyone’s soul, but I think Ludwig gained wisdom through suffering.
For artists, in particular, he urged: “Don’t only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets. For it and knowledge can raise men to the divine.”
What does he mean? The medieval Christian thinker Thomas Aquinas argued that God is the supreme Beauty, and all that exists reflects that beauty to some degree. Furthermore God is not only the ultimate cause of all beauty; God continues to “pulchrify” (beautify) creation, and God’s creatures participate in divine beauty when they accept and cooperate with God’s light.
Such divine beauty not only pleases the senses but also enlightens the mind. “The eyes and ears of our soul,” Aquinas wrote, “enable our vision to see the transcendent beauty present ontologically in all being.”
Ludwig apparently agreed. Like many throughout history, he discovered that beauty and truth, at their best, can both grant us glimpses of God, and they are worth suffering for.
Pastor Tyrone Carter of Aphesis Apostolic Church pauses during his speech to 185 protesters while his wife Bernadette waves a pom pom outside St. James Anglican Cathedral in Fresno, California, for a noontime Stand Up For Religious Freedom protest rally Friday, June 8. (Photograph taken by John Rieping)
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 6/08/12 in The Madera Tribune
Thirteen new movies will premiere in U.S. theaters today (Friday), and about half will be rated R. “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” and other films will compete with “Men In Black 3,” “For Greater Glory,” and other incumbents.
But not all crowds will be at the cinema.
Some will be at St. James Anglican Cathedral, 4147 E. Dakota Ave., in Fresno and more than 150 other sites across the nation at Stand Up for Religious Freedom rallies. Sixty-four thousand Christians and Jews attended similar events March 23.
The gatherings, unaffiliated with any political party or religion, have been organized to protest the mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services requiring all employers, regardless of conscience objections, to provide abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization through employee health plans.
The mandate enacts part of President Obama’s health care law.
Pastor Gary Comer of First Southern Baptist in Madera, Pastor Jim Franklin of Fresno’s Cornerstone Church, and others will speak at the nearby noontime rally.
They aren’t the only ones unhappy about government’s heavy hand. A CBS News Poll released Thursday found that 41 percent of U.S. adults want the entire health care law overturned when the Supreme Court decides on its constitutionality later this month. Another 27 percent want the law kept but the mandate overturned.
Less than a quarter of Americans polled last week want the whole law upheld.
Why is the mandate, in particular, a sore point in the attempt to reform our health care system?
“The very thought that big government is forcing Christians to pay for something they find egregious strikes at the core of our country’s religious freedom,” wrote Comer on the website Facebook.
Wasn’t that First Amendment conflict resolved when President Obama announced an “accommodation” Feb. 10 in which insurance companies would be forced to provide the controversial coverage for free?
The proposed compromise — though lauded by Democrats who initially opposed the mandate — never materialized. HHS finalized its unpopular rule March 12 with no alterations. Without inclusion in the rule, the accommodation is a legally unenforceable promise.
Even if it had been added, other problems remain.
First, the mandate goes farther than any existing state laws by including sterilization and eliminating existing alternatives for religious employers, such as dropping coverage or self-insuring. Religious groups that self-insure and religion-affiliated insurance companies would have to provide coverage they object to all the same.
Secondly, the HHS rule’s religious exemption is so narrow it would prevent religious ministries from serving those of other beliefs. Imagine the nation’s 600 Catholic health care institutions in the U.S. — 12 percent — only being allowed to treat Catholic patients.
Third, the mandate offers no conscience exemption at all to individual private employers.
Other parts of the health care law pose difficulties as well.
In violation of the Hyde Amendment, Section 1303 of the Affordable Care Act includes taxpayer funding of insurance coverage that includes elective abortion. Those who oppose abortion for religious or moral reasons can’t opt out.
None of this is acceptable in a nation with a long tradition of freedom of religion.
“Our parents and grandparents did not come to these shores to help build America's cities and towns, its infrastructure and institutions, its enterprise and culture, only to have their posterity stripped of their God-given rights,” wrote the Most Rev. Armando Ochoa, Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Fresno, earlier this year.
Ochoa asked that people of faith would commit “to prayer and fasting that wisdom and justice may prevail, and religious liberty may be restored.”
As Supreme Court justices debate among themselves about Obama’s health care law, Ochoa’s request and today’s protest rally — planned months ago — seem more timely than ever.
A joke tells of a little girl who felt ill while in the middle of a worship service at church.
“Mama,” she said, “can we leave now? I have to throw up!”
“Then go outside to the restrooms,” the mother replied.
A minute later, her daughter returned to the pew.
Her mother asked, “Did you throw up? How did get back from the bathrooms so quickly?”
“I didn’t have to go outside, Mama. They have a box near the front door that says, ‘For the Sick.’”
These days it almost seems as if the U.S. government wishes to imitate all of the generosity of that little girl but none of the innocence. What was meant to aid the sick will instead carry an unpleasant gift for people of faith.
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 5/04/12 in The Madera Tribune
My grandfather left Mexico and its religious persecution with a price on his head, set by the state of Jalisco, for his stubborn piety. Yet his reception in the United States wouldn’t be entirely welcoming; nor would he ever abandon 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 daily pots and pans. That evening his younger brother Natalio followed the train tracks on foot to the nearest town to get medicine.
After walking miles, Natalio arrived at a drugstore cold and wet from a storm. As he scraped his muddy shoes on a mat, 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 inside. Eventually the pharmacist came to the door and took his order for calamine lotion. A sign in the window explained it all: “No Negroes, Mexicans, or Dogs Allowed Inside!” The experience soaked in as Natalio made his way back to camp in the dark, and the Lozano brothers now spoke often of heading west.
By the late 1920s, they did so. Higinio found work in the fields of San Fernando, California, despite his lack of strength and agility. But he applied his mental vigor to his church and community. He worked with young people as part of the Catholic Association for Mexican Youth, and wrote, directed, and performed in religious plays.
The execution of Rev. Miguel Pro, SJ, in Mexico City on Nov. 23, 1927, inspired one such drama. My grandfather portrayed the role of the priest. A young woman, Maria del Carmen Najar, played another part. This led to a loving relationship that would result in marriage and ultimately my own existence.
But the true tale 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 had to leave his homeland due to 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 others with tricks, stories, American English slang, and by singing random lines of popular songs.
He ministered first to Belgian miners. But his superiors allowed him to return to Mexico on July 8, 1926, in hopes the food and climate would improve his chronic stomach problems. Surprisingly, no Mexican authorities checked his passport or bags.
Pro created “Eucharistic Stations” throughout Mexico City to secretly distribute Holy Communion to hundreds daily. He visited the sick and brought aid to the poor. Excellent at disguises, he even impersonated a prison guard to pray with prisoners and hear confessions.
He once met policemen guarding a house he’d planned to offer Mass at. He strode to them, opened his vest as if showing a badge, and declared, “There’s a cat bagged here.” Hoodwinked, the police saluted and let him inside.
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 accompanied police on their fruitless search for a priest. When Pro left, he told a guard posted at the door that he would have stayed to help catch the priest but he had a date with his girlfriend. He later wrote lightheartedly, “I returned to the place, but, somehow or other, the priest had not yet appeared…”
He would be jailed repeatedly, but that aided his prison ministry and inspired him to continue.
Finally, the Mexican government had enough. A few days after a bomb injured former president Alvaro Obregón, Pro and his brothers were arrested on false charges of attempted assassination. A trial was set for the next day, but morning brought only a firing squad.
President Plutarco Calles had requested the execution six months beforehand, and professional photographers had been arranged to document a fearful death. But instead the priest forgave his prison guard, prayed, and blessed his executioners. He refused a blindfold and with arms outstretched exclaimed, “Viva Cristo Rey!”
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 4/27/12 in The Madera Tribune
My grandfather Higinio Lozano, son of Trinidad and Gorgonia, first saw the light in Atotonilquillo in the Mexican state of Jalisco on Jan. 11, 1897. His only sibling, 2-year-old Reynalda, died later that year, but eight more would be born in time.
His family lived in the city of Tepatitlán, also in Jalisco. The state lies in the western part of Mexico, which along with the north was considered especially religious. Ranchera music, the mariachi tradition, and tequila all originated in Jalisco, a land of grasslands, evergreen and oak forests, scrublands, beaches, rivers, and lakes.
Years passed and Higinio, who never had a formal education beyond a third grade level, became a voracious reader. If his family visited friends, Higinio would look for any books they had, sit, and read. His father, upset at such presumption, stopped taking him places.
But when a school teacher visited to test children for grade placement, Higinio could already read everything the teacher had. So the teacher appointed the boy to teach other children. A local priest also had Higinio, who served at Mass in Latin, assist in instructing children in their faith.
These peaceful years would not last.
In 1910, President Porfirio Diaz allowed free elections for the first time since seizing power in 1876. Unlike leaders before him, Diaz had not persecuted the Catholic Church, but that would change as a failed revolt in late November ignited a revolution. Escaping the rising disorder and violence, Diaz fled to Paris and one leader after another took control yet could not keep it.
Finally, Alvaro Obregon, known to imprison priests and nuns and take church property, recaptured Mexico City in 1920 and began to rule Mexico. His handpicked successor, fellow revolutionary Plutarco Elias Calles, became president from 1924-1928 and continued to govern behind the scenes for seven years after he stepped down.
Under Calles, Mexico’s anti-religious constitution would be fully enforced. New laws against clergy were added June 14, 1926. Religious orders were outlawed, ministers lost basic civil liberties, and church property was snatched by the government. In some parts of Mexico, attending Mass could be punished by death. Most priests were imprisoned, killed, hid, or fled.
By now, my grandfather Higinio journeyed from village to village in Jalisco on donkey or horseback with a plainclothes priest who secretly administered sacraments to Catholics.
Higinio also would distribute literature on the Catholic faith in public together with young adults. They’d select a street corner to do so and hastily moved on if they thought soldiers were coming. Several times he was caught and jailed, and close friends had to get him out.
Across Mexico, the more people resisted, the more violent the government became. One could not travel from one town to another without seeing bodies hanging from trees or telegraph poles — a warning to would-be opposition.
Naturally conversations turned more and more to the dangers of my grandfather’s volunteer ministries. Under pressure from those who loved him, Higinio and his brother Natalio agreed to emigrate to the U.S.
They traveled on foot through Western Mexico by day and rested by night. One morning the brothers discovered they had unintentionally camped in a cemetery and slept, and another time they awoke to a mountain lion sniffing their bedrolls.
Yet they made it safely to Texas where their younger brother Trinidad already worked. Along with more than a dozen men, the three brothers set and repaired rails that ran from Texas to Oklahoma. They rode flat cars, slept in tents, and worked long days miles away from any town.
My grandfather lacked the strength and stamina to wield sledge hammers or lift rail, so he carried water and helped cook.
Back in Mexico, the cleverest victory by Cristeros (rebels against the persecution) over government troops happened April 19, 1929, in my grandfather’s home city of Tepatitlán. There 900 defeated 3,000.
That summer U.S. Ambassador Dwight Morrow helped negotiate a truce in which the Cristeros would lay down their arms in exchange for a pardon, some priests could register with the government and minister, and religious instruction would be allowed in private.
The Cristeros did so, and Calles then had about 500 Cristero leaders and 5,000 other Cristeros shot, often in front of their spouses and children.
Before the conflict, 4,500 priests served in Mexico. By 1934, only 334 priests were licensed to serve 15 million Catholics. A year later, 17 states had no priests at all.
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 4/20/12 in The Madera Tribune
I watched a special pre-screening Monday night of the Mexican action film “For Greater Glory,” which will be in theaters June 1. Nearly a week later I am still processing my emotions about it.
The passionate movie attempts to summarize the true but generally forgotten story of the Cristero War, a 1926-1929 rebellion in Mexico sparked by the officially atheistic government’s attempts to crush Christianity. The film is well done and yet the slivers of history glimpsed are horrific enough that it is appropriately rated R “for disturbing images.”
Costing an estimated $20 million, it is allegedly the most expensive Mexican movie ever made.
The cast list is almost a “who’s who” of actors and includes Academy Award nominees Andy Garcia, Catalina Sandino Moreno, and Peter O’Toole as well as Eva Longoria (“Desperate Housewives”), Santiago Cabrera (“Heroes” and “Merlin”), Oscar Isaac (“Drive” and “Robin Hood”), Bruce Greenwood (“Star Trek” and “Super 8”), Nestor Carbonell (“The Dark Knight Rises” and “Lost”), Eduardo Verastegui (“Bella”), and others.
I think I cried often during the movie but I also felt sad whenever there was any killing, even when arguably in defense of liberty. On rare occasions a war may be just, but I would hesitate to claim any were or are holy. Thankfully the movie itself makes efforts not to whitewash its main protagonists.
For me, the movie wasn’t simply entertainment or education though. It is family history. My grandfather, Higinio Lozano, lived through part of it before fleeing his homeland to escape being killed by the government for teaching Catholicism, assisting clergy, and distributing Catholic literature, “crimes” for which he had already been imprisoned repeatedly.
After its independence from Spain, Mexico adopted two constitutions in 1857 and 1917 that significantly restricted or eliminated legal rights of the Catholic Church, of monks and nuns, and of priests and ministers for any religion. (Mexico’s 1917 constitution was used as a model for the one approved by the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic a year later.)
In the 20th century, these laws ultimately enabled the government to seize and sell nearly all of Mexico’s monasteries and convents. They also banned clerical clothing and religious celebrations in public, limited the use of church bells, kept religions from gaining or managing property, and more.
This conquest of religion perhaps reached its most visible stage in the 1920s under President Plutarco Elias Calles, an atheist who admitted “I have a personal hatred for Christ.” Existing anti-religious laws were fully enforced and more added. Holy objects were desecrated, foreign-born ministers expelled, and religious schools, convents, and monasteries closed. In the state of Chihuahua only one priest was allowed to minister.
I should note that Catholics weren’t the only ones affected. For example, the Anglican church in Mexico was forced to rely on laymen to officiate for some services due to the loss of non-native clergy. Nonetheless, Catholicism suffered the brunt of the anti-religious laws as the dominant faith in Mexico.
In response, Catholics organized a strong boycott of non-essentials to pressure Calles, and similarly the bishops of Mexico voted to impose an “interdict” — suspending all religious services, especially the sacraments — in Mexico. It began August 1, 1926.
Two days later, 400 armed Catholics shut themselves in a church in Guadalajara, Jalisco, but surrendered after a shoot out with federal troops. A day later, 240 government soldiers stormed the parish church of Sahuayo, Michoacan, killing priests and others. Ten days later, the government wiped out a Zacatecas chapter of a Catholic youth organization and executed its chaplain. That outraged a band of ranchers who rebelled and took over northern Jalisco.
More uprisings and government reactions followed, and matters escalated. Yet a proposed amendment of the constitution’s anti-religious parts was rejected by Mexico’s Congress on Sept. 22, 1926.
In November, Pope Pius XI joined the voices in protest with his encyclical, “Iniquis Afflictisque,” but Calles stayed firm. By the end of the year the general mood had turned to armed rebellion, although no Catholic bishop ever endorsed such a response.
Organized opposition erupted in January 1927. In the next three years, more than 50,000 Mexicans fought against the government, which mockingly dubbed them “Cristeros” because they refused to say “Long live President Calles” and instead made “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” (“Long live Christ the King!”) their identifying cry.
More than 250,000-300,000 Mexicans were killed, but only 90,000 in the war. Most died after a mid-1929 compromise ended the Cristero rebellion.
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 2/11/12 in The Madera Tribune
One morning after Mass, a little boy supposedly announced, “Mom, I want to be a priest when I grow up!”
“That’s fine with me,” she replied, “but why?”
“Well,” he said, “I have to go to church on Sundays anyway, and I’d rather stand up and talk than sit down and listen!”
I suspect President Barack Obama feels the same way about the recent wave of Catholic sermons across the U.S. against a policy of his. His administration decided to go ahead with requiring employers to cover sterilization, contraception, and devices and drugs such as Plan B and Ulipristal (“Ella”) that — similar to RU-486 -- can be used to induce abortion.
What has sparked public protest from 169 U.S. Catholic bishops, the 53 bishops of the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops in North America, the National Association of Evangelicals, 154 Democrat and GOP congressmen, and more is the lack of a broad exemption for religious organizations.
The religious exemption is so narrow only places of worship would be included. Religious schools, universities, hospitals, charities, and more would have to obey it after a one-year delay. The rule would then override state laws, which are generally far less severe if they exist.
In the past, U.S. bishops have warned they’d shut down Catholic hospitals rather than violate their conscience rights and pay for things they consider immoral. The impact would be big.
There are more than 600 Catholic health care institutions in the U.S. — 12 percent of all that exist (PJ Kennedy & Sons, 2004). One in six U.S. residents are treated in one each year, according to the Catholic Health Association of the United States.
A fictional joke is told of a man who required surgery after a heart attack, and awoke to find himself in a Catholic hospital. He complained that he had no health insurance or savings to pay, so a nurse asked, “Do you have a relative who could help?”
“I only have a spinster sister,” he said. “She’s a nun.”
The nurse frowned and scolded, “Nuns are not spinsters! They’re married to God.”
He replied, “Good! Send the bill to my brother-in-law.”
Religious hospitals have to do just that often enough, but that is part of why they exist — to serve. It is unfair for those they and other religious groups serve to be caught in this crossfire between faith and politics.
In their work to reduce poverty, members of Catholic Charities USA — a charitable bureau of the U.S. bishops — provide services for more than 10 million people each year regardless of religious background. Many Catholic Charities affiliates in two states and Washington D.C. are already closing their branches in response to state legislation. Now imagine the entire system disbanded.
Perhaps the bishops are raising the stakes so high because what is at risk — religious liberty -- is that important.
As St. Joachim Church associate pastor Rev. George Pallyathara, OSJ, preached Sunday, “People of faith cannot be made second-class citizens.” Most U.S. Catholics and Evangelicals agree. A Rasmussen Reports survey Wednesday found 65 percent of Catholic and 62 percent of Evangelical voters oppose the new health insurance rule.
Despite many voices opposing it, Catholic military chaplains were silent, and not by choice. Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for Military Services e-mailed a pastoral letter about the issue for the chaplains to read from the pulpit Sunday in all military chapels, but the U.S. Army said no. Do not.
Elsewhere, the Supreme Court unanimously decided in January that ministers (whether pastors, rabbis, or imams) cannot sue their churches for employment discrimination. This was no surprise. The U.S. has long recognized a First Amendment “ministerial exception” to discrimination laws, which allows religions to only appoint members of their faith as leaders, permits Catholics, Orthodox Jews, and some Protestant denominations to only ordain men, celibacy requirements, etc.
Yet it was the Obama administration that long pressed the case against Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church. The administration argued religious groups had no more right to pick their leaders than a social club, and that an employee could not be a minister if she had secular duties also. As Chief Justice John Roberts remarked, even the pope would fail that test. Obama’s own appointee, Justice Elena Kagan, called the stance “amazing” in a bad way, and the court called it “extreme.”
Sadly that’s just a taste of it all. Obama has opened a wide battlefront between government activism and religious liberty, and some resist and pray.