By Christopher Smith, SJ
This reflection, along with other Ignatian prayers, poems, reflections and art, first appeared in our free e-book, “Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: Through the Year with Ignatian Spirituality.” Sign up to receive it at jesuits.org/ebook.
A few hours ago, I wrote a piece to submit to this e-book. It was pious and quaint: a reflection on the Eucharist and Miguel Pro, a 20th-century Jesuit martyr. It was finished just in time for Mass, and I was relieved. I even got to the chapel early, a rarity for me. As I sat, congratulating myself, another community member arrived. This man is a wonderful Jesuit, but we do not get along. With the best of intentions, we misread one another in hurtful and frustrating ways. Upon seeing him, I could feel myself tensing up, and I could tell from his lack of eye contact that he felt the same way. It was community night and every seat was filled … except for one … next to me. He sat stiffly. I thought of something he said that offended me, and I began to get annoyed.
Mass began. I went through the motions but remained irritated. At the Our Father I repeated those words I say every day: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Hearing myself say them, my annoyance gave way to shame. I had just written an essay about how important simply showing up to Mass is (and it is!). Yet. Showing up is not enough. Having just written about a saint who forgave his executioners there I was standing — at Mass, right in the presence of Jesus — brooding about a petty snub from a good man.
In the Eucharist, Christ comes to touch us. This gift is not just for us, though. Christ comes to heal us so that we can heal a world which is racked with suffering: physical and spiritual. Healing is not always easy, fun or painless. Sometimes it is downright terrifying: Just ask anybody facing a root canal. Many people refuse to have illnesses treated because of fear of the procedure itself. So too, many of us refuse to let Christ permeate our deepest hurts because we are scared of what he might ask of us. So we remain … brooding and unhappy. This is exactly what I was doing in the chapel.
Miguel Pro’s life is an example which challenges folks like me. He didn’t just show up to Mass and leave it there. He showed up to encounter Christ, where and when Christ called him. He left everyone and everything he knew behind to become a Jesuit. This was terrifying for him, but he trusted, and Christ opened his horizons broader than he would have ever imagined. He was not very bright and struggled through formation, but he allowed himself to be vulnerable, and he persevered. He was constantly ill and endured several painful surgeries without anesthesia. Yet, he believed that God was working, even through his illness, and let go of control. He did not shrink from Christ. He survived it all and lived to see his dream come true: He was ordained.
As a priest, he was sent back to Mexico in order to minister to the faithful in Veracruz. His work was illegal, and he risked execution if captured, but he believed the sacraments were worth it. He was remarkably successful: giving out hundreds of Communions a day and hearing dozens of confessions in disguise. Eventually he was arrested on a false charge. On November 23, 1927, he was led out of his cell and told he was being taken to court. The jailers took him to the firing squad instead. Taking a moment to pray, Pro stood unblindfolded and forgave and blessed his executioners. Stretching out his arms, fearlessly, he shouted, “Long live Christ the King” and was executed. His last breath was a total surrender, in trust, to Christ. A testimony to us of the freedom that we can attain from surrender, if we let Christ heal us.
After the Our Father, I quietly asked God for a grain of Miguel’s courage. I was ready to be healed. Turning to my brother I said “peace be with you” as I stretched out my arms, and this time, I meant it. Blessed Miguel Pro, pray for us!
Christopher Smith, SJ, is a second-year regent teaching biology and chemistry at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C.