“October 16, 2016, the Church will celebrate the canonization of Bl Jose Sanchez del Rio (pictured above), a 14-year old martyr of the Cristero War, when the Church suffered extreme governmental persecution in Mexico in the 1920s. When he refused to renounce Christ, the boy’s captors tortured him and gave him one last chance to blaspheme. He replied, “Viva Cristo Rey, y Santa Maria de Guadalupe!” He was then repeatedly stabbed and finally shot. Eyewitnesses reported that he drew a cross in the dirt, kissed it, and died.
I’ve been haunted by the story of young Jose since I first learned of him via the movie, “For Greater Glory,” which depicted the Cristero War. How did that 14-year old boy acquire at so young an age such heroic fidelity?
“God’s grace” is the obvious and correct answer—but it is only part of the answer. Grace doesn’t ignore or erase what is human and natural. The Church has always taught that “grace builds on nature.” In other words, that young Jose could be both so faithful and so young says a lot about both God and about Jose. What happened to Jose before his martyrdom that enabled him to receive the grace of martyrdom when it was offered to him?
For the last four weeks, I have been writing here about our collective failure to raise our youth to Christian maturity. The many efforts to make the Faith “fun,” “exciting,” “relevant,” etc., over the past 45 year have not resulted in two generations of mature and confident Catholics who live for the Faith, can hand on the Faith, and are ready to die for the Faith. In the United States, the second largest “denomination” of Christians is former Catholics. Clearly, what we have been doing isn’t working. Who would be willing to wager that what we’re doing now will produce the next generation of saints and martyrs?
So we have to ask: How did young Jose become Saint Jose? Through “clown liturgies”? Through dancers at Mass? T-shirts and light sticks at retreats? Homilies celebrating “diversity, tolerance, acceptance and inclusion”? I can’t say for sure—I wasn’t there.
But whatever else he may have received from those responsible for his spiritual formation, I’m willing to bet that more than once he heard, “We proclaim Christ Crucified!” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24) I’m willing to bet that more than once he heard about “The Four Last Things” (Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell.) And I’m willing to bet that he knew how and why to be reverent at Mass, pray the Rosary, make a good Confession, and attend Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction.
In sum, I can assert with confidence that much of what made this young boy into a saint are the same things that for centuries have made saints, namely, precisely those things that we rarely if ever offer to our young people today. Of course, I tremble when I consider whether I or anyone will stand fast when true persecution comes. I tremble more when I look at the last 45 years and the immediate present, and see that we will not have to worry about our youth being driven away from Christ by persecution, when we are already letting them drift away from Christ by the culture and our own fecklessness and wishful thinking.
God will ask us whether we gave to the young entrusted to us what they needed from us to become saints. In particular, He will ask us if we gave them our own good example. My friends, let us repent and pursue sanctity, and teach our children to do the same—for time is running short.
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "“Si comprehendus, non est Deus.” -St Augustine, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "As the reading of bad books fills the mind with worldly and poisonous sentiments; so, on the other hand, the reading of pious works fills the soul with holy thoughts and good desires." -St. Alphonsus Liguori, "And above all, be on your guard not to want to get anything done by force, because God has given free will to everyone and wants to force no one, but only proposes, invites and counsels." –St. Angela Merici, “Yet such are the pity and compassion of this Lord of ours, so desirous is He that we should seek Him and enjoy His company, that in one way or another He never ceases calling us to Him . . . God here speaks to souls through words uttered by pious people, by sermons or good books, and in many other such ways.” —St. Teresa of Avila, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it. I want an intelligent, well-instructed laity… I wish you to enlarge your knowledge, to cultivate your reason, to get an insight into the relation of truth to truth, to learn to view things as they are, to understand how faith and reason stand to each other, what are the bases and principles of Catholicism, and where lie the main inconsistences and absurdities of the Protestant theory.” (St. John Henry Newman, “Duties of Catholics Towards the Protestant View,” Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England), "We cannot always have access to a spiritual Father for counsel in our actions and in our doubts, but reading will abundantly supply his place by giving us directions to escape the illusions of the devil and of our own self-love, and at the same time to submit to the divine will.” —St. Alphonsus Ligouri, "The harm that comes to souls from the lack of reading holy books makes me shudder . . . What power spiritual reading has to lead to a change of course, and to make even worldly people enter into the way of perfection." –St. Padre Pio, "Screens may grab our attention, but books change our lives!" – Word on Fire, "Reading has made many saints!" -St Josemaría Escrivá, "Do you pray? You speak to the Bridegroom. Do you read? He speaks to you." —St. Jerome, from his Letter 22 to Eustochium, "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, "God here speaks to souls through…good books“ – St Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, "You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori "Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" -St. John Bosco " To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer." —St. Thomas Aquinas, OP. "Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us. Both are good when both are possible. Otherwise, prayer is better than reading." –St. Isidore of Seville “The aid of spiritual books is for you a necessity.… You, who are in the midst of battle, must protect yourself with the buckler of holy thoughts drawn from good books.” -St. John Chrysostom