The following reflection is part of our “Jesuit 101” series, celebrating the Ignatian Year. This piece helps us to dive deeper into the Spiritual Exercises. Be sure to check out our explainer article: “Jesuit 101: The Spiritual Exercises, the Heart of the Jesuits.”
At a critical moment in the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola imagines Christ as King. A king leads by example and responds to the needs of his people. This mystical image of Christ changed the life of Blessed Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez, a Mexican Jesuit Catholic priest who was martyred in 1927. Today, he is most remembered for his famous last words, “Viva Cristo Rey!” What did it mean for Miguel Pro to follow Christ as King?
Known for his profound piety, charity, and joy, Blessed Miguel Agustín Pro, served the Catholic Church during a time in Mexico when Catholics were persecuted. In 1917, the Mexican Constitution added new provisions that placed severe restrictions on the Catholic Church: religious schools were closed, monastic orders were suppressed, property was confiscated, and priests were not allowed to wear clerical attire and were stripped of their right to vote.
Raised in a devout Mexican-Catholic family, Miguel began to learn the importance of prayer, education, and charity from his parents. Miguel’s mother modeled the humble and meek heart of Jesus for her children and instilled within them a great love for the poor. While still young, he assisted his mother in establishing a small Catholic hospital that provided free services to those most in need.
At the age of 20, Miguel entered the Society of Jesus after coming to know some Jesuit priests who embodied the spirit and ideals of its founder, St. Ignatius. Early on in Miguel’s Jesuit formation, his life was powerfully marked by the Spiritual Exercises. The Spiritual Exercises are meditations and contemplative practices on the life of Christ, usually done over 30-days in solitude and silence in order to deepen one’s relationship with God and His Church. These Exercises are intended to penetrate our hearts, leaving us with a strong desire to imitate and follow Christ. Changed by this experience, Miguel wished to incarnate and live out many of these meditations as he progressed in his vocation.
“The Call of the King” is a key meditation in the Spiritual Exercises and one that resonates with the life of Miguel Pro. In the text, St. Ignatius instructs retreatants to seek specific graces when they pray. In this particular meditation, the desired grace is to be attentive to Christ’s call, “ready and diligent to fulfill his most holy will.” Miguel took these words to heart and wished to serve Christ the King through countless spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Privately, he had a deep commitment to prayer, spent much time before the Blessed Sacrament, and continuously worked on the development of his interior life. Miguel had a strong devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, an image that portrays God’s long-suffering compassion and love for humanity. Inspired by this image and seeing the selfless love of Christ, he would have desired to bring this same passionate love to his ministry. Through these spiritual practices Miguel received the necessary grace and spiritual capital to endure and succeed in his mission.
The first point of the “The Call of the King” meditation requires the retreatant to imagine Christ the King before him or her, listening to the ways in which Christ is speaking and labors for the salvation of all people. Miguel cared for all, sharing his joy and offering words of encouragement when needed. He became a beloved catechist among the poor and children. People were attracted to his jovial disposition and his teaching methods because he knew “how to keep people in good humor.” Looking to imitate Christ and encounter those on the margins, he took a special interest in caring for poverty-stricken workers. Another Jesuit said of Miguel “people can go to him without embarrassment to ask for help.” 1
After his ordination in Belgium in 1925, Miguel returned to Mexico where the anti-Catholic persecution continued. The words of Christ in “The Call of the King” meditation would be put to the test: “whoever would like to come with me is to labor with me, that following me in the pain, [he or she] may also follow me in the glory.” Regularly changing his clothing in order to avoid arrest, he went from home to home celebrating Mass, administering communion, hearing confession, visiting those who were sick, and caring for the poor. Oftentimes feeling fatigued and overwhelmed, he found strength in Christ to persevere through many sufferings. Because of the persecution, priests were highly sought after, and if caught, were imprisoned, killed, or forced out of the country. Miguel had many close encounters with the police, but always managed to find a way to avoid capture up until November 1927. That month there was an assassination attempt on presidential candidate Alvaro Obregón.
President Calles, looking for ways to blame the assassination attempt on the Pro family, had Miguel imprisoned. Without giving Miguel a proper trial in order to prove his innocence, President Calles ordered that he be killed before a firing squad. On November 23, 1927, Miguel approached the firing squad, knelt, and prayed for the last time. When he had finished praying, he stood up holding a rosary with one hand and a small cross with the other, made the form of a cross with his body and spoke his last words, “Viva Cristo Rey!” (“Long live Christ the King!”)
Miguel Pro’s life was a model response to Christ’s call and exemplified to many the power of grace, transforming tragedy into a victory for the heavenly kingdom. We too can draw strength from this meditation and the life of this Jesuit. It might first be helpful to reflect on our own personal experiences, becoming aware of how God has shared in our joys and pains. Where have we encountered Christ’s tender love? Perhaps through a close friend, a parent, a community, or creation itself? This love and mercy ought to ruminate in our hearts, increasing our desire to serve Christ wholeheartedly.
Christ the King invites us all to pursue holiness and sanctity; to live a life “worthy of the call [we] have received.” 2 Drawing inspiration from the saints and seeing how they have responded to God’s love, we too can begin to consider how we will respond. Are we willing to put aside our carnal and worldly comforts in order to labor with Christ for the benefit of our neighbor? Knowing that Christ the King desires to console those in distress and despair, are we willing to serve alongside him even amidst the challenges that will arise from this virtuous endeavor? When facing the firing squad, would you call out to Christ the King?