The new feature film “For Greater Glory” tells the story of the Mexican Cristero war, which broke out in the 1920’s when the secularist government, under the leadership of President Plutarco Elias Calles, decided to enforce the strict anti-clerical laws embedded in the Mexican constitution of 1917. All religious ceremonies—Masses, baptisms, confirmations, weddings, etc.—were banned, bishops were forced to leave the country, and priests were forbidden to wear clerical garb in public. Priests who resisted were imprisoned, tortured, and in some cases, killed outright. One of the most affecting scenes in the film is the execution of Padre Christopher, an old priest played by the great Peter O’Toole. As the federales arrived in his small town, the priest refused to hide or flee. Instead, he sat quietly in his church, robed in Mass vestments, and accepted his fate as an act of witness. Others also resolved to resist through nonviolent means, most notably Anacleto Gonzalez Flores (played by Eduardo Verastegui), a magazine editor and activist, who rallied Mexican youth through his speeches and writings.
Last week, two prominent Catholic women—Kathleen Sebelius in an address to the graduates of Georgetown University’s public policy school, and Maureen Dowd in a column published in the New York Times—delivered strong statements about the Church’s role in civil society. Dowd’s column was more or less a screed, while Sebelius’s address was relatively measured in tone. Yet both were marked by some pretty fundamental misunderstandings, which have, sadly, become widespread.
Just last week it was announced that I have been named the new Rector-President of Mundelein Seminary, my alma mater and one of the largest seminaries in the United States. I believe that one reason Cardinal Francis George chose me for this position is that I’ve been working the past several years in the evangelization of the culture. The last two popes have emphasized that seminaries should take the New Evangelization as their raison d’etre and organizing principle; therefore, I think that Cardinal George wants me to bring what I’ve learned in my work at Word on Fire to my new task.
It is very difficult indeed to watch the new documentary “Bully” without experiencing both an intense sadness and a feeling of helplessness. The film opens with the heartbreaking ruminations of a father whose son committed suicide after being brutally bullied by his classmates.
The cover story for “Newsweek” magazine this Holy Week, penned by political and cultural commentator Andrew Sullivan, concerns the “crisis” that is supposedly gripping Christianity. Weighed down by its preoccupation with doctrines and supernatural claims, which are incredible to contemporary audiences, compromised by the corruption of its leadership, co-opted for base political ends, Christianity is verging, he argues, on the brink of collapse. The solution Sullivan proposes is a repristinizing of Christianity, a return to its roots and essential teachings. And here he invokes, as a sort of patron saint, Thomas Jefferson, who as a young man literally took a straight razor to the pages of the New Testament and cut out any passages dealing with the miraculous, the supernatural, or the resurrection and divinity of Jesus. The result of this Jeffersonian surgery is Jesus the enlightened sage, the teacher of timeless moral truths concerning love, forgiveness and non-violence. Both Jefferson and Sullivan urge that this Christ, freed from churchly distortions, can still speak in a liberating way to an intelligent and non-superstitious audience.