This is a commercial, and Our Sunday Visitor will not receive 1 cent in payment for it. Go see “For Greater Glory.” One movie critic complained that his Mexican-American friend said she had never heard of the Cristero Rebellion in Mexico 90 years ago, the event recalled by the film. Well, few American teenagers today, unless African-American, would be able to say much about Martin Luther King Jr., and the civil rights movement in this country, and it would be rare to find an American of middle age today who would know much about the Battle of Tarawa in the Pacific during the World War II.
It is history, and it teaches. No student of drama, I thought the acting and scenery were very good. (One flaw: Padre Cristobal Magallanes Jara, now canonized, appears in vestments, properly “Roman,” or “fiddle-back,” according to the style of the time, but over a “clergy shirt,” an invention of clerical attire not 20 years old today.)
|For Greater Glory. CNS photo
Seeing “For Greater Glory” would be a good way for Americans to learn — but with this realistic word of caution: While certain U.S. official policies presently are being challenged as unfairly restricting religious freedom, no comparison lies between the history of religion in this country and religious history in Mexico. The Mexican Church has experienced very rough treatment by the government for more than 150 years. We have seen nothing like this — given the Bill of Rights, no U.S. government will ever be able to move as easily into outright persecution of religion.
The beginnings of Christianity in Mexico were very different from those in the United States. Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut and Massachusetts had their beginnings when English non-conformists fled harassment — or worse — in the Mother Country. By contrast, Catholics were on top when European colonization began in Mexico. At the time, they were also on top in Spain.
Being on top placed a burden on the Church. It was trapped in a symbiotic bond with the state. This bond gave it privilege, monopoly in the religious sense and great wealth, but also fueled resentment among more than a few, even after Mexico achieved its independence from Spain. The Church was favored by some of the rulers who replaced the Spanish colonial power. From this resentment came almost two centuries of dark nights in Catholic history in the country.
So, persecuting, or at least oppressing, the Church did not start in Mexico with the presidency of Plutarco Calles (1877-1945), in office between 1924 and 1928, but with considerable control for years later. Granted, he arguably was the most fanatically anti-Catholic leader in Mexican history. (Only in the last several decades has this long record of seeking to contain the Church been moderated.)
“For Greater Glory” is about ordinary folk who loved their faith and put their wealth in spiritual gifts. The characters of St. Cristobal and Blessed Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio, the adolescent martyr, were most edifying.
In this secularistic age, here in America, “For Greater Glory” shows that religion is deeply fundamental to the human spirit. Any measure attempting to suppress or manipulate religion is an affront to human dignity itself, indeed unnatural.
The movie makes abundantly clear that human greed, ambition and hatred can be hurtful to human rights. The teachings of the Church remind us quite clearly that unjust social and economic practices are as evil as religious persecution.
So, see the movie, and learn — about history and about life. Learn that human life just somehow needs God.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s associate publisher.
Related article: New movie honors Mexican martyrs' heroism