A Glorious Night at the Movies

I just did something very unusual—for me, at least. I went to the movies. This odd event occurred in a multiplex, a place containing many individual theaters, all showing films with loud and brilliant special effects and childish, insignificant plots. Some of the movies, I was surprised to discover, were based on superheroes–comic book characters.  

In my day (which, I admit, was a while ago) superhero comic books were designed to appeal to the imaginations of pre-adolescent boys. Apparently, times have changed. I was amazed to watch large numbers of adults flock eagerly to these movies with no children in tow. 

The movie I saw, however, was one to which not many people flocked. In fact there were quite a few empty seats in the theater when it began, and this is rather sad. Called “For Greater Glory,” it was a historical movie dealing with the persecution of the Church in Mexico during the 1920s — not so very long before the time I was born. I have to tell you that I was overwhelmed by this movie. If you haven’t seen it, please go, for it shows the Church at its best, and we need to see that these days. 

The movie depicted a time in which a virulently anti-Catholic regime was in power in Mexico, a regime that dedicated itself to destroying the Church, to obliterating it down to its roots, its last vestiges. The real story, though, is the reaction of the faithful to this attack, a reaction that was often noble and brave and deeply Catholic. 

Here we saw many seemingly ordinary people of different ages and different backgrounds do what our contemporary world tells us that Catholics will never do: stand up for their faith in no uncertain terms no matter what the consequences. The movie showed the famous Blessed Miguel Pro, a priest who was executed by a firing squad simply for being a priest. 

The last words he ever uttered were “Vivo Cristo Rey!” as the bullets tore into his body. We also saw a young boy of only about 14, who chose to endure cruel torture and death rather than renounce his Catholic faith. 

All this was inspiring because it was true, because it did not happen in dim antiquity but less than a century ago, because it had happened close to our own country. It was especially inspiring because it showed the power of the Holy Spirit in peoples’ lives, the power to transform human weakness into strength and transform fear into courage, the same power the Holy Spirit made manifest on Pentecost. 

Seeing “For Greater Glory” made me think of the political mess we find ourselves in these days, with an administration that seems bent on limiting the rights of religious bodies and (it seems) especially the Catholic Church.  

Compared with what happened in Mexico during the 1920s our problems seem small, almost too insignificant to complain about. Yet they may grow and worsen. The mood of the times seems right for that. What I was reminded of by this movie, however, is that no human force can ultimately destroy the Church or the priesthood. 

I was also reminded that the evils of persecution can bring out extraordinarily good things in people, exceptional heroism and profound acts of faith. They can actually show us what real — and really adult — superheroes are. TP 

FATHER GROESCHEL is the director for the Office of Spiritual Development of the Archdiocese of New York and professor of pastoral psychology at St. Joseph’s Seminary in New York. He is also a founding member of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.