A young martyr with a lesson for modern times

My father once gave me some wisdom from Alcoholics Anonymous that I’ve remembered all my life…although I haven’t always practiced it.

He said, “Why don’t you take a group picture of yourself?” Why did he say that? Because I had the tendency to be all things to all people, sort of like a moral Gumby. I would avoid ruffling feathers and getting into arguments and I’d avoid expressing my beliefs, especially if they might anger someone.

With this compulsive need to please people, I should have pursued a career in politics.

I think about his words a lot lately when I look at our fractured country, where you can get called out if you don’t adhere to what the media and the masses say you should believe. In America, the secular humanists are on one side and people of faith are on the other, and there’s a rocky road ahead.

I’m not particularly political because of a lifelong belief that politics isn’t the solution to our problems, it’s often the cause of them.

The time is coming—perhaps it’s here already—when Catholics won’t be able to be fence-sitters on moral issues.

The day will always come when the Catholic faith and politics go separate ways. As it is, many of us have struggled furiously to assimilate the two, but it just doesn’t work. The choice is more fundamental than choosing between the Church and The System. The choice is between Christ and what the world represents.

When he was on his deathbed, the famous convert and author G.K. Chesterton said, “The issue is now quite clear. It is between light and darkness, and everyone must choose his side.”

In his encyclical “Spe Salvi” (Saved in Hope), Pope Benedict XVI said Christians can work for the common good in political life, but should not put their hope in politics.

We live in a secular society that is hostile to our faith, and you can make only so many accommodations. As Christians, we should be emboldened enough to say, “That’s wrong”…even if our government supports it or promotes it and persecutes those who refuse to obey it.

There was no Catholic more firm in her faith than Servant of God Dorothy Day when it came to resisting institutional immorality. She was a fierce believer, a pacifist and an activist, who did not water down the Gospel.

The first time I met her was on a cold winter night in the late ’60s, during a tumultuous time in our history. I took the subway with a Jesuit I knew to the Catholic Worker in lower Manhattan. There she was—the co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement and the most enduring representative of the Catholic anti-war movement, standing in a grimy soup kitchen, making peanut butter sandwiches for the homeless.

I suppose I would have preferred a more inspiring encounter…at an anti-war rally or march for life. You see, Dorothy Day put the Gospel before the Powers That Be, regardless of how enlightened and progressive they tried to appear. She wasn’t quiet about her beliefs and she didn’t compromise them.

In my prayer book, I carry a holy card with the picture of a 14-year-old boy named Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio, a Mexican boy known as Joselito, who was shot twice in the head by government forces because he refused to renounce Christ.

Before they killed him on February 10, 1928, they cut him with a machete and forced him to walk through town barefoot with bleeding feet to a mass grave where they dumped his body. His crime? He was a Catholic. He was a Catholic unwilling to compromise the Gospel.

The soldiers told him, “If you shout, ‘Death to Christ the King,’ we’ll spare your life.”

It was a simple choice—renounce his faith or be killed. He cried in pain but did not give in, and his last words were “Viva Cristo Rey!” Long live Christ the King!

St. Jose,  whose feast day is February 10, was firm in his faith in Christ. May we all be so courageous.

Servant of God Dorothy Day pray for us.  St. Jose Sanchez del Rio pray for us.

By Joe Pisani