**SPOILER ALERT: READ AT YOUR OWN RISK**
A few months ago, some friends began talking about a film that was being hyped in Catholic circles as a defense against the persecution of Catholics in Mexico in the early 20th Century. As an oft-labeled conspiracy theorist and believing strongly that the majority of the media (and especially Hollywood) rests firmly in the grip of Satan, I became suspicious of the agenda of a film alleged to promote the beauty of the institution which has been at odds with the devil for the last 2000 years.
After seeing the trailer for the film, the red flag officially triggered.
Before I get long-winded, let me say I give this film my endorsement. It is worth seeing.
Now that this is clear, I will continue...
First of all, the movie features A-list celebrities such as Andy Garcia (raised Catholic but certainly not known for his faith) and Eva Longoria (Desperate Housewife to Devout Catholic?). Knowing that "whosoever will be a friend of this world becometh an enemy of God (James 4:4)," one has to ask himself what value two actors who have climbed the ranks of modern cinema see in promoting a faith which preaches repentance and suffering over fame and fortune. One's hope would have been that this movie were acting as a transitional point helping to segue their careers into piety over promiscuity, but a cryptic line from Garcia during the film instead confirmed my initial fears.
When Garcia is initially solicited and consents to lead the Cristeros into battle, the head of a pack of rogue militants who had until that point been primarily responsible for the success against the Federales says to Garcia, "You're not even Catholic, why should we trust you?"
Garcia replies, "I may not be Catholic, but I believe in religious freedom."
Some members of the audience at my showing began to applaud. I, on the other hand, muttered to myself, "yep, that sounds about right."
I'll address below the problem with this and a few other lines from the movie.
"I BELIEVE IN RELIGIOUS FREEDOM"
The timing of the release of this film is worth noting as it came on the heels of the USCCB standing up to oppose the HHS Mandate and calling all American Catholics to a "Fortnight for Religious Freedom." What has yet to be explained to most American Catholics is that the Church has in fact been historically opposed to an absolute religious freedom which promotes religious pluralism and separation of Church and State. Is freedom to practice as one sees fit better than the alternative of being coerced, imprisoned and killed? Yes. But should it be the end goal at the heart of our prayers? Our Popes would say "no."
Pope Leo XIII - Libertas Praestantissimum
On the use that is made of liberty the highest good and the greatest evil alike depend...[Liberty was] purchased for us by Jesus Christ...Yet there are many who imagine that the Church is hostile to human liberty. Having a false and absurd notion as to what liberty is, either they pervert the very idea of freedom, or they extend it at their pleasure to many things in respect of which man cannot rightly be regarded as free...In treating of the so-called modern liberties...many cling so obstinately to their own opinion in this matter as to imagine these modern liberties, cankered as they are, to be the greatest glory of our age...When, [however], it is established that man's soul is immortal and endowed with reason and not bound up with things material, the foundation of natural liberty is at once most firmly laid.
...Freedom of choice is the property of will...judgment is an action of reason, not of the will. The end, or object, both of the rational will and of its liberty is that good only which is in conformity with reason. Since, however, both these faculties are imperfect, it is possible, as is often seen, that the reason should propose something which is not really good, but which has the appearance of good, and that the will should choose accordingly...the possibility of error, and actual error, are defects of the mind and...just as a disease is a proof of our vitality, [imply] defect in human liberty...
...the possibility of sinning is not freedom, but slavery...Even the heathen philosophers clearly recognized this truth, especially they who held that the wise man alone is free...the man trained to live in accordance with his nature, that is, in justice and virtue...Of the laws enacted by men, some are concerned with what is good or bad by its very nature...But such laws by no means derive their origin from civil society, because, just as civil society did not create human nature.
...the laws of men have not merely the force of human law, but they possess that higher and more august sanction which belongs to the law of nature and the eternal law...though nature commands all to contribute to the public peace and prosperity...[this contribution] must be determined by the wisdom of men...by reason and prudence...binding all citizens to work together for the attainment of the common end [of salvation and eternal life], forbidding them to depart from this end.
...the eternal law of God is the sole standard and rule of human liberty...therefore true liberty of human society does not consist in every man doing what he pleases, for this would simply end in turmoil and confusion.
...St. Augustine most wisely says: "I think that you can see...that there is nothing just and lawful in that temporal law, unless what men have gathered from this eternal law"...[which] supposes the necessity of obedience to some supreme and eternal law, which is no other than the authority of God.
...Lawful power is from God. But many there are who follow in the footsteps of Lucifer, and adopt as their own his rebellious cry, "I will not serve"; and consequently substitute for true liberty what is sheer and most foolish license.
...What naturalists or rationalists aim at in philosophy, that the supporters of liberalism, carrying out the principles laid down by naturalism, are attempting in the domain of morality and politics...these followers of liberalism deny the existence of any divine authority to which obedience is due, and proclaim that every man is the law to himself...that the cause of the unity of civil society is not to be sought in any principle external to man, or superior to him, but simply in the free will of individuals; that the authority in the State comes from the people only...[This leads to] the doctrine of the supremacy of the greater number, and that all right and all duty reside in the majority. But, from what has been said, it is clear that all this is in contradiction to reason.
...God the Creator and consequently the supreme Law-giver...once ascribe to human reason the only authority to decide what is true and what is good, and the real distinction between good and evil is destroyed; honor and dishonor differ not in their nature, but in the opinion and judgment of each one; pleasure is the measure of what is lawful...a way that is naturally opened to universal corruption...what it is right to do and avoid doing is at the mercy of a majority. Now, this is simply a road leading straight to tyranny.
...it follows that religion, as a public institution, can have no claim to exist, and that everything that belongs to religion will be treated with complete indifference...and when duty and conscience cease to appeal to them, there will be nothing to hold them back but force, which of itself alone is powerless to keep their covetousness in check.
...there are individuals...who affirm that the morality of individuals is to be guided by the divine law, but not the morality of the State. Hence follows the fatal theory of the need of separation between Church and State...the absurdity of such a position is manifest.
...those who are in authority owe it to the commonwealth...to consult the welfare of men's souls in the wisdom of their legislation.
...let us examine that liberty in individuals which is so opposed to the virtue of religion, namely, the liberty of worship, as it is called. This is based on the principle that every man is free to profess as he may choose any religion or none...NO TRUE VIRTUE CAN EXIST WITHOUT RELIGION...religion, which (as St. Thomas says) "performs those actions which are directly and immediately ordained for the divine honor."
...when a liberty such as We have described is offered to man, the power is given him to pervert or abandon with impunity the most sacred of duties, and to exchange the unchangeable good for evil; which, as We have said, is no liberty, but its degradation, and the abject submission of the soul to sin...This kind of liberty, if considered in relation to the State, clearly implies that there is no reason why the State should offer any homage to God...that no one form of worship is to be preferred to another, but that all stand on an equal footing.
Pope Leo's words, written 124 years ago, have now proven to be prophetic truth as our country has turned to such "liberties" as abortion, contraception, embryonic stem cell research, and the relatively recent aggressive promotion of homosexuality (let me elaborate that I stand by the phrase "love the sinner, hate the sin"). We have seen that the fruits of the supposed "greatest glory of our age" have "instead of being sweet and wholesome, proved cankered and bitter." Instead of a Fortnight for Religious Freedom, it would seem Pope Leo would have rightly had us turning to a Fortnight for Integration of Church and State. For if we truly believe in "One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism" (Eph 4:5), should we not be offering up prayer and fasting for the conversion of our country rather than for the "liberation" to practice (or not practice) as one chooses?
Instead, our country currently allows those who openly "Vote Satan" to be viewed as victims of discrimination for proudly displaying their Luciferian mementos both inside and outside of their domicile. There is surely no right minded Christian who can profess this to be God's will.
Garcia, in an interview with Stephen White of CatholicVote.org, openly stated that he is "resistant to the idea that For the Greater Glory is a 'Catholic movie'...returning to the theme of universality again and again as religious freedom is universal."
Ironically, the word "catholic" means universal and is in fact part of everyone's "universal call to holiness."
"TODAY WE ARE GOING TO SEND A MESSAGE, FREEDOM IS OUR HOME, OUR WIVES, OUR CHILDREN"
As Pope Leo explained, "the possibility of sinning is not freedom, but slavery." The actual Cristeros understood this, and - contrary to what this movie portrays - the actual Cristeros understood this.
As Judith Mead and Marian Horvat explain, "the remarkable movement of Catholic resistance came primarily from the peasants and little people who loved the Church and wanted its pre-Revolution rights restored. They wanted the Catholic Church to baptize and educate their children, bury their dead and regulate their laws. They opposed the Masonic ideals of separation of Church and State, civil marriage and divorce, purely secular education, the expulsion of religious communities. The Cristeros were actually against the modern notion of religious liberty based on tolerance: They vehemently opposed the program of President Plutarco Calles – an atheist and 32nd degree Mason...So great was their love for the Catholic Church that they took up arms to defend her. They were battling for the legitimate and singular rights of the one true Faith, professed only by the Catholic Church, and to extend the Kingdom of Christ over the entire secular society. It was a counter-revolutionary fight."
It comes as no surprise that the abominable persecutions by this regime have been wiped from the history books both in Mexico and the US due to the ever growing presence of Masonic influence in both countries.
Garcia admitted in his interview with White that he had no idea the screenplay was based on real events. He goes on to say, "Even my friends who went to parochial and Catholic schools in Mexico didn’t know this story.”
Mead and Horvat suggest that "the film portrays a history that has either been purposely deleted or falsely told from the point of view of its Masonic victors. We have a friend in Mexico who affirmed that La Cristiada is simply skipped over in their history books since what happened in Mexico during those three years does not correspond to the government's revolutionary lies that the people were oppressed by the Church and wanted to be free from her iron fist."
I remember from my high school AP European History class a quote about those who write the history books:
"If cats could write about history, history would be about cats." - Dr. Eugen Weber
And so it is that I must disagree with Mr. White's suggestion that "the film is mercifully free of the kind of propaganda—religious, political, or otherwise—that could so easily have ruined this magnificent and moving story."
The story of the Cristeros is now being told, but with a twist from the same group of people who originally carried out and/or condoned the persecutions; and it's all being done in the name of religious freedom.
"WHAT YOU HAVE IS BELIEF, BUT BELIEF WILL NOT SAVE THEM IN BATTLE. DO YOU HAVE PROPER WEAPONS, AN AMMUNITION SUPPLY?"
In the scene where one of the ambassadors for the Cristeros is trying to gain the support of the decorated military general, Garcia utters the words above. The implication is subtle but pervasive in the movie and the focal point of the trailer: God won't save you, it's time to take matters into your own hands.
While I am not debating the necessity of the Mexican peasantry to take up arms (for just war is supported by the Church), the righteous path of fervent prayer even to the point of martyrdom - that which follows in the truest footsteps of our Lord - is present but somewhat overshadowed by that of the valiant caballeros.
First let us consider some Bible quotes:
"[Pharaoh] said to his subjects, 'Look how numerous and powerful the Israelite people are growing, more so than we ourselves! Come let us deal shrewdly with them to stop their increase'...Yet the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread." - Exodus 1:9-10,12
"You will rout your enemies and lay them low with your sword. Five of you will put a hundred of your foes to flight, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand of them, til they are cut down by your sword." - Leviticus 26:7-8
"...these foes would mistakenly boast, 'Our own hand won the victory; the Lord had nothing to do with it.' For they are people devoid of reason, having no understanding. If they had insight they would realize what happened, they would understand their future and say, 'How could one man rout a thousand, or two men put ten thousand to flight, unless it was because their Rock sold them and the Lord delivered them up?' Indeed, their 'rock' is not like our Rock, and our foes are under condemnation." - Deuteronomy 32:28-31
"Thy almighty word leapt down from heaven from thy royal throne, as a fierce conqueror into the midst of the land of destruction. With a sharp sword carrying thy unfeigned commandment..." - Wisdom 18:15-16
New Testament - What is our sword? Who is the Word? Who is our Rock? What is our armor?
"And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." - Matthew 16:18
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
"In all things let us exhibit ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in tribulation, in necessities, in distresses...In the word of truth, in the power of God; by the armor of justice on the right hand and on the left." - 2 Corinthians 6:4,7
"Put you on the armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the deceits of the devil." - Ephesians 6:11
"Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends." - John 15:13
While a majority of the film plays on the mounting success in the victories of the Cristeros, there are two characters - one minor and one major - who ought be the focal points of the film's message.
In the early stages of the movie, we see young Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio throw a piece of fruit at poor Father Christopher (played by Peter O'Toole). As a punishment, Jose is sentenced to help out Fr. Christopher with menial tasks around the church. Resistant at first, he soon takes a liking to Fr. Christopher who takes him under his wing and explains the beauty of the Catholic faith. When word of the assaults by the Federales reaches their village, Fr. Christopher clearly states that he will not fight. What follows is a scene where young Jose memorably shouts from the watch tower, "The Federales are coming!" He pleads with the priest to run or hide, but the padre humbly resists. He is ultimately publicly executed before the eyes of Jose and others. While the execution should have been viewed as a victory (especially considering the above quote from Exodus), the movie spun it as a great travesty and the cause for needing to rise up with arms.
Later in the movie, young Jose is taken as a prisoner of war. The movie begins to shift back and forth between plot lines from the Cristeros to Jose's imprisonment. He is continually pressed by his captors to simply admit that the Federales are right and to denounce his faith. He is interrogated. Then he is tortured. His godfather (mayor of the village) even tries to convince him to confess. Ultimately, in the most powerful scene of the movie, he is marched through the streets of his hometown, dripping in blood à la the passion of Christ, given one last chance to surrender before being stabbed in the stomach and falling to the ground. He draws a cross in the sand with his bloody finger and says with great joy and a smile, "I get to go home." A gunshot sounds and he is kicked into a pre-dug grave as his onlooking family weeps.
The weeping was also shared by the majority of the audience, but my sentiment was to stand up and cheer. The life and death of every martyr in the history of the Church has been followed by the conversion of many. Not to mention that the belief has to be that Jose punched a one-way ticket to paradise through his sacrifice. If our focus lies on the emphasis of value in this life, we find ourselves mourning as the disciples did when Jesus died. But if our perspective keeps in mind the ultimate end to which Pope Leo alluded, we realize that the resurrection of Christ and appearance to his disciples should remind us that death has been conquered and eternal life awaits. This leads us to jubilant celebration each and every Easter season.
While I was surprised that the film was accurate in many aspects (facing the altar during the mass, refusing Garcia communion until he confessed his sins, etc.), I do have one other major criticism: there rosary was noticeably absent. Given the rapid conversion of Mexico that followed from the apparition of our Blessed Mother at Guadalupe, we can be sure that the Mexican faithful hold a special devotion (as they should) to the Queen of Heaven. Her absence is not, however, entirely surprising as God "put enmity between the woman's offspring and the serpent." Fully aware of the destruction of the traditional family the androgynization of the modern woman promoted by Hollywood, it's no shock that the Mother of God isn't mentioned at all.
While this movie is largely worth promoting, let us always remember to heed the words of Sts. Peter & Paul:
"Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil." - 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22
"For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in high places." - Ephesians 6:12
"For talking with empty bombast...they promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption, for a person is a slave of whatever overcomes him." - 2 Peter 2:18-19