“The only constant in this world is change.” So wrote Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher. Many people, probably most people I would venture to say, experience nostalgia in remembering the past – a drive through our childhood neighborhood, or a visit to the schools we attended during our growing-up years, or an evening spent looking at family photo albums. We all come to the realization, sooner or later in life, that, indeed, things change.

I must admit that I find myself thinking such thoughts from time to time. How things were. How things are. How things may or may not be in the future. It is an interesting topic. Some changes were for the good. Some were not so good. Some, we just don’t know yet.

One of these changes that came to my mind lately concerns the sacrament of Confirmation. When I was confirmed (this was before Vatican II) at one point in the ceremony we were told that the Bishop would slap us lightly on the cheek. I recall that I was amazed when I heard this! What? A Bishop slapping us in the face? Why would a bishop ever want to slap anyone on the cheek, especially during a religious ceremony? Whatever for?

We were told by the Sister who taught us that throughout history Catholics often suffer persecution because of their faith.

Michelle Arnold in Catholic Answers, writes:

Before the reform of the celebration of the sacraments, bishops would routinely give each confirmation candidate a symbolic tap on the cheek. As confirmation strengthens the Christian to witness to Christ and to spread and defend the Christian faith (cf. canon 879, Code of Canon Law) the cheek tap was a symbol of the hardship that the Christian would face in his Christian life. Confirmation gave him the grace, he would need to draw on to overcome the hardship.
 The symbolic tap is no longer part of the confirmation ritual but the grace of confirmation still strengthens the confirm and enables him to be faithful to Christ.

As today’s world events continue unfolding, are you not appalled to see the rising persecution of Christians? I must admit that it was probably these very current events that served to jog my memory of the “slap on the cheek.” And I do remember it. It was only a tap, yet it was strong in its symbolism. I never, in a thousand years, ever dreamed that the kind of things going on today would be on the rise in today’s world.

How did it ever begin to happen?

Why didn’t we catch it in the beginning?

How far will it go?

Of course, we are not the first people to find ourselves in such a situation. Christians have been thrown to the lions and burnt at the stake since the first century A.D. Saint stories that I read a child were filled with these types of things.

This year, on November 23rd, we will be celebrating the Solemnity of Christ the King. It is also the feastday of Blessed Miguel Pro. Born José Ramón Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez, he is now known as Blessed Miguel Pro. He was a Mexican Jesuit Catholic priest executed on November 23, 1927, under the presidency of Plutarco Elías Calles on false charges of bombing and attempted assassination.

Our community of Carmelite Sisters knows about Father Miguel Pro. He came from the same general part of Mexico that our Foundress, Mother Luisita came from. They both endured the same horrible persecution. Her family knew members of his family. He became famous after death. She is also on the road to sainthood.

Blessed Miguel Pro used his God-give talent for acting and his great stamina, courage, and fortitude to disguise himself in many different ways, in order to visit the sick, bring communion to the people, and celebrate hidden, secret Masses. In the end, he was betrayed as Christ was and suffered a martyr’s death.

Mother Luisita used her God-given gifts and talents to begin our community during a religious persecution amidst great suffering and trials.

Yes, you and I are ordinary people living our lives as best we can. We must NEVER forget that the grace of our Baptism showers many graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit upon our souls. When we need them, they are there and they transform ordinary people living nondescript lives into saints.  

Yes, many things are changing in our world. We no longer experience a “slap” when we are confirmed, but we should all realize this symbolic act for what it is. For what it symbolizes is happening today.

It is fitting that the Solemnity of Christ the King should fall on Blessed Miguel Pro’s feastday. The readings for Christ the King show us the Heart of our King, He is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep. And in Father Pro, we celebrate a shepherd who followed his King all the way to the cross. So today, let us join our voice to Blessed Miguel Pro’s cry just before he was shot, “Viva, Cristo Rey!” (Long live Christ the King!)

Que viva!