Lex orandi, lex credendi, goes the ancient Latin motto – loosely translated: The rule of praying is the rule of believing. In other words, our liturgical life reveals our faith life. What we do on our knees points to what we hold in our hearts as well as how we’ll act in the world.
The liturgical calendar itself reflects this notion. In late December, for example, Christmas – a divine birthday given over to feasting and fa-la-la – bumps up next to St. Stephen the Protomartyr on December 26. One day, the candlelit Christ child in the crib; the next day, a vicious stoning and blood red vestments. It’s a liturgical juxtaposition that sends an unmistakable message: Follow this baby King and be ready for martyrdom.
And isn’t that pretty much our Catholic lex credendi?
As it turns out, there’s a parallel message this Pentecost weekend as we commemorate the coming of the Holy Spirit. For nine days following the Ascension, Mary and the Apostles had anticipated Christ’s guarantee that they’d be “clothed with power from on high” (Lk 24.49). Then, in the Upper Room, there was wind; there were tongues of flame; there was a rush of exuberant speech in exotic languages. The Spirit had arrived in style, and his manifest intensity awed both the young Church and all the peoples of Jerusalem (cf. Acts 2.1-14, 36-40).
But the Spirit empowers for a purpose, and come Monday after Pentecost this year, we get a clear picture of what that purpose is. May 21 is the memorial of St. Cristóbal Magallanes and companions, martyrs in Mexico during the 1920s Cristero uprising in response to fierce anti-Catholic persecution.
Although St. Cristóbal himself eschewed violent rebellion and preached against it, he refused to allow official antipathy to interfere with his priestly ministry. When the government closed the seminaries, Fr. Magallanes opened one in his parish. And when falsely imprisoned for inciting revolt, he followed Christ’s example by forgiving his captors, absolving them and even giving them his few belongings. Before he was shot a few days later, Fr. Magallanes told his executioners, “I die innocent, and ask God that my blood may serve to unite my Mexican brethren.”
St. Cristóbal’s story of selfless sacrifice illustrates what the Church teaches regarding the Pentecost experience for us all. Christ “pours out the Spirit among his members to nourish, heal, and organize them in their mutual functions, to give them life, send them to bear witness, and associate them to his self-offering to the Father and to his intercession for the whole world” (CCC 739).
As we leave Church this Pentecost weekend refreshed in the Spirit, we do well to keep St. Cristóbal in mind as we claim the Spirit’s sevenfold gifts – especially fortitude – and head out to bear witness in the world.
Editor’s note: A version of this reflection appeared in the Sunday bulletin of St. Joseph Catholic Church, Mishawaka, IN. Fr. Cristóbal was executed on May 25, 1927. Pope St. John Paul II beatified him on November 22, 1992, and then canonized him on May 21, 2000. To read the Holy Father’s homily on the latter occasion, follow this link.