I come home tonight, a little queasy from the greasy popcorn that was my dinner, after seeing For Greater Glory. I hereby mount the bandwagon of bloggers who think every Catholic ought to see this movie -- including the credits, all the way to the end. I saw For Greater Glory in a theater that I shared with about six other people, illustrating the need to promote by word of mouth this independently-made film that enjoys the backing of no major studios in post-Christian Hollywood.
For Greater Glory is about the 1926-1929 Cristero War in Mexico, a rebellion against Plutarco Calles' brutal persecution of the Catholic Church. The Catholic forces made mistakes and had plenty of sinners in their ranks, including priests who actually took up arms, thereby excluding themselves, if not from heaven, at least from potential causes for canonization. Indeed, the most unlikely people found their way into the ranks of the Cristeros, especially Enrique Gorostieta (played by Andy Garcia), the retired liberal atheist general who turned the rebels into an army. The war did not result in the overthrow of Plutarco Calles, or in total restoration of liberty for the Church; but it did produce many saints and martyrs, including the boy martyr Jose Sanchez del Rio (played by Mauricio Kuri), who was beatified by Pope Benedict during the first year of his reign. Bl. Miguel Pro, perhaps one of the best-known figures of the war, is not mentioned by name in this film, but there is a scene instantly recognizable as a re-enactment of his martyrdom.
Why is For Greater Glory worth promoting? Despite liberties taken with the history for the sake of drama, it is a worthy film in every respect. There is certainly violence, resulting in an R rating, but the violence does not attain to levels of gratuitousness. There is no sex, no nudity (in one brief scene, female Cristeros are seen in their underwear, secreting on their persons ammunition for smuggling to the troops), no blue language. And, for once, Catholics are the good guys, and priests are not shown as perverts -- not even Fr. Reyes Vega, who was known not only for his brilliant soldiery but also for his cruelty and his less-than-strict adherence to his priestly obligations. There are a number of scenes showing the Cristeros at worship. The Tridentine Mass has a particularly compelling, edgy beauty when celebrated on the battlefield, or amid ruins, or in a fugitive camp hidden in the desert. The priest at the altar, with hundreds of scruffy soldiers kneeling behind him, looks like a general leading his troops into battle. Indeed, he is doing precisely that: exercising the priesthood of the baptized, the Cristeros will offer themselves up on the field of battle in union with the Sacrifice of Calvary, for the sake of the Kingdom. The physical battles of the Cristero War are but the outward, sensible manifestations of the greater spiritual war against the forces of hell; the stakes are nothing less than the eternal destiny of souls. For Greater Glory is about so much more than freedom in the political order; it is about how individual souls find redemption -- or lose it.
Finally, For Greater Glory comes out at a time when it has taken on a far greater relevance in the United States than what its makers had anticipated when it was filmed. Politicians of the same ideological stamp as Plutarco Calles have taken power in this country and have already begun enacting laws that encroach on the freedom of the Church. In Mexico, Calles' laws against the Church were followed up by brute force; is it not naive to suppose that the same could not happen here?
¡Viva Cristo Rey!