The Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles rarely go to the movies, but this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to be a part of a premiere showing of For Greater Glory. Seventy-five of our sisters immediately said “yes” to the gracious invitation of Archbishop Jose Gomez. Why? Because it was during those days–the days of the horrendous religious persecution in Mexico in the 1920s–that our community began. Mother Maria Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament, affectionately known as Mother Luisita, had already accepted fifty-five sisters into the new community.
It was on July 31, 1926, that President Plutarco Elias Calles started enforcing the anti-clerical laws throughout Mexico. The following day, August 1, 1926, all religious services were stopped throughout Mexico. No more Masses. No more marriages. No more first Communions. No more religious practices of any kind.
This is where the movie begins. And that is why we are so interested. Our community was just beginning at that time also.
Regular folk, people like you and me, felt the loss of their religious freedom all the way to their deepest soul. In the region of Los Altos, where my community and the Cristeros originated, a new group formed made up of these Catholics who protested the law. There was a boycott. There was a petition. When all these failed, there rose up a group known as “Cristeros” who fought for three years to reclaim their churches and their religious freedom.
We have read about the Cristeros, researched the elements of the persecution in Mexico, and a few times we’ve given talks on the beginnings of our community. Some of our first sisters were put in jail. We heard about sleeping on mats and having to get up at a moment’s notice, taking all belongings to escape over rooftops to safety. We read coded letters in which our holy foundress, Venerable Mother Luisita, wrote in detail about current fashions. She was a very simple and austere soul, who wore only a mended Carmelite habit, so some of us would wonder, “why such detail about current women’s fashions, for heaven’s sake!” After seeing the movie, we understood. It was to help the sisters wear a better disguise, so they would not be discovered and arrested.
After seeing, For Greater Glory, it all became real for us. The blood. The torture. The injustice of it all. Above all, the faith of the people. What faith!
Our community was born in religious persecution. Our first sisters and the people who stood by them were courageous, strong Catholics. When Mother Luisita arrived by train into the United States in June 1927, she stepped down and kissed the ground of a country with religious freedom. She could wear her Carmelite habit.
Groups of sisters remained in Mexico, hidden by families who knew they would be killed if the Sisters were found in their homes. That’s how our schools stayed in session during those dark years, with private lessons and small group lessons that took place in private homes. Our sisters, following Mother Luisita’s example, became beacons of hope and helped God’s people deepen their spiritual resources through prayer.
That is our mission: “to promote a deeper spiritual life among God’s people.” Our mission is aimed at fortifying each one of you with the spiritual intimacy with God that will give you strength in hard times.
As continue on life’s journey, learning more about God through prayer, the liturgy, spiritual direction, suddenly there comes a time when, such as in the case of the Cristeros, our faith is tested, the deep seeds planted at baptism, nourished by the Eucharist, restored with the Sacrament of Reconciliation, suddenly blossom into a dynamic, faith-filled response to religious persecution. When it is taken away, two things happen. We suddenly realize how much we took for granted, and secondly, we suddenly experience our intense love for God and the powerful rising up of His grace within us in a way we have never experienced before.
We urge you to see the movie For Greater Glory. When it is over, like me, you will probably see some parallels. ¡Viva Cristo Rey! (Long live Christ the King!)
PS: To learn more about the Carmelite Sisters visit our web site: www.carmelitesistersocd.com and for more information please contact the sisters at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 626-289-1353 Ext. 246, 920 East Alhambra Road, Alhambra, California 91801.