Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Saint Andrew Dung-Lac, priest and martyr, and his companions, martyrs

St. Andrew was one of 117 people martyred in Vietnam between 1820 and 1862. Members of this group were beatified on four different occasions between 1900 and 1951. Now all have been canonized by Pope John Paul II. Christianity came to Vietnam (then three separate kingdoms) through the Portuguese. Jesuits opened the first permanent mission at Da Nang in 1615. They ministered to Japanese Catholics who had been driven from Japan. The king of one of the kingdoms banned all foreign missionaries and tried to make all Vietnamese deny their faith by trampling on a crucifix. Like the priest-holes in Ireland during English persecution, many hiding places were offered in homes of the faithful. Severe persecutions were again launched three times in the 19th century. During the six decades after 1820, between 100,000 and 300,000 Catholics were killed or subjected to great hardship. Foreign missionaries martyred in the first wave included priests of the Paris Mission Society, and Spanish Dominican priests and tertiaries. Persecution broke out again in 1847 when the emperor suspected foreign missionaries and Vietnamese Christians of sympathizing with a rebellion led by of one of his sons. The last of the martyrs were 17 laypersons, one of them a 9-year-old, executed in 1862. That year a treaty with France guaranteed religious freedom to Catholics, but it did not stop all persecution. By 1954 there were over a million and a half Catholics—about seven percent of the population—in the north. Buddhists represented about 60 percent. Persistent persecution forced some 670,000 Catholics to abandon lands, homes and possessions and flee to the south. In 1964, there were still 833,000 Catholics in the north, but many were in prison. In the south, Catholics were enjoying the first decade of religious freedom in centuries, their numbers swelled by refugees. During the Vietnamese war, Catholics again suffered in the north, and again moved to the south in great numbers. Now the whole country is under Communist rule.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (21.5-11)

Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down. Teacher, they asked, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place? He replied: Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am he,' and 'The time is near.' Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away. Then he said to them: Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

The Lesson of the Temple
(Homily by Fr. E.J. Tyler)

It is difficult for the modern reader to appreciate the magnificence of the Temple building Herod constructed, nor to appreciate the central place that the Temple occupied in the ethos of the Jewish nation. It had been a long and tremendous project, and together with his rebuilding of parts of Jerusalem (following the attack of 37 BC) it earned for Herod the title of the Great. Our scene of today’s Gospel has Christ teaching in the Temple as its Master, with his Passion soon to begin. He has cleansed its precincts of non-religious activities and has insisted on religious decorum. The leaders of the people are helpless before his assertion of authority because of the support of the people for their great prophet. Soon, as an act of supreme witness, Jesus would deliver himself into the hands of his enemies. So with the magnificent Temple all around them, some remarked to our Lord on the beauty of the stonework and the gifts there that were dedicated to God. It was a sight that moved the human spirit and lifted it in praise of God. Christ himself loved the Temple - as just mentioned, he had very recently caused a sensation by single-handedly putting an end to the busy commerce going on there. The Temple was the House of his Father, and he insisted it be treated as a place of prayer. But our Lord replied to those about him that the massive and awesome Temple would in time be nothing but rubble: “the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down” (Luke 21: 5-11). It was a statement that harkened back to those of the great prophets who had foretold the destruction of Jerusalem. It would have immediately reminded our Lord’s listeners of the great destruction of Jerusalem centuries before, which represented God’s judgment on his people. Our Lord was alluding to the judgment of God on his people’s sins. Well now, rather than lingering on the details of our Lord’s description of coming troubles both soon and distant, let us consider the essential point. The essential point was that all this magnificence would go because of sin.

St Paul writes in his Letter to the Romans that death entered the world through one man’s sin, and then spread to the whole human race. Death and all that is associated with death is ultimately the upshot of sin. The sin of man is, in the final analysis, the rejection of God and his will. This rejection of God destroys the linchpin of created reality, and, with the commission of sin, life unravels. The Scriptures portray this pattern, and the consequences of sin are seen in Scripture in certain iconic events - such as the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Our Lord is pointing to a tremendous destruction that is coming, which would also be due to sin and infidelity. Just before he entered the city, he referred to the coming destruction and wept over what he saw would happen (19:41-44). The cause was his own rejection. We ought take the historical fact of the destruction of the Temple and the City some decades later as a sign of the seriousness of the call to accept the person of Christ. Just before he ascended into heaven, he charged his disciples to go to the whole world and make disciples of all the nations. Those who believe would be saved, those who refused to believe would be condemned. The point is that the issues are ultimately clear-cut and stark, as are the consequences of our decision. They apply to each individual, and they apply to the world. There will be a particular judgment for each individual, and there will be a general judgment for the whole world. All the good things that we see will fall away before the ultimate issue, which is the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord. Let us take our stand with him, then! He is our true rock of security. Our days may be filled with ordinary things, they may even seem secure, but all that matters is the full-hearted acceptance of Christ and his will, lived out in the daily life which the providence of God has made our own. A life which is one of spectacle alone - symbolized, perhaps, by the beautiful Temple our Lord remarks upon - will not stand. All that will stand is a life built on the rock of Christ and his word.

There is one sense in which we must be living constantly in the present. It is no good at all to be caught up in constant bitter memories or daydreams of the future. The one real thing is the present and we ought be trying constantly to make the best of it. We ought live in the present moment. At the same time, we must live in the present with the revealed future before us. Our Lord has revealed the future, and it consists of the divine judgment. Let us bear in mind the lesson of the Temple of Jerusalem so as to gain life everlasting.

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