St. Andrew Dung-Lac and companions

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Here is an older post from 2014. Some background of these saints from another post is here

 

One of the things that is so memorable about Andrew Dung-Lac is that he was born a poor pagan Vietnamese. His catechesis was coupled with food and shelter, and then baptism. He was not born into Christianity, and the country he lived in was not historically Christian, and he was ethnically Vietnamese. Why do these points interest me? To start, Andrew became a priest, and taught catechism. That was a step up from the impoverished life he was born into, but does not begin to explain this person’s character. Andrews’s character and spirituality come out after the first time he went through imprisonment and persecution for his Christian faith. That persecution was under the emperor’s directive, and was wide spread; though Andrew was able at first to gain freedom with the support of his congregation. This is the part where this priest’s character and spirituality are revealed. After that persecution the priest changed his name, modified his location, and continued his mission. After imprisonment, how easy would it have been for him to simply remove his collar and blend in amongst his countrymen? He was ethnically Vietnamese, so blending in would have been easy. The persecutions going on in that country were among the most brutal in history, yet he did not remove his clerical collar, and to me that speaks volumes about the extent the Holy Spirit descended onto that priest. At his baptism he was initiated into the faith with water, at his first persecution was proof positive that he had received that Spirit. As he continued preaching and baptizing people into the faith, those persecutions continued and they were directed at Christians with unspeakable brutality. Andrew continued with his mission until he was beheaded for the faith at the age of forty-four. His story contains examples of the three types of baptism, that one of water, of the spirit, and by blood. The brutality towards Christians in that country at that time were horrendous. Andrews’s story is easy to tell because it is a brief biographical sketch of a single person. There were one hundred and seventeen martyrs, and each had their own unique story, though I am certain they all had that desire to live and die for their faith and preach the gospel of Christ. It was that faith that defined them, not their ethnicity or social standing. They were European and Vietnamese, Priests, Religious, and Lay people: all placing their faith in Christ. Their story of faith is remarkable and unforgettable.

november

Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr

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26 December 2016

Nothing can quell the celebrations  of Christmas quite like Saint Stephens day. Saint Stephen was the first Christian martyr who was stoned to death in the year 34. Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59   His crime was blasphemy for preaching Christ’s message, and for supposedly preaching that message at times in the synagogue. One of the witnesses of his stoning was the Apostle Paul who at the time was an avid persecutor of Christians.

If the modern “Christmas season” signifies a season of parties, Saint Stephens day signifies that there is more than a little pain to go along with those Christmas festivities. It is a reminder that to follow Christ involves difficult decisions, actions, commitment, and painful consequences that often goes along with them. Following Christ often is in direct conflict with public opinion, and practicing Christianity has its costs.  Christianity was challenged during Saint Stephens day, and it is today.

Saint Stephen in his arguments defended Christianity against the Sanhedrin or Jewish court.  Today the apologetics are often against modern anti-Catholic groups of varied backgrounds. Saint Stephen saw the joy in Christ’s message, and he saw the need to defend and devote himself to that joyful gospel, even against the very real risk of death.

As to why this feast day follows Christmas, Saint Fulgentius of Ruspe gives a perfect quote in his homily. Saint Fulgentius was bishop of that North African city in the 5-6 Century. His homily on Saint Stephen’s day is part of the days Liturgy of the Hours. The saint wrote“And so the love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven; shown first in the king, it later shone forth in his soldier.” Birth and martyrdom are related after all. Christ descended so that we might ascend.

On this feast day of the first martyr of Christianity, one cannot forget all of the Christian martyrs of 2016. They were numerous throughout the world.

Max Kolbe

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 This is a recycled post from 2014. Maximillian Kolbe’s memorial is on the fourteenth of August.

Whenever Maximillian Kolbe’s day comes around, any comments seem like they can wait. That day becomes a moment of silence. Max was that friar at Auschwitz who volunteered his life for the sake of another prisoner who had a family.  When I was reading that first mass reading from Ezekiel, God instructs that prophet to dig a hole in the city wall and exit through it as if he was in exile. Since Max’s sacrifice was so great, any readings had to be taken in context with his story.
What could crawling through a hole have to do with Max Kolbe? All of Ezekiel’s action throughout that story serve to pronounce the sins of these people, and bring them to repentance. The thought that constantly returned was both Ezekiel’s and Maximillian Kolbe’s actions in response to another’s sins. As a common saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Many times people are called to action. In thinking about Max Kolbe though, one cannot put aside yesterday’s news to focus on an event that occurred a half century ago. That event should serve as a model on similar events of today.
When thinking of Max Kolbe’s actions, my mind of course is drawn to that WW2 prison, and that horrible act towards Europe’s Jews. The contemporary event follows that movement of those people into modern Israel, and the resultant conflicts that are occurring throughout the mid-east. Again focusing on Max Kolbe’s actions for the protection of another, my eyes ae drawn towards the current persecution of religious minorities in Iraq. By viewing that conflict through the imagery of Ezekiel and Kolbe, what does one learn? For one, can one overlook the obvious? Both were well aware of the events around them. While they both were active participants in those events, is it necessary to participate in an event to observe it?
I can read news accounts of the Iraq atrocities without being there. How important is that vigilance and observation? Max Kolbe and Ezekiel might remind us to be well aware of our surroundings. There stories though highlight the need for actions to current events, and what defines an action? Is it necessary to stand in front of a bullet? Is it necessary to be the town crier? What actions can an ordinary citizen take towards injustice, and persecution, and suffering? Many have and can write elected officials. Many can and have written commentaries bringing an issue to people’s attention. Both are important ways to at least bring about a dialogue on behalf of others. Many can and should offer prayer on the refugee’s behalf. Their plight should not be slighted or forgotten. Many can and should offer material assistance to those in need. Meeting a person’s material needs is a concrete action to meet very real needs of a person’s suffering. Food, shelter, clothing, medicine, water. They are all as effective to saving another’s life as was Max Kolbe’s. Perhaps one way to honor Max Kolbe for his efforts on another’s behalf is to intervene for another? Perhaps offering some material support for the persecuted religious minorities of Iraq might be a good start?

Father Jacques Hamel and the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time

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Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not be afraid any longer, little flock,
for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.

Lk 12:32-48

This is my time to write about Father Jacques Hamel, the Catholic priest that was slain by extremists while saying the Holy Mass is a small church in France. The gospel readings this 19thh Sunday of Ordinary time urge us to keep vigilant because we do not know when the Son of Man will come. The gospel preaches vigilance, and that often is interpreted to be prepared for our final hour, or the darkest hours when we ae put to the test. It urges us to turn towards the LORD so that we might enter the kingdom promised when we are called. The message isn’t all about death, it speaks much about living life and surviving the trials of life. Father Hamel was vigilant. Did he expect the murderous thief to enter the church on that his final morning? Probably not. Was he prepared? Definitely yes. Father Jacques did not expect to be murdered as he said that morning Mass, but in saying that Mass he was prepared. The thief did not catch him off guard. The rituals of that priest’s vocation were put into place to offer him protection, to maintain his vigilance. The priest is a man of prayer. Prayers to protect and guide both himself and others, and prayer plays an important part of vigilance. They are the conversation with the Lord, and priests pray a lot.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Gird your loins and light your lamps
and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding,
ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.
Blessed are those servants
whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.

The Mass the father was saying as he was murdered would not have been his first prayer of the day. Fr. Jacques would have started his day with “Lord, open my lips and I will sing thy praise.” It is the opening line of the prayer that begins his day. Equally important was how Father closed the day before with an examination of his conscience and a plea for the forgiveness of his sins. He closed that day acknowledging his acknowledging his own faults, and then asking for forgiveness. Father Jacques knew that forgiveness would be granted, he knew the gospel Jesus preached. In knowing that gospel narrative he would have known the final words of Jesus on the Cross. “Father forgive them, they know not what they do” and “Into thy hands I commend my spirit.” He knew God’s forgiveness, he confessed and heard confessions. Fr. Hamel forgave sins in the name of Christ. Father Jacques Hamel was vigilant, he knew how to act. He both began and ended his day in prayer. He knew what was expected of him.

Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself,
have the servants recline at table, and proceed to wait on them.
And should he come in the second or third watch
and find them prepared in this way,
blessed are those servants.

Father Jacques Hamel did not just begin and end his day in prayer, he prayed throughout the day. That is what is necessary for vigilance, the threats are numerous. They are continuous and the constant bombardment tends to wear one down. He prayed in the morning and evening and throughout the day, they are part of his obligation and what is needed to carry out his duties. Those prayer are the Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours, a scheduled set of prayers said regardless of what the day brings. They prepared Fr. Jacques for his final moment, even for one that was as brutal as his. Father Jacques Hamel had his throat slit while saying the Holy Mass in France. How can one possibly prepare for that? The priest knew how to prepare, he prayed. The disciples once asked Jesus, teach us to pray. Father knew the Lord’s Prayer. The forgiveness of sin, and give us our daily bread.

Be sure of this:
if the master of the house had known the hour
when the thief was coming,
he would not have let his house be broken into.
You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect,
the Son of Man will come.”

Give us our daily bread, the duty the priest was fulfilling at his final hour. News accounts suggest he was preforming the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Preparing that bread for himself and others. Food for a journey and companions of the Lord. The priest was vigilant and he was prepared, and he was helping others. So relevant in the light of these gospel readings of vigilance, of being prepared for the thief that comes unexpected. Prayer, nourishment, and forgiveness. Father Jacques was prepared, he was vigilant. He taught others to follow by example.

Even the location of that priest’s death speaks of his preparation. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The location of his slaughter speaks of preparation. He resided in the Church that is the likeness of Mary. Mary, mother of God. Mary free from sin. Mary, the Holy Virgin. Her song, the Magnificat, he prayed at Vespers. A reminder of the joys of Gods grace.  A fortress built to guard against temptation. Vigilance. Father Jacques Hamel, Pray for us.

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 117