Much as you would like to have a lengthy homily this afternoon, I’m afraid I will be unable to accommodate your wishes! Please offer it up! I would like to say a word about the feast, about the readings, and about what both can mean for us in our service to the Church.
St. Andrew Dung-Lac & Companions
It was Tertullian who wrote in the third century that “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Similarly St. John Paul II wrote that martyrs bear witness to the truth of the Gospel, including its moral demands which are often at odds with the prevailing culture. Martyrs are also a sign of the holiness of the Church, a witness to that the truth that sets us free, the truth that rescues and exalts our humanity.
St. Andrew and his companions did just that in Vietnam during the early 19th century. When he was 12 years old he came to know of the Christian faith thanks to the zealous work of a lay catechists. He was baptized and in 1823 was ordained as a diocesan priest. He was prayerful. He preached with simplicity and love. Not only did he endear himself to his parishioners but he also made them bold and courageous in defending the faith. Arrested twice, he was ransomed by his parishioners but the third time he and his fellow priest, Peter Thi, were beheaded.
All of us have some awareness of how the Church in Vietnam has suffered over time. In our times, Cardinal Nguyan Van Thuan courageously bore witness to the faith and even today the Church in Vietnam is far from free. Yet 97% of its Catholic people go to Mass on Sunday. Vocations to the priesthood and religious life are abundant. And the Vietnamese community in the U.S. is among the most vibrant anywhere. “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
Throughout these weeks leading up to the end of the liturgical year the Church has presented to us a series of martyrs from the Old Testament. They surrendered their lives rather than to forsake their faith or to compromise their deeply held moral convictions. They did not hesitate to speak up even when it took raw courage to confront those who were oppressing the people of Israel. We see the prophet Daniel doing just that in today’s first reading where he interprets King Nebuchadnezzar’s vision. He tells the powerful king that his power and glory are only an illusion.
In the Gospel Jesus seeks to shake us free from our illusions by telling the people of Israel that the temple was destined to be destroyed. He is telling us that the safety, comfort, and good order we seek are fleeting and are destined to be superseded in ways that will discomfit us.
Our Service to the Church
What could all this mean for our service to the Church? I’ll speak about myself and perhaps my experience will relate to yours. Every day, I look over what is on my calendar. I want to know what will be expected of me in each appointment or at each event. At the same time, I want to keep close tabs on important projects and problems. The days pass quickly as I go from one thing to the next.
For that reason I need to seek the Lord’s mercy every morning. I need to ask the Lord to remind me moment by moment that I’m not merely engaged in appointments, projects, and problems. Rather, I am supposed to be a witness to hope and minister of mercy. I am supposed to be a witness to the things that really matter. So every morning I ask the Holy Spirit to help me be a follower of Christ so that I can be his witness and a faithful steward of his mysteries.
In our service to the Church we are not merely running offices or programs but rather we are to be followers of Christ and witnesses of his love. As we go about our daily work, our faith must be infectious, our patience amazing, our charity persistent, and our dedication to the task at hand unfailing. In us and through our daily work good must overcome evil and love must overcome distrust and cynicism. In this way, we go about building communities of faith, worship, and service.
Thanks for taking part in this day of prayer and reflection. May you and your loved ones have a very happy and safe Thanksgiving!