Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving and The Vietnamese Martyrs

I had the opportunity to give a vocation witness to the Vietnamese personal parish (it serves all the Vietnamese in the Archdiocese of New Orleans), Mary, Queen of Vietnam. It was an awesome experience. I went to four mass in three languages: Vietnamese, English, and Spanish (go figure!). I miscalculated the time for the vigil mass showing up an hour and half early as opposed to an hour early. As I waited I found a small chapel in the church dedicated to the Vietnamese Martyrs, who we celebrate today. In the chapel, were three reliquaries holding a total of 37 relics of the Vietnamese martyrs. What a witness! Tertullians phrase can to mind, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."

I look at the faith and vigor of the Vietnamese community as a direct result of the witness of these martyrs over two centuries of persecution in Vietnam, a persecution that still exist under the current Communist government. Like the English Catholics of early colonial times and the Irish Catholics of the mid 19th Century, the Vietnamese fled to the US seeking not only personal freedom but freedom to practice the faith. What a great time to celebrate the Thanksgiving of the witness of the immigrants who still live not only their robust faith but their cultural heritage. The Vietnamese men and women have much to be thankful for in coming the US. In the Archdiocese we have much to be thankful for, in their witness of the Catholic faith awakening us centuries old French Catholics into a deeper more sincere faith.

I will leave you with a letter from one of the Vietnamese martyrs (this letter is used in the office of readings for today's feast day: courtesy of

A Letter of Saint Paul Le-Bao-Tinh

I am not alone: Christ is with Me
      I, Paul, in chains for the name of Christ, wish to relate to you the trial besetting me daily, in order that you may be inflamed with loved for God and join with me in his praises. The prison here is a true image of everlasting hell: to cruel tortures of every kind - shackles, iron chains, manacles - are added hatred, vengeance, calumnies, obscene speech, quarrels, evil acts, swearing, curses, as well as anguish and grief. But the God who once freed the three children from the fiery furnace is with me always; he has delivered me from these tribulations and made them sweet, for his mercy is forever.
In the midst of these torments, which usually terrify others, I am, by the grace of God, full of joy and gladness, because I am not alone - Christ is with me.
     Our Master bears the whole weight of the cross leaving me only the tiniest, last bit. He is not a mere onlooker in my struggle, but a contestant and the victor and champion in the whole battle. Therefore upon his head is placed the crown of victory, and his members also share in his glory.
     How am I to bear with the spectacle, as each day I see emperors, mandarins, and their retinue blaspheming your holy name, O Lord, who are enthroned above the cherubim and seraphim? Behold, the pagans have trodden your cross underfoot! Where is your glory? As I see all this, I would, in the ardent love I have for you prefer to be torn limb from limb and to die as a witness to your love.
     O Lord, show your power, save me, sustain me, that in my infirmity your power may be shown and may be glorified before the nations; grant that I may not grow weak along the way, and so allow your enemies to hold their heads up in pride. 
     Beloved brothers, as you hear all these things may you give endless thanks in joy to God, form whom every good proceeds; bless the Lord, with me, for his mercy is forever. My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant and from this day all generations will call me blessed, for his mercy is forever.
     O praise the Lord, all you nations, acclaim him, all you peoples, for God chose what is weak in the world to confound the strong, God chose what is low and despised to confound the noble. Through my mouth he has confused the philosophers who are disciples of the wise of this world, for his mercy is for ever.
     I write these things to you in order that your faith and mine may be united. In the midst of this storm I cast my anchor toward the throne of God, the anchor that is the lively hope in my heart.
     Beloved brothers, for your part so run that you may attain the crown, put on the breastplate of faith and take up the weapons of Christ for the right hand and for the left, as my patron Saint Paul has taught us. It is better for you to enter life with one eye or crippled than, with all your members intact, to be cast away.
     Come to my aid with your prayers, that I may have the strength to fight according to the law, and indeed to fight the good fight and to fight until the end and so finish the race. We may not again see each other in this life, but we will have the happiness of seeing each other again in the world to come, when, standing at the throne of the spotless Lamb, we will together join in signing his praises and exult forever in the joy of our triumph. Amen.

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