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The Holy Martyrs of Vietnam – November 24th
Readings: II Mac 7:1, 20-23, 27b-29; Rom 8:31b-39; Lk 9:23-26.
1/ First Reading: RSV 2 Maccabees 7:1 It happened also that seven brothers and their mother were arrested and were being compelled by the king, under torture with whips and cords, to partake of unlawful swine’s flesh. 20 The mother was especially admirable and worthy of honorable memory. Though she saw her seven sons perish within a single day, she bore it with good courage because of her hope in the Lord. 21 She encouraged each of them in the language of their fathers. Filled with a noble spirit, she fired her woman’s reasoning with a man’s courage, and said to them, 22 “I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you. 23 Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of man and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws.” she spoke in their native tongue as follows, deriding the cruel tyrant: “My son, have pity on me. I carried you nine months in my womb, and nursed you for three years, and have reared you and brought you up to this point in your life, and have taken care of you. 28 I beseech you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed. Thus also mankind comes into being. 29 Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again with your brothers.”
2/ Second Reading: RSV Romans 8:31 If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; 34 who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us? 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
3/ Gospel: RSV Luke 9:23 And he said to all, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
I. THEME: Life, love and suffering
Life, love and suffering are three difficult mysteries to understand in human life; people have different understanding about these mysteries. For examples, when talking about the origin of life, some say life is from parents; some think it is just natural; some believe it is from God. When looking for a definition of love, one poet defines, “love is to die a little in the lover’s heart;” other defines, “love is when both look in the same direction;” St. Thomas wrote, “to love is to desire good for the loved.” When talking about suffering, a Buddist believes, “life is an ocean of suffering, to avoid suffering one needs to kill all passions;” while Catholics believe, “suffering can’t be avoided, it is necessary for people to show their faith and love in God.”
All readings in the feast of the holy martyrs of Vietnam help us to understand why our ancestors were ready to sacrifice themselves to witness for God. In the first reading, the mother of seven Maccabees’ sons ascertained that God bestows life and breath on human beings. He will give back life for those who faithfully witnessed for Him. In the second reading, St. Paul described God’s love for men through Christ’s incarnation. He is God’s Only Begotten Son and died to take away human sins. Once people felt and recognized God’s love, nothing can prevent them to respond to God’s love. In the Gospel, Christ revealed to people the art of living according to God’s will. This is the only way of living that will bring a fully life for human beings.
1/ Reading I: It is not I who gave you breath and life.
1.1/ Who gives people breath and life? King Antiochus thought he had power over the lives of seven Maccabees’ sons when he commanded to seize them and to tell them to change their ancestral religion. The king tortured them with whips and cords and commanded them to partake of unlawful swine’s flesh which is prohibited by Mosaic law. The author of the Book of Wisdom clearly described this absurd attitude: he wanted to maltreat them to see if God will appear to save those who believe in Him!
According to human nature, all desire life and are afraid of death, why was their mother such calm when she saw her seven sons dying in one day? Did they insult their lives? Today passage gave us a reason: The mother was especially admirable and worthy of honorable memory… She bore it with good courage because of her hope in the Lord.
She gave birth to all seven sons, but she said to them these words: “I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave your life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you. Therefore, the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of man and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws.”
According to the Christian faith, God gives life to men by bestowing on them breath and spirit, He has power to terminate their life by withdrawing of their breath. Moreover, He has also power to give them the eternal life if they faithfully witnessed for Him.
1.2/ Love is stronger than suffering and death: The mother’s love is praised by people in all places because mothers are willing to sacrifice for her children. Many mothers sacrificed their life for their children’s future; and if it is required of them to die for their children, many mothers are ready to do so. However, mother’s love is only a reflection of God’s love. God Himself bestows His love in all mothers so that they are ready to sacrifice for their children. Therefore, when they must choose between God and their children, they choose God because they know God will give children back to them. We recognized this faith through the words of the mother of seven Maccabees’ sons when she said to her youngest son: “My son, have pity on me. I carried you nine months in my womb, and nursed you for three years, and have reared you and brought you up to this point in your life and have taken care of you. I beseech you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed. Thus, also mankind comes into being. Do not fear this butcher but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again with your brothers.”
2/ Second Reading: None will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
2.1/ God’s love for human beings: is beautifully and sufficiently expressed through the author of the Fourth Gospel’s pen: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). Not only the Father loves the world, but also the Son. He loves the world so much that he was ready to accept a painful death on the cross, as he said: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). Though none of us has seen God, but when we look up to the cross, we should feel God’s love for us. St. Paul drew out two important results from God’s immense love for people:
(1) God doesn’t withhold anything from men: St. Thomas Aquinas said, “to love someone is to wish the best for that person.” God loves people and wishes all the best for them as St. Paul explained: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?” He still has many gifts for human beings, and the most precious gift is to let us live with Him forever in heaven.
(2) God doesn’t concern with judgment on His people: Many people are afraid of God and consider Him as a mean god who is ready to punish people when they commit sins. St. Paul completely opposed this portrayal of God when he said: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us?” St. John also had the same thought and more clearly explained: “For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (Jn 3:17-18).
2.2/ Human love for God: Love is only perfect when the loved accepted the love of the lover; if not, it remains one-sided love for ever. In order to respond to God’s love, people must feel God’s love for them. In the martyr of St. Andre Phu Yen, he advised his last words to all the faithful who were mourned over his suffering: “Brothers and sisters, we must take love to respond love, and life to compensate life.” If Christ loves and died for us, we must also love and die to show our love for him.
Accepting sacrifice and suffering are two clear signs to show love. St. Paul certainly felt Christ’s love so that he put out a question for himself and the faithful: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”
To accept suffering is not necessary a result for sin. Like Christ who never commits sin, but God wants him to suffer for the sake of people’s sins. To imitate Christ, his disciples also suffered to compensate their sins and people’s sins, as the words of the Psalm: “Yes, for thy sake are we killed all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter” (LXT 43:23, RSV 44:22). And St. Paul concluded: None “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
3/ Gospel: What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?
3.1/ The art of living in life: To live is an art needed to learn, not everyone knows how to live. Many people read the book: How to win friends and influence people of Dale Carnegie because he taught people how to live. However, if we compare this book with Christ’s instructions to his disciples, Christ’s words are far exceeding to human wisdom.
(1) Three conditions to become Christ’s disciple: Jesus said to people: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
– To deny himself: This must be the most difficult thing to do because it requires people to forfeit their own will, to completely live according to God’s will in all things.
– To take up his cross daily: The daily crosses are diseases, misunderstanding, opposite wills, trials and sufferings from others.
– To follow Christ: People are not only negatively of denying himself and carrying of the cross, but also to positively do these for a higher purpose as Christ did; that is, to bring salvation to all people.
(2) The illogic of life: Christ’s art of living is not a way to live; but the only way for those who want to fully and meaningfully live. Christ clearly declared: “For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.” He wanted to say if people don’t follow his art of living and just live according to their will, they will loose their life; but if they live according to God’s will as Christ teaches, they will save their life.
3.2/ The result for those who don’t know how to live: whatever life people live, they must get the corresponding result. To those who only know how to hoard up material gains, Jesus warned them: “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” What Jesus meant to imply here is the salvation and the eternal life.
To those who don’t put Christ’s words into practice and witness for him, he foretold the result: “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”
III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:
– God is the only one who has authority over life. He has power to give life and to take it away. Moreover, He also has power to give back lost life and the eternal life.
– God loves people with an immense love. He also demands us to love Him and others as such, even we must sacrifice our life.
– Sacrifice and suffering are the ways for us to show our love for God.