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Heavy lifting: Weekly Message for 11-24-2020
Dear Friends in Christ,
Today we celebrate the Memorial of the Vietnamese martyrs Saint Andrew Dung-Lac and his companions. Missionaries first arrived in Vietnam in the 1530s, but only had success after the foundation of a Jesuit mission in Hanoi in 1615. The State philosophy was Confucianism, and it clashed with Christianity, causing a first persecution in 1698, followed by others. The country itself experienced upheavals from 1772-1802, and upon reunification, persecutions intensified, with many martyrs under the Minh Mang (who reigned from 1820-1841) and Tu Duc (who reigned from 1847-1883). In 1988 a hundred and seventeen of these martyrs were canonized, the largest mass canonization in Church history, and another martyr beatified in the year 2000. It is believed the canonization in 1988 was representative of a group numbering in six figures (cf. D. B. WATKINS (editor), The Book of Saints: A Comprehensive Biographical Dictionary, Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016, eighth edition, page 751).
One of these saints, who wrote from prison to encourage seminarians in 1843, Saint Paul Le-Bao-Tinh, described his prison as “a true image of everlasting hell,” but told his brothers “I … wish to relate to you the trials besetting me daily, in order that you may be inflamed with love for God and join with me in his praises, for his mercy is for ever.” How many of us, if living a situation seen as hell on earth, would respond with love, praise, and thanksgiving to God for his mercy? How many of us must admit we respond worse in situations far less trying than an imprisoned martyr facing death? Saint Paul also said, “I am, by the grace of God, full of joy and gladness, because I am not alone—Christ is with me.” The awareness that Christ was with him through trials was the source of his gratitude and joy. We’re going to begin Advent in a few days, when we celebrate the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us in a world darkened by sin to liberate us from it.
Saint Paul also knew that Christ was doing the heavy lifting, and it put his trials and sufferings into perspective: “Our Master bears the whole weight of the cross, leaving me only the tiniest, last bit.” At Calvary we see Our Lord taking on the weight of the sins of the whole world, past, present, and future. That burden is compounded by the fact that the Lord took upon himself a burden for which he was not responsible at all. We sinned, not him. Advent is a beautiful time to reflect on the fact that the Lord assumed human nature to redeem it and to elevate us to a redeemed and sanctified life we’d never have achieved on our own.
Like a toddler insisting on helping his father carry something, we know who is doing the heavy lifting, but, like that toddler, we have to do that “tiniest, last bit” Saint Paul describes. For him, that was persecution and martyrdom. For us, it is shouldering our cross every day knowing Our Lord has down the heavy lifting. Why not do one of our many Retreat Guides on Mercy or Advent to help you appreciate Our Lord’s often hidden role in your life?
May the Vietnamese martyrs intercede for you this Advent so that all life’s trials become a source of love, joy, and gratitude to Our Lord. His mercy is for ever.
Father Nikola Derpich, L.C.
Maximizing the Mass
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