Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Be Not Afraid

November 24, 2010
Memorial of Saint Andrew Dung-Lac, priest and martyr, and his companions, martyrs

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Then I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire. On the sea of glass were standing those who had won the victory over the beast and its image and the number that signified its name. They were holding God’s harps, and they sang the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb: “Great and wonderful are your works, Lord God almighty. Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations. Who will not fear you, Lord, or glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All the nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Revelation 15:2-4)

Jesus said to the crowd: “They will seize you and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. It will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute. You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” (Luke 21:12-19)

Be Not Afraid (Bob Dufford, S.J.)
(Click on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hup6wQ17XRI to see sung version with illustrations)

You shall cross the barren desert, but you shall not die of thirst.
You shall wander far in safety though you do not know the way.
You shall speak your words in foreign lands and all will understand.
You shall see the face of God and live.

Be not afraid,
I go before you always.
Come follow me, and
I will give you rest.

If you pass through raging waters in the sea, you shall not drown.
If you walk amid the burning flames, you shall not be harmed.
If you stand before the pow’r of hell and death is at your side, know that
I am with you through it all.

Blessed are your poor, for the kingdom shall be theirs.
Blest are you that weep and mourn, for one day you shall laugh.
And if wicked men insult and hate you all because of me, blessed, blessed are you!

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is in Jerusalem. He knows his time on earth with his beloved disciples is quickly coming to a close. Because he loves them so much, he doesn’t want to leave them unprepared for what is coming, so he tells them that for their faith in him, they may well be persecuted and taken prisoner. They may be sent to prison or handed over to one of the synagogues, which served as “holding cells” for those awaiting trial as well as places of study and worship. It may be Roman authorities who seize them or it could even be family or friends who betray them and hand them over to the authorities. They may be put to death for their beliefs.

I can only imagine the fear and dread Jesus’ words must have evoked in his friends’ hearts. This is so not what they were expecting. They were hoping for great things to happen in Jerusalem, for the immediate, full realization of the Kingdom of God with a lot of earthly fanfare and kingly splendor. Yet here’s their leader, Jesus, talking about persecution and martyrdom. This would be a very depressing Scripture passage if it weren’t for Jesus’ promise to his first disciples and to us as well. We don’t have to think up any defense when we’re questioned because of our beliefs; Jesus will give us the words to say. “You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” In other words, lose your life for Christ and you will gain eternal life.

We see that in the reading from the Book of Revelation. Those who have died as martyrs rather than worship the image of the Roman emperor as some kind of god are shown in heaven playing harps and singing, first the song of Moses (Exodus 15) about the triumph of the Israelites over Pharaoh and then the song of the Lamb about God’s great and wondrous works.

Throughout the centuries, many faithful men and women have been martyred for their faith in Christ. Today we remember St. Andrew Dung-Lac. Born in 1795 in northern Vietnam, he was ordained a priest in 1823. His preaching skills, his simple lifestyle, and his good example drew many in Vietnam to Christ. The emperor, Minh-Mang, however, hated Christians and persecuted them with great zeal. St. Andrew was arrested several times and was tortured and beheaded in 1839. He was one of 117 Christians martyred in Vietnam between 1820 and 1862. Many more may have lost their lives, but we know the names of these 117, all of whom have since been canonized. (For more information about St. Andrew Dung-Lac and the 117 Vietnamese martyrs, see http://sacredspace.ie/livingspace/F1124S/ or www.americancatholic.org/features/saints/saint.aspx?id=1209.)

We are fortunate to live in the United States, where we are free to believe and worship as we please. In the bulletin for this past Sunday from Nativity Parish in Burke, I read that there are 3 billion people around the world who do not know that sort of freedom.

Take some time to reflect on Jesus’ love for you, his willingness to give his life for you on the Cross. What are you willing to give in return? A little bit or everything?

Lord, let me so live in you and love you that, put to the test, I would not abandon you or betray my faith in your love for me and all your creation. When others seek to chip away at or even destroy my beliefs, open my ears to hear those whispered words of love and wisdom you promised your disciples. Thank you, Lord, for the lives of my martyred brothers and sisters in Christ. May their examples strengthen me in my own faith journey and bring me closer to you.