MASS FOR THE VIETNAMESE MARTYRS CELEBRATED BY ARCHBISHOP DENIS HART AT SAINT PATRICK’S CATHEDRAL, MELBOURNE, ON SUNDAY, 16TH NOVEMBER 2008 AT 2.30 P.M.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am delighted to be with you and with your Chaplain as today we celebrate the feast of the martyrs of Vietnam - Saint Andrew Dung-Lac and companions. Martyrs are constant witnesses to the faith of Jesus Christ in our own day and in our own country.
Just as Jesus often spoke of his constant need to fulfil the will of his Father, which was his crucifixion and resurrection, so too through our contemplating the martyrs we accept the crosses of past and present, inspired by the constancy of the martyrs so that we will rise to the resurrection of new life with Jesus, our Lord and Saviour.
So that we may grow in his love, let us call to mind our sins.
My dear Brothers and Sisters,
Regularly in the celebration of the martyrs we sing, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” We remember the outstanding courage and faithfulness, which motivated so many of your countrymen and women to stand firm in the face of paganism and hatred, to witness to Jesus Christ.
Saint Augustine tells us that the death of martyrs is precious, both in our sight and in the sight of him in whose name death took its place.
When Jesus drew near to his own death, he remembered, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” We know that Jesus is the great martyr because on the cross he brought us our redemption. The martyrs are the fulfilment of what Saint John says, “As Jesus laid down his life for us, so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”
We recall with honour that Pope John Paul II canonised Saint Andrew Dung-Lac and ninety-six Vietnamese martyrs. Thirty-seven of these were priests, who fulfilled their ministry of giving the Sacraments of life unto the giving of their blood. The remainder were lay people of various situations, both male and female, of whom the majority were fathers of families, some were catechists, seminarians and soldiers, who lived according to Christian principles and bore witness to baptism in water and the Spirit. All of their sufferings showed that they preferred to accept the cross rather than to reject their holy religion.
I join you with humble admiration at the deeds of these men and women in the face of savagery. So great was their love for Christ, so great was their faith in the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection, that they chose to remain constant rather than give themselves over to earthly success or comfort.
There is a continuity of course between the martyrs and so many of you here present who have escaped from Vietnam because of your love of Christ and wanting to live in the way which our Saviour established for us.
Many parents and grandparents have done this to give the gift of new life to their children after the pattern of Jesus Christ, in whom is found true peace and happiness.
The martyrs received a gift from God of knowing the redemptive power of our Saviour, that his love has brought our redemption and from death has come resurrection. The martyrs by entering into death have similarly gone through a transformation, which will bring a flood of God’s love for the Church.
Indeed, already in a comparatively short time many young Vietnamese men and women have followed the call of Jesus Christ into the priesthood and into religious life. Many Vietnamese families are emphasising here in Australia the importance of living close to Christ in the face of a secularist and materialistic state.
Because we too understand that the death of those who are faithful is precious in the sight of the Lord, we honour them as they have been raised to the altars of God as saints who intercede for us in heaven, that we will be courageous as they were, that we will live for the things of heaven.
The lives of those martyrs and of so many parents is a constant lesson to those who have been born in this country and have never known such horror. God’s most precious gift of all is the constancy of his love. And our relationship with Christ is the only thing, which will draw us to salvation, and indeed bring us even human happiness.
Today, indeed, is a feast of thanksgiving, of memory of tremendous suffering. Saint Paul asked to be moulded into the pattern of sharing Christ’s suffering and death, so that he may share in his resurrection and likewise Saint Peter reminds us, as we courageously take the challenge, “You will have to suffer only for a little while.
The God of all grace who called you to eternal glory in Christ will see that all is well again; he will confirm, strengthen and support you.” (1 Peter 5:10-11)
+ Denis J. Hart,
Archbishop of Melbourne