33rd Saturday in Ordinary Time
Today we celebrate not two, but 117 witnesses to Jesus. Like the two in this morning’s reading from the book of Revelation, when they finished their testimony, a beast came up in Vietnam, waged war against them, and conquered them and killed them. But they too were privileged to hear a loud voice from heaven say to them, “Come up here”. So they went up to heaven, and the Church today honors them in the fullest sense of the Greek word for “witness”, which is “martyr”.
One of these martyrs is St Paul Le-Bao-Tinh, a priest of the diocese of Tonkin. In 1843, he sent a letter to the students of the seminary of Ke-Vinh, in which he describes not so much what he was suffering in prison, as his spirit in the midst of all he had to undergo. The letter is a moving witness to the Christian spirit of these Vietnamese martyrs, and deserves to be read as a tribute to their memory. He wrote:
“In the midst of these torments, 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.
“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, I write these things to you in order that your faith and mine may be united. 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 St 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 singing his praises and exult forever in the joy of our triumph. Amen.”