Don't Get Discouraged
Note: This week's homily is from Monsignor Gerard O'Connor, in residence at Christ the King, and Director of the Office of Divine Worship for the Archdiocese of Portland.
In today's homily, we are uplifted by the story of Cardinal Van Thuan, who spent 9 years in solitary confinement in a Saigon prison during the Vietnam War. He became extremely discouraged until the Holy Spirit inspired Van Thuan to see what mattered. What mattered was the One for whom he was working - Jesus Christ.
The Christian life is not easy. It is difficult. Thus, there's a tendency for us to get discouraged.
When we become discouraged, we start doubting the very mission of our lives. We doubt the Gospel, we doubt the Christian faith. We doubt Catholicism because we're not having any wins. Jesus encourages us by telling us that we will have difficulties - it's inevitable. But He also tells us not to worry or be bothered, because He's in charge.
Cardinal Van Thuan is a powerful example of how we must be steadfast in the face of discouragement. He was a Vietnamese bishop who was imprisoned for 13 years in Saigon by the communist and atheist government. He became extremely discouraged until the Holy Spirit inspired Van Thuan to see what mattered. What mattered was the One for whom he was working - Jesus Christ.
Full Audio Transcript
00:02 It's a pleasure to be with you on a Sunday. I, I'm, for those of you don't know me, I'm Monsignor Gerard O'Connor. I live in this parish. I live in residency and some of you will see me during the week, but it's rare that I'm here at the weekend. I'm usually out traveling and covering in different parishes. In fact, if I don't greet you after Mass, it's because I have to go to Saint Agatha's and celebrate a Mass there today as well. Um, so I just want to dispel any rumors that I'm lazy and I don't do anything at the weekends. That's all. I'm just, you know, I just work in the office, you know, from nine till two and you know, nothing in the way. I'm usually usually out traveling, which is great because it gives me, I'm the Director of the Office of Worship for the Archdiocese. So it gives me a great view of the outside, cause I'm often traveling at the weekends with Vinita and Salem and various places like this. So I get a good feel of the, the, the Catholic life in this Archdiocese.
00:58 Um, in today's Gospel, the Lord gives us many lessons. He teaches us in this speech about how to be a Christian and what it's gonna mean to follow him. And he encourages them to work hard. He tells them that the harvest is ready for them and they should go out and grasp the moment. And he encourages them also to be ready for difficulties because he says, there are wolves out there and you're like lambs and it's going to be difficult. He encourages them to put that confidence in God and God alone, not in money, not in possessions, not in their own strength, but in the Lord himself. And he encourages them to stay focused on the mission and not to be distracted by things of the world.
01:48 And after all that encouragement that he gives them, he finishes his instructions by telling these disciples how to react when they are rejected, when their efforts appear fruitless and when they seem to fail in their attempts to win people over to Christ and his gospel. And when that happens, he tells him, move on. Simply shake the dust from your feet and move on.
02:19 Jesus is telling his disciples today and that includes all of us by the way, to expect failures as we try to live out and spread the gospel. But he tells us, do not let it worry you. Don't let it bother you. He's in charge. It's his church. We are not Christ. We can never be. So it's good to reflect on this simple lesson. I think we remember that everyone is free to accept or reject Jesus Christ. Christ himself couldn't convince the Pharisees to follow him. So should we expect anything different? St. Paul didn't. This is why he lay so much emphasis on the cross. In the second reading he says, may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and it is the cross that is the center of Christian life.
03:17 The cross, it is hard. It is heavy, it is burdensome, but it leads to our redemption. If we go through this life and everything's just fine and everything's happy all the time and everything's joyous, then we're probably not leading a Christian life because my brothers and sisters, it is a battle. It is a fight. It is difficult and we will have failures and we will be rejected and we will be hated because of the name of Christ. He tells us that in the Gospel they should be no surprise to us that the Christian life is difficult. It is a path that is tight.
04:05 One of the big things I think in Christian life, one of the biggest threats, and I think a lot of the saints will tell us this is discouragement, is to be discouraged by it all is to feel down about it, that nothing is working, that nothing is winning. When we're in a battle, we want to have some wins. We want to have some victories, but sometimes in the Christian life we can't see them and thus there's a tendency for us to get discouraged, to get down and when we do that, we start doubting the very mission of our lives. We doubt the Gospel, we doubt the Christian faith. We doubt Catholicism because we're not having any wins.
04:54 Some of you will know who Cardinal Van Thuan is. Francis Xavier Van Thuan . He was a Vietnamese bishop, the auxiliary bishop of Saigon. In the 1960's - Cardinal Van Thuan died in 2002, but he was made the bishop of Saigon I think in 1967 and it's just at the end of the Vietnamese, uh, Vietnam Mes war and the North Vietnamese took over the whole country, the communists, the atheists, and they saw Cardinal Van Thuan, Bishop Van Thuan at the time as a rallying point for the Catholics as a rallying point for the Christians of that country. And the result of that, he was a very effective religious leaders, very holy man. And so they ended up arresting him and imprisoning him in various different modes. Sometimes he was under house arrest, but eventually they put him in prison for 13 years and nine of those 13 years, he was in solitary confinement. Can you imagine that for nine years being in solitary confinement and he got a bit discouraged about things. Can you imagine?
06:10 Nine years in solitary confinement. He was the lead of the Catholics in Vietnam and he spent all sorts of times in these reeducation camps. It's sort of an interesting piece of history because the communists, just like in communist Russia and all over the world in China, tried to eradicate, eradicate the Christian faith. And they did this in various ways, but one of them was of course, rounding up the leaders imprisoning them and trying to break them, trying to break their spirit. In prison, Cardinal Vaughn, Toronto, Bishop Van Thuan at the time wrote three books and one was called the road to hope. And in there he talks about the discouragement that he had, how he was a failure because he could no longer encourage the Catholics of Vietnam. And they looked to him for leadership and he couldn't do it anymore because he was in prison, too. No fault of his own, of course. But he talks about this horrible discouragement that he had, that he was a failure, that he was not witnessing to Christ, and that he was being discouraged and lacking faith and lacking hope when he was in prison.
07:24 And he says at one point in this whole thing, he said, I came to the point that the Holy Spirit finally inspired me to see what mattered weren't the works of what I do. What mattered was the one for whom he was working. So this point is it didn't matter about the results and to to us today, it doesn't matter about the results. It matters about the one for whom we are working and that is our Lord Jesus Christ. That is God the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit. That's what matters, we've got to remember that we're working for him and it is his church. It is his world and his his creation and he will allow and not allow certain things to happen. He said when this idea came to him, there was a certain amount of peace in his soul that he got and he began to see that failure and success. He began to see failure and success in a completely different light. He said, I saw it in God's light. God knows about failure and success. I cannot judge that myself.
08:41 And thus he carried on and eventually he was released. Eventually he was allowed to leave the country, not to return. He went to Rome and he was made the Cardinal prefect of the in charge of justice and peace. There's a very beautiful story about him that he tells if you've never read anything about Cardinal Van Thuan go and look him up. It's, it's, it's really got some beautiful ideas about stuff. But one of them was this, he, when he was in prison, he comes to the point and says that he's atheistic communist guards. He had to befriend them because they were God's children as well. And he showed this great friendship towards his prison prison guards. And it's something that you would, you know, you just wouldn't think about that you would like want to be friends with these people. But he was, and eventually they started asking him questions about literature, about culture, about Europe, about you know, the things he'd experienced. And imagine this, these atheist, communist prison guards started asking him to teach them some hymns in Latin.
09:55 So at one point he tells us in his biography, he says, so I'm in this prison cell, and the prison guard said, teach us some Latin, will you? Teach us to sing in Latin. Some chant that you Catholics sing, you know, this was a long time. This is in 1967 you know, something like that. So he says, well, what do you want? What do you want me to teach you? I said, I, I teach the Salve Regina, I can teach you the Ave Maria. I can teach you the Veni Creator Spiritus. And the guards said that one not knowing any Latin. All right, that one. So he teaches his prison guards to see, to sing, to chant the Veni Creator Spiritus. I won't attempt it for you now, but you'll recognize the tune. And so Cardinal Van Thuan says in his biography, imagine my joy in solitary confinement in a nasty prison cell in Saigon. Imagine my joy that at seven o'clock each morning when my prison guard was coming on duty. He was singing Veni Creator Spiritus. Come. Holy Spirit. This Vietnamese Communist, atheist, guard singing that. Can you imagine that?
11:09 And thus these little things that go through his life. He celebrated Mass. He, uh, he told his people, he said to the prison guards, I have stomach problems and I need a little bit of medicine from my people that have this medicine for my stomach. So can you, you know, so eventually they did. And people sent in this little bottle of medicine, which in fact was a little bottle of wine. And then what he did every day at nine o'clock at night when the lights went out was he celebrated Mass by putting three drops of wine in his hand and a little drop of water. And he had some fragments of hosts and he'd memorize the Mass of, by heart of course, because you know, he'd have said it every day and he Mass and received the holy Eucharist.
11:57 Just, it's tremendous. This sort of thing that happens. And I give you this example only because of that I think a lot of us and certainly as priests can get very discouraged when we're not winning, when everything's not happening, when everybody's not converting, when everybody's not being holy, you know, this sort of stuff. Even in our own lives, of course in our, in our priestly lives, when things are not going well, when the church is under attack, when the church is full of people that you know are doing stupid things, you know, our bishops, our priests. You know, this sort of stuff.
12:33 We get very discouraged and I give you this example of Cardinal Van Thuan is that we must remember it's not about our failures, our successes, it's about the one for whom we are working. It's about, our Lord Jesus Christ. That's what it's about. So if you like me or you know, sometimes get a bit discouraged, you get a bit down about things not working out that we're not winning, that the world is against us, that sort of stuff that we're under attack. Don't worry about that. That's what today's Gospel tells us. The Lord tells us that it's going to be difficult. We know that, but don't let it bother us. Don't get discouraged. Be encouraged by the one for whom we are working.