Thursday, January 14, 2010

Living in the shadow of the martyrs

Yesterday a young Vietnamese Catholic priest was ordained as a bishop in Toronto. His ordination was significant not primarily because he is only 26 years old, making him Canada’s youngest bishop or because he is Canada’s first non-white bishop. Rather, what makes his ordination so significant, in my opinion, is the fact that Bishop Vincent Nguyen has grown up in the shadow of martyrdom.

In the 19th century, 21-year-old Joseph Can Nguyen was arrested for being a Christian.  His executioners tied him to a post in the river and waited for the tide to rise.  Every now and then, at their leisure, they would wade out to Joseph to see if he would recant his faith.  He consistently refused until finally he drowned.

This story of courage and faith has been a legacy of the Nguyen family ever since.

It is in this sense that the blood of the martyrs has served to embolden following generations.  Remembering his faith and courage, the Nguyen family has continued to follow Christ faithfully both in Vietnam and in Canada.  At the age of 16, Vincent dreamed of being a priest but saw no chance of that happening in communist Vietnam.  Risking his life, he and several others boarded a rickety fishing boat hoping to sail for freedom to follow his passion for Christ.

By God’s grace, he survived, culminating in yesterday’s ordination.

As Christians, we all live in the shadow of the martyrs.  Hebrews 13:7 calls us to observe the lives of those leaders who have walked the path of martyrdom and to follow their example.  This legacy is essential if we are to walk faithfully as they did.  This is why we tell the stories of the martyrs in our monthly newsletter.  A task with a God-given mandate, valuable in it’s own right, even if we were to never suggest ways of providing aid. 

Oddly enough, there are more admonitions to remember the martyrs in scripture than there are admonitions for advocacy or providing practical aid.  Could it be that the former is more essential to the survival of the faith than the later?

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