It is a joy and a privilege to be with you this morning to celebrate 41 years of Marian Days here in Carthage. I thank especially the priests of the Congregation of the Mother of the Redeemer for their invitation to celebrate Mass and to be your homilist this morning. For 41 years you, the Vietnamese people, have come here from all over the United States to honor Our Lady of La Vang.
When we come together to celebrate we are reminded of the important gift the Mass gives to us; the gift of the Eucharist; the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. At the Last Supper Jesus took bread in his hands and broke it, gave it to His disciples saying, “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body, which would be given up for you. In a similar way, taking the chalice He gave thanks, gave the chalice to His disciples saying: “Take this all of you and drink from it, for this is the chalice of My blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which would be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of Me.” With these words of Jesus; bread and wine become His Body and Blood. We are called to do this in memory of Him.
In the Gospel this morning we hear the people ask Jesus a question. “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus had just fed 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish with 12 baskets of left-overs. Jesus said, “You are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.” The people are curious and searching for Jesus. Jesus reminds them not to work for food that perishes but for food which gives eternal life. They asked Jesus, “What must we do to receive this bread?” Jesus simply tells them that they must believe and the bread He will give them gives them life. The people asked to receive this bread. Jesus said to them, “I am the Bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” We come together this morning to celebrate the Word of God and to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, the Bread of Life.
In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “give us this day our daily bread.” This is not earthly bread to sustains our bodies but the spiritual bread to sustain our spiritual lives. Do we want to receive the Bread of Life? Do we want to feed our spiritual lives? Do we believe that Jesus is present in the Eucharist? Believing is not knowledge, it is not blind obedience, believing is trust in God. A trust that gives life, that brings peace, brings hope, and brings love.
What does belief look like? How can I explain it? Let me share with you a person who had real faith and believed. A person whom I admire, who has inspired me in my priesthood and my life as a Bishop. I am sure some of you will recognize his name and some of you may have known him. His name is Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan. He was bishop of Nha Trang and later became Archbishop of Saigon. He was imprisoned for 13 years in Vietnam, 9 of those years in solitary confinement and 4 in prison camp. When he was released from prison he was expelled from Vietnam. Pope John Paul II now Saint called him to Rome and made him a Cardinal.
Cardinal Francis wrote a book about his experiences in prison, Five Loaves and Two Fish, a story of hope which tells of how he survived in prison. In one chapter he speaks of the Eucharist. He wrote, “I believe in one strength, the Eucharist, the Lord’s Body and Blood that gives me life.” Every day he managed to celebrate Mass, even in solitary confinement. At 3 o’clock the hour of Jesus’ crucifixion and death; with three drops of wine and one drop of water in the palm of his hand he celebrated Mass in darkness from memory. The Eucharist not only gave him hope but strength to believe and to live.
Just like the disciples in the Gospel on the road to Emmaus their lives changed when they recognized Jesus in the bread. They were no longer afraid and they returned to Jerusalem with joy because they had seen Jesus arisen. The Eucharist for Archbishop Francis Xavier became the source of hope and life despite the terrible and inhumane conditions of his prison cell. He never gave up hope in God because the Eucharist gave him strength every day. He sang hymns in Latin and Vietnamese during the day to overcome the loudspeakers that blared propaganda from 5:00 am to 11:30 pm every day. At night he could write in secret. He wrote a number of books while in prison such as The Road of Hope and Prayers of Hope, Words of Courage. Some of you here today remember this great man and some of you may have known him. There are some of you who have had similar experiences of being in prison and having suffered terribly. You may have survived but many members of your families may not have survived.
Today we come to pray to Our Lady of La Vang, Mother of God and your mother. She too suffered pain in witnessing her Son’s terrible death on Cavalry. We come thanking her for the gift of her Son, Jesus. Archbishop Francis Xavier said of Mary, “She did not abandon me. She accompanied me the whole way along my march through the darkness of prison days of unspeakable trials. I prayed to Mary with complete simplicity and trust: Mother, if you know that I can still be of use to the Church, grant me the grace of freedom on one of your feast days.” After 13 years on November 21st, the Feast of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple, Archbishop Francis Xavier was released from prison.
Cardinal Francis Xavier said at first, I used to ask Mary my Mother to help me. But after prison I just listen to Mary and now I ask her, “Mother; what can I do for you?”
Today you have come here to honor Mary, Our Lady of La Vang. In the past you too may have asked Mary for help. She may have helped you many times in the past. But today you come in thanksgiving. You like Cardinal Francis asking, what can I do for you Mother Mary; in thanksgiving for all she has done for you in the past.
Cardinal Francis said Mary’s life can be summed up in three words. Ecce: Fiat: Magnificat.
Ecce: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord” (Lk 1:38).
Fiat: “May it be done unto to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).
Magnificat: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord” (Lk 1:46).
Today we too proclaim we are the Lord’s servants. Today we too pray that the will of God be done in our lives. Today we too offer our lives to proclaim the greatness of the Lord. Cardinal Francis reminds us that it was through Mary’s help that he encountered her Son Jesus Christ. Mary wants us to know her Son Jesus Christ because Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Amen.
Marian Days, Carthage
August 5, 2018