“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars,
and on earth nations will be in dismay,
perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.
People will die of fright
in anticipation of what is coming upon the world,
for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
And then they will see the Son of Man
coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
But when these signs begin to happen,
stand erect and raise your heads
because your redemption is at hand.” ~ Lk 21:25-28
Arriving in the 1500’s, foreign missionaries came to a predominantly Confucian culture in Việt Nam. Initially welcoming, the Vietnamese dynasties began to feel threatened by the outside influences of France and Christianity and made decrees to root out and exterminate the faithful. Born in 1789, Lê Thị Thành grew up in northern Việt Nam; her vocation was a rebellious one:
Honorable Christian wife.
Quiet mother of six.
She hid and transported foreign missionaries and native priests until, one day, she was caught delivering letters to and from Christian prisoners. Torturers beat the imprisoned Lê Thị Thành, leaving her bloodied and bruised. When her youngest daughter visited her in prison and saw crimson patches soaked through, Lê Thị Thành consoled her, “Do not cry. These are my red roses of courage… I am thankful for Our Lady’s grace… I am suffering in the name of Jesus.” Succumbing to injuries and unsanitary prison conditions in 1841, she would be the only non-religious female martyr of the 117 Vietnamese that we celebrate today, this number representing upwards of 300,000 who died over five centuries. The blood of these martyrs would lead to the seven million faithful today in Việt Nam and many more throughout the world. The lives of these Vietnamese martyrs pointed to something more.
In the Gospel, just before giving thanks at His last supper on Holy Thursday, Jesus foretold this something more. “Signs in the sun, moon, and the stars… nations in dismay… people dying… powers of the heavens shaken… [but] then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” This same message we hear now, these Vietnamese martyrs heard, too. Their lives pass along to us encouragement in that we can endure our own red roses, give thanks, suffer in Jesus’ name, stand erect, and raise our heads in the midst of many signs and nations in dismay. We can look to the One Who not only pointed to something more but He Himself was something more and did something more – having turned a very dark Friday into a Good one, having transformed seemingly end times into new beginnings, and promising that He would come again. Our redemption indeed is at hand.
Let’s take a couple of moments to reflect and give thanks as Lê Thị Thành did. How might we consider Our Lady or Jesus asking us how to look at our sufferings? In looking at this quiet, dedicated, and rebellious life of Lê Thị Thành, how might we have the courage to be something more, to do something more in our own ways?
With and asking for the intercession of the Martyrs of Việt Nam, let us pray…