Every fourth Thursday of November, we brace ourselves for the onslaught of food and drink that is the celebration of Thanksgiving.
While we’re busy piling our plates with seconds of stuffing and thirds of those delicious dinner rolls we can easily forget that the Church’s calendar of saints continues on, even when we’re mindlessly crashing on the couch and allowing the food coma to slowly take over.
Last year St. John Berchmans shared his feast day with Thanksgiving, the year before that it was St. James Intercisus, and this time around we’ll be making leftover turkey sandwiches on the beloved and inspirational feast of St. Andrew Dũng-Lạc and the martyrs of Vietnam.
Born in 1795, Trần An Dũng took on the name Andrew at his baptism and became a Catholic priest in 1823. He was canonized by St. John Paul The Great in 1988 along with the droves of Vietnamese martyrs of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, which the Vatican estimates to be between 130,000 – 300,000 holy heroes.
The tortures endured by these remarkable men and women are considered by the Vatican to be among the worst in the history of the faith. According to Les Missions Etrangeres, the Parish Foreign Missions Society, “The torturers hacked off limbs joint by joint, tore flesh with red hot tongs, and used drugs to enslave the minds of the victims. Christians at the time were branded on the face with the words “ta dao” (左道, which translates to “Sinister religion”).The bravery of these great saints has had an impact that few have heard about, and that’s especially true when we consider the story of the French Missionary counted among the Vietnamese martyrs, Théophane Vénard. He traveled to Vietnam in 1852 and boldly practiced the faith in public despite the edict issued against the Catholic Church at the time. This eventually led to his capture. He declined the opportunity to apostatize at his trial, and was sentenced to live in a small cage until the day of his execution arrived.
While imprisoned, Théophane took the opportunity during to write letters detailing his experience and the reason for his continued hope and perseverance, Jesus Christ.
His letters became famous among both Catholics in Vietnam and France, and eventually made their way to Marie Françoise-Thérèse Martin, known to you and I as Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.
After reading his letters, The Little Flower felt inspired to leave France and volunteer at the Carmelite nunnery in Hanoi. Before she could leave, however, she contracted tuberculosis and never got the chance.
As you sit around the table, doing everything you can to avoid talking with your relatives about the recent events in American politics, consider taking the opportunity to share the life and death of Andrew Dũng-Lạc, a relatively unknown saint, and the incredible impact of those who were willing to give up everything for Our Lord and His Church in Vietnam.
And when it comes time to say grace before dinner, why not include this year’s Thanksgiving collect in honor of Théophane Vénard and the hundreds of thousands of others we honor on this special day:
O God, source and origin of all fatherhood,
who kept the Martyrs Saint Andrew Dung-Lac and his companions
faithful to the Cross of your Son,
even to the shedding of their blood,
grant, through their intercession,
that, spreading your love among our brothers and sisters,
we may be your children both in name and in truth.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Copyright 2016 Tommy Tighe