This is Archbishop Mark Coleridge’s homily from the celebration of the Vietnamese Martyrs at the Vietnamese Catholic Centre, Inala, on November 19.
THE Gospel we have just heard speaks of the paralysing effect of fear.
Each of the servants is given funds to invest while the master is away.
One makes five more, another two more but the third makes nothing. He goes off and buries the funds until the master returns. Why?
Because he is afraid.
“I heard you were a hard man, reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered. So I was afraid,” he says to the master.
Fear is his problem, and it paralyses him.
He fears displeasing the master by losing the one talent he was given.
But in returning the one talent he was given he cops the very punishment he was keen to avoid.
Fear brings on the very consequences it fears. So the money is taken from him, we are told.
He does not enter “his master’s happiness” but is thrown out into the dark where there is weeping and grinding of teeth.
The Vietnamese martyrs too knew fear as they began to see the awful fate that was awaiting them.
At some point it must have dawned on them that they could face death if they remained faithful to Jesus Christ; and fear must have tempted them to deny Christ and abandon their faith in order to save their life.
Yet they must also have realised that to deny Christ and abandon their faith would have doomed them to a kind of living death, worse than the martyrdom that awaited them if they were faithful.
So faithful they remained, and die they did.
But the death they suffered was an entry into the fullness of life.
They were not cast out into the darkness where there is weeping and grinding of teeth.
They were led by Christ himself into “their master’s happiness”.
They are witnesses not to the paralysing effect of fear but to the liberating and life-giving power of love – because the opposite of fear is not hatred but love.
The New Testament tells us that love drives out all fear (1 John 4:18); and it was love which enabled the Vietnamese martyrs to move beyond fear to martyrdom and into the happiness of God.
They knew that fear, for all its seeming power, is in the end a bluff.
It is powerless in the face of love – just as those who killed the martyrs seemed powerful but were in fact powerless when faced with the faith and the love of the martyrs.
It was the martyrs who were powerful with the power of the Risen Christ; and it is the martyrs who remain powerful to this day, which is why we seek their intercession.
We too have our fears – personal fears of many kinds, fears for our family, for the Vietnamese community, for the Church, for the nation, for the world.
In many ways, this is a fearful time – a time in which fear can paralyse us.
Yet as we celebrate the Vietnamese martyrs we pledge ourselves to be a people who live beyond fear – not a people who do not know fear but a people who look to the power of Jesus to lead us beyond fear into “the master’s happiness”.
We want that happiness. But only love will open the door to it; fear will always leave the door shut.
We need courage to move beyond fear, and the Vietnamese people have shown an abundance of courage through their long and often difficult history.
But courage is not enough.
Courage needs to give birth to love if we are to live beyond fear.
And the love I mean – the love of God – is born in our life from the womb of faith.
Through all their struggles, the Vietnamese people have shown unshakeable faith, the faith of the martyrs, which is in your DNA.
Their blood runs in your veins.
Here with you now I praise God for the gifts he has given you and your people, and I thank God for the undying witness of the Vietnamese martyrs.
I also pray to God that those gifts you have received will be gifts you share more and more with the entire Church in this part of the world which is now your home.
It is our common home, the home in which we are brothers and sisters.
Tonight I come among you not as a stranger or outsider; I come among you with the love of a father and brother.
We may look different, perhaps sound different, but we share the witness of the martyrs, their faith and their love.
Their blood, which is the blood of Christ, runs in my veins too.
So I greet you as my own flesh and blood in the Lord, and I thank you all for welcoming me among you once again to celebrate the power that makes us one.