Today we celebrate the large number of Vietnamese martyrs who suffered some of the most brutal deaths in the history of the church. There were literally thousands of martyrs in Vietnam. The 19th century in Vietnam was a particularly difficult time for those who were Catholic. While we do not know the names of all of the Vietnamese martyrs, we do know a few. And As a Dominican, I would be remiss if I did not mention the 11 Dominicans whose martyrdom we celebrate today.
As so often happens when there is great persecution of the church, what is left behind is a tremendous legacy. Vietnam was no different. Especially when considering the Dominican order, these martyrs inspired thousands and thousands of Vietnamese, even today, to join the Dominican order. Of course, these martyrs also inspired deep commitment of faith in other ways as well. St. Andrew, was a diocesan priest. There were numerous Jesuits whose names are included among the martyrs. Like so many martyrs, when faced with the stark reality of choosing for Jesus or rejecting him, the martyrs died for their faith.
The torture and deaths of these Vietnamese martyrs is believed to be among the worst in the world. That only was this a case where martyrdom and suffering was witnessed very clearly to discourage people from following the way of those who were killed, the purpose of the martyrdom was also to intensify beyond belief the suffering of those who were martyred.
Anytime we commemorate the lives of martyrs, it serves as a reminder to us of the importance of our commitment to the faith as well. We do not face the situation where we are killed for our beliefs. Indeed, we may not even face the situation where we find ourselves being persecuted for our beliefs. But each day when we awake, what is clear is our need to say yes to Jesus. Whether we are recently baptized or have been baptized for a number of years each day we are called to renew our commitment to Jesus and his way of life. We are called to live out that vocation that each of us is been given because of our baptism.
This call to faith requires a commitment to serve God regardless of the consequence. We cannot, on the one hand, decide that we are going to serve God, on the other hand living in a manner that does not suggest we care about serving God at all. That being said, this choice that we are constantly required to renew to serve Jesus, becomes even more possible because of the grace that God, that we celebrate today were only able to possess the strength to be martyrs, because they cooperated with the grace of God. They saw in living out their faith, that they simply could not be who they were any other way.
As Moses mentions in the book of Deuteronomy we are given a choice between life and death. The irony of the life of a martyr is often times that the choice of accepting martyrdom is really a choice of life. And so today, in all that you do, choose life.