A Sermon Delivered by Father Nguyễn Văn Toản On the First Sunday of Advent

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[themify_box style=”blue comment rounded” ]In the reading of the teaching from our Lord Jesus as recorded in the section of Gospel according to Mark that we just heard on this First Sunday of Advent, these two expressions, “watch” and “take heed” appeared altogether 5 times. These expressions are the key to today’s sermon on the Good News. They are also the key message from our Lord Jesus to not just his disciples and each one of us, but also to everyone, as he said so in his own words: “ And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.”[/themify_box]

Translate by Chấn Minh |  Dec 01, 2014

  1. Reading of the Gospel according to Mark (13: 33-37)

{13:33} Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. {13:34} [For the Son of man is] as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. {13:35} Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: {13:36} Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. {13:37} And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.

  1. The Sermon delivered by Father Nguyễn Văn Toản

Respectful greeting to you all: Elders, Brothers and Sisters!

And a special greeting to non-Catholic guests attending today’s Mass to pray for Justice and Peace!

In the reading of the teaching from our Lord Jesus as recorded in the section of Gospel according to Mark that we just heard on this First Sunday of Advent, these two expressions, “watch” and “take heed” appeared altogether 5 times. These expressions are the key to today’s sermon on the Good News. They are also the key message from our Lord Jesus to not just his disciples and each one of us, but also to everyone, as he said so in his own words: “ And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.”

We must watch! Yes, respected Elders, Brothers and Sisters, our Lord Jesus reminded all of us to watch because no one among us knows the time when the Son of Man will come. We all must watch, because none of us know when this created world will end. We all must watch, we all must be awake, because we don’t know when our life will end, when we will take our last breath and when we will leave everything behind and depart this world with empty hands. Because of all of the above, brothers and sisters, we all must watch! We all must be awake!

Jesus is reminding us about a reality of the created world and the limitations of the human condition within it. This world, and the human beings in it, don’t last forever. Only God in Heaven, only the Creator is eternal. Him and only Him is the master of all things and all times. We are merely ordinary human beings in front of God in Heaven. As the author of the Psalms said:

Will he live on forever, then,

and never see the Pit of Corruption?

Indeed, he will see that the wise die,

and the fool will perish together with the senseless,

and they leave their wealth to others.

Their tombs are their homes forever,

their dwellings through all generations,

“They named countries after themselves”

(Psalm 49)

Yes, respected Elders, Brothers and Sisters, the words I just recited gave us the impression that the author of the Psalms was too pessimistic about the human condition. But no! Today, Our Lord Jesus has reminded us and told us about the true condition of the creation, of each one of us: we humans are like a servant waiting for his master to return. God in Heaven is this master. God in Heaven is the one who will come to meet us on the last day of this world and also on the last day of our life. All human beings, no matter who they are, will have to face death. The day of our death is when our master who is God in Heaven returns. No one among us will know the time and the day when death comes. It will come at an hour no one expects.  Therein are the reasons why we are asked to watch, to be awake!

But what does it really mean to watch, to be awake? Could it mean we don’t sleep, we don’t fall into a deep slumber! But surely our Lord Jesus didn’t just talk about the physical acts of sleeping and staying awake. So, what exactly did our Lord Jesus remind us? What must we watch for,  and how must we stay awake? Can anyone among you, Elders, Brothers and Sisters, tell me?

The section of the Good News we heard today comes from an account of our Lord Jesus when he was in the city of Jerusalem and speaking about its fall as well as the end of the world – the last day of this world.

When our Lord Jesus reminded us that we must watch, that we must be awake, he did so as follows: “Take heed that ye be not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am [Christ;] and the time draweth near: go ye not therefore after them”. And then He continued: “Don’t be afraid, don’t worry about what to say” After that, He warned us: “But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them.” In the Gospel According to Luke, it is also written “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads.”

Yes, dear congregation, that we must watch and be awake is what our Lord Jesus asked us to do when he said: “Take heed that ye be not deceived.” Our Lord Jesus also told us that he is the way, the truth and life. He said to governor Pilate:  “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth… Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.” And so, whoever disavows and distorts the truth and follows the path of falsehood and deception is against God in Heaven, against the Creator.

In the environment where we live, in our society, there were, there are, and there will be people, or groups of people who will try to deceive other people in the name of the Good News. There were and there are people who will use every trick imaginable to distort history, to deceive the people, to deceive entire generations, and to pull an entire people into the wrong path.

We live now in a society based on communism, which is a theory that has lies and trickeries as its foundation.

Having spent time enough time to understand what socialism and communism are, Mr. Mikhail Gorbachev, former Secretary General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union said: “I dedicated half of my life to the communist ideal. Today, I am saddened to say that the communist party knows only how to propagandize and to lie.”

The current chancellor of Germany, Mrs. Angela Merkel, grew up in East Germany. Of her life experience there, she said: “Communism turned people into liars.”

The current president of Russia, Mr. Putin, said: “ Whoever believes in communism has no head. Whoever does what communism says has no heart.”

Respected elders, brothers and sisters, the persons who spoke these words grow up and live in the countries where communism was born. No one compelled them to say the things they said about communism. Yet they did. The people in the countries where these persons live all have abandoned communism. They all have left communism behind and moved forward on a different and more civilized path.

VIETNAM

Vietnam is a country where communism has  dominated for more than half a century in the North and close to 40 years in the South. The Vietnamese people were and are still being deceived. Countless generations have and are still living in the lies.

Yes, if I ask myself and countless other young friends who are sitting here and now in this church, I believe that many among us will say that we haven’t read the true history as documented on Internet webpages; if the younger generations don’t get to read books such as Vũ Thư Hiên’s “Night at Noon”, Tô Hải’s “Diary of a Coward”, journalist Huy Đức’s “The Winning Side” and Trần Đĩnh’s “Spinning Lamps”; if today’s younger generations don’t have the opportunity to hear from the generations of their fathers and grandfathers; if the younger generations  don’t get to listen carefully to what the people who worked deep inside the system have to tell them, then there will be many young people, myself included, who have been and are still being lied to on so many things.

We were lied to on a so-called April 30, 1975 victory. If we don’t know the truth, people would still believe that the people in the South were miserable and starving , that the puppet regime colluded with the American Imperialists to oppress and exploit the people to the bone. People of North Vietnam, please do what you can to liberate the people in the South…

If the people can’t access the news sources from the “left sidewalk” but must read, listen and see what the party allows them to read, listen and see, they would still believe that Vietnam still own all of the Paracels Islands and the Spratley Islands. The truth is they let China annex most of these islands. People still believe that the boundaries of our country stretch from the Nam Quan Gate to the Ca Mau Point. The truth is the Nam Quan Gate is no longer ours. And they have let Red China control thousands of square kilometers of land at our northern borders under 50-year and longer leases.

And if we don’t do some research, if we don’t look around far and wide and check out the neighboring countries, the Western countries, many among us would still be deceived. We would continue to believe that Capitalism is on its death throes. We would still think that Capitalism is cruel. We would be certain that the capitalists are exploiting the workers mercilessly, just as one squeezes and then discards a lemon. And above all, we would never doubt that  Socialism is the highest achievement of the human intellect, is science, is progress…

Respected Elders, Brothers and Sisters,

Perhaps many of our brothers and sisters now sitting here and I did know, and weren’t fooled by communist propaganda. Perhaps many of our brothers and sisters and I aren’t the victims of their lies. But it is very likely, yes, very likely, that we have become people who allowed the lies and the deceptions to enter in our thoughts and actions. We live in a society founded on lies and deceptions, it is possible that these lies and deception will influence us. We see the proliferation of diplomas granted without any studying done, we see the counterfeit goods and the sale of counterfeit goods…Anywhere we look, we see fakes and counterfeits.

A society build on lies and treachery will create treacherous citizens and liars. Musician Tô Hải in his book “Diaries of a Coward” wrote: “Me, you, him,  all of you, all of them …we all pretend to work when we don’t, we lie when we speak, we lie when we praise, and from top to bottom we told ourselves: don’t call them lies what we do, don’t call them lies what we say!” Or consider colonel and writer Nguyễn Khải who stated in his essay “ In Search of My Lost Self”:  “The communists lie as a matter of course whenever they open their mouth. They lie stubbornly. They lie shamelessly. They never tremble as they spout lies after lies. The people, because they just want to survive, have to follow suit and must lie like the communists.”

Respected Elders, Brothers and Sisters,

Our Lord Jesus is the truth, he came to bear witness to the truth and whoever is with the truth shall hear him. Today, our Lord Jesus cautions us: Take heed that ye be not deceived.”

Don’t let others deceive you and then go on living in deception. Don’t let deception into your thoughts and actions and thus become a deceiver of others. Don’t do the above, and you will start living the watchful and awake life our Lord Jesus invited us to live today.

The next step in a watchful life that our Lord Jesus invites us to take is: “Don’t be afraid!”

Our Lord Jesus warned: “But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to councils, and in theirs synagogues they will scourge you; yea and before governors and kings shall ye be brought for my sake, for a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, be not anxious how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you.”

Many fears pervade our life. Among these are the fear that comes with the threats, the arrests, the repressions, and the imprisonments that the strong and powerful, the ones with the weapons may inflict on us.

Communist regimes everywhere use a same tactic: make the people live in fear. They use the people to spy on the people. They use families to spy on families. As a result, faith in humanity is lost. Everyone suspect the others. Everyone fears and the fear is so great that everyone will start doing everything surreptitiously, even if what is being done is a good deed.

The government creates fear in the heart of the people through force and prisons. The people end up listening to and doing only the things government want,  even when their conscience inform them that these things are immoral and contrary to their faith.

The situation I just described happened to our society in the past. But it still happens today. The state uses the people to spy on each other. The state uses idle people to follow and track dissidents…The state uses methods such as economic take down, family harassment, psychological and physical torture, beatings administered by hoodlums, and arrest and imprisonment to create fear.  The state creates fear in the heart of dissidents and moderates – the people who wish to peacefully engage in the struggle for freedom, democracy, justice, pluralism, and a multi-party political system for Vietnam.

The government frightens the people so much that there are those who dare not utter the word “politics”, let alone discuss political matters. Words such as democracy, human rights, pluralism and multi-party political system…have become taboo words. They became words to be avoided solely for one and only one reason: fear and more fear.

The entire country is now afraid of the truth, so afraid that no one dares join up with others to speak up for the poor who have been pushed into the margins of society and subjected to countless acts of injustice. Just before this Mass started, Mass Father Thoại mentioned some typical cases: journalist Trương Minh Đức, teacher Phạm Minh Hoàng, people who have been beaten and threatened, and even the General Consul of France who had a chokehold placed on his neck…to frighten him.

The questionable trials of Mr. Hồ Duy Hải, the upcoming trial on December 12 of Mrs. Bùi Minh Hằng, or the uproar of public opinion regarding the unjust jail sentences handed out to MM. Đặng Xuân Diệu and Hồ Đức Hòa, lawyer Lê Quốc Quân, Ms. Tạ Phong Tần, Mr. Trần Huỳnh Duy Thức…these are just some of the examples of how the government creates fear among the people. There are many more…

Yes, many people know what is happening to the country and they have spoken up about its problems. They have done so moderately and aiming to promote freedom, democracy and human rights – all the good things that Vietnam need – and yet they have been arrested and jailed for decades. Yes, the people know, but the people are afraid! The people are afraid of the government. The people are so afraid of the government they don’t dare to speak up, don’t dare to give voice to their conscience and their sense of right and wrong, don’t dare to connect and ally with their brothers and sisters.

Respected Elders,  Brothers and Sisters,

Today on this First Sunday of Advent, Our Lord Jesus said this to reassure us: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Our Lord also told us and all devoted people of goodwill: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

We thank Jesus our Lord because with each passing day more and more people have overcome, or are overcoming their fear to publicly express their opinions on social issues in Vietnam. These people have been and are ready to accept the harassment, the beatings, the repressions, and the prisons sentences that the government has reserved for them, so as to be able to speak up, to say what their conscience informed and dictated to them.

We thank God because countless generations ago we had ancestors who were the Vietnamese martyrs who remained true to the Faith that was revealed to them, who refused to part with their beliefs even in the hardest of times, even when they were arrested, even when they were imprisoned, and even when they were killed. They overcame fear to bear witness to their Faith, the true Faith that they had received.

Respected Elders,  Brothers and Sisters,

Today is the last day of the month that the Holy Church asks us, her children, to remember and pray for those who preceded us and who had passed away. Here and now, I would like to recall for and with you all Father Joseph Vũ Ngọc Bích and seminarian Marcel Nguyễn Tấn Văn, both of whom were members of our Order. In 1954, as  millions of people from the North fled to the South, Father Vũ Ngọc Bích and Seminarian Marcel Văn courageously volunteered to return to the North from the South.

Father Joseph Vũ Ngọc Bích suffered silently and enormously to hold on to the Church Of Our Lady of Mercy, a facility owned by the Redemptorist Church, and that is the reason why today the Church still has an establishment in Hanoi.

Concerning seminarian Marcel Nguyễn Tấn Văn, just after he got to Hanoi, he once happened to overhear on a street some people discussing South Vietnamese society. Realizing that what he heard was not true, he approached these people and said to them: “What you just said is not true. I lived there. I just came from there and so I know the South well.” It is not that seminarian Marcel Văn didn’t know the dangers that waited for him when he spoke these words, but he overcame his fear to bear witness to the truth. Seminarian Marcel Văn was arrested and taken away. He died in the Yên Bình prison in Yên Báy province in 1959.

Respected Elders,  Brothers and Sisters,

Today on the first Sunday of Advent, as we pray for Justice and Peace in our country, we must remember the words our Lord had for us: watch, be awake! We must watch, we must be awake, because the created world is limited, and the day will come when each one us will meet our true master who is God in Heaven.

When our Lord Jesus call upon us to watch, to be awake, what he wants us to do is to be careful, to let no one deceive us, to avoid falling into a state where what is bad is seen as good, what is fake is seen as  real, and what is false is seen as true. God our Lord in Heaven is the Truth, and He invites us to walk on the path of the Truth.

We are asked “to be not afraid”. Fear not those who can only kill our bodies but not our souls. Do stand up straight with our head high raised high, because our life and death are in the hands of our Lord in Heaven. For only Him is our judge. Do live courageously according to our Faith and the values within the Good News. Don’t let fear turn us into people who are indifferent to the suffering of our brothers and our sisters, and uncaring about the fate of our country. And don’t let fear turn us into people who have lost the conscience that our Lord in Heaven –  our Creator – has endowed us with.

Let’s us pray that our Lord Jesus, He who reminded us that we must watch and be awake, please O Lord grant us the wisdom and the courage to overcome fear so that we may live in truth, so that we may bear witness to the truth in the society in which we are now living. Amen!

Father Giuse Nguyễn Văn Toản, Redemptorist Church

December 1, 2014