Memorial of Saint Andrew Dung-Lac, Priest, and Companions, Martyrs
(Revelation 14-14-19; Luke 21:5-11)
For more than five hundred years until 1963 whenever a new pope was crowned, he would be dramatically reminded of the closeness of death. As he proceeded from the sacristy of St. Peter’s Basilica, the master of ceremonies would kneel before him with rapidly burning flax. The master would then say, “Sic transit gloria mundi” (“there goes the glory of the world”). The pope was being reminded that, like the flax, his time is short. Despite having the highest position in the Church, he too will die and face judgment for his sins.
As this month of the dead wanes, we receive strong reminders of death’s inevitability in today’s mass readings. Revelation reminds us that the world’s inhabitants can die and be judged in an instant. In the gospel Jesus tells the people not to be overly impressed by the temple’s beauty. He says that it will fall along with many people. The lesson of these readings, like the message to new popes, is that we are to trust in God, not in humans. If death is to be overcome, it will be by the Creator’s power, not by any human one.
The many martyrs of Vietnam testified to their faith in God with their lives. Between 1820 and 1880 between 100,000 and 300,000 Catholics in the country either were killed or suffered great hardship. Today’s feast recalls 117 of these whose cases are documented and who were canonized by Pope St. John XXIII. They should not be seen as foreign, much less as exotic. Rather, they are our partners whispering into our ears not to forget that we too will die.