Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Prisoner for Christ: One Cardinal Learns God's Peace in His Darkest Hour II

The irony of Divine Providence is that the Lord sometimes calls us to renounce the work he has called us to. He will inspire the zeal, guarantee success and then let the floor drop out from underneath us. After the dust settles, it would seem all lost. To be sure, God pushes us to the brink. But it is in this hour of darkness that purification reaches the depths of the soul. We are forced to answer the same question Jesus asked of St. Peter: Do you love me more than these? Being given the opportunity to love God for his own sake- and not for any delight we take in his gifts -makes us worthy servants of his. It prepares us for great achievements.

This opportunity was given to Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan when something happen. A light pierced the darkness and this light was the key to his peace and happiness even in the Vietnam prison.

This prisoner for Christ tells us the turning point from which he began to see the grim and inhospitable conditions in a new light. The following extracts were taken from an address he gave at a religious education conference in Los Angeles just before his death in 2002. The theme of his talk was Experiencing God's Liberating Power.

In his own words:

"Alone in my prison cell, I continued to be tormented by the fact that I was forty-eight years old, in the prime of my life, that I had worked for eight years as a bishop and gained so much pastoral experience and there I was isolated, inactive and far from my people.

One night, from the depths of my heart I could hear a voice advising me:

'Why torment yourself? You must discern between God and the works of God - everything you have done and desire to continue to do, pastoral visits, training seminarians, sisters and members of religious orders, building schools, evangelizing non-Christians. All of that is excellent work, the work of God but it is not God! If God wants you to give it all up and put the work into his hands, do it and trust him. God will do the work infinitely better than you; he will entrust the work to others who are more able than you. You have only to choose God and not the works of God!'

It is true. All prisoners, myself included, constantly wait to be let go. I decided then and there that my captivity would not be merely a time of resignation but a turning point in my life. I decided I would not wait. I would live the present moment and fill it with love. For if I wait, the things I wait for will never happen. The only thing that I can be sure of is that I am going to die. No, I will not spend time waiting. I will live the present moment and fill it with love.

This light totally changed my way of thinking. When the Communists put me in the hold of the boat, the Hai-Phong, along with 1500 other prisoners and moved us to the North, I said to myself, 'Here is my cathedral, here are the people God has given me to care for, here is my mission: to ensure the presence of God among these, my despairing, miserable brothers. It is God's will that I am here. I accept his will.' And from that minute onwards, a new peace filled my heart and stayed with me for thirteen years."

To continue, please read: A Prisoner for Christ: Lessons for the Unemployed