St. Paul Le-Bao-Tinh and Pope John Paul II

Today is the memorial of St. Andrew Dung-Lac and his companions, all martyrs for the faith during the 19th century in Vietman.  There were 117 of them canonized together by Pope John Paul II in 1988. Sixty-four had been beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1900, eight in 1906 and twenty in 1909 by Pope St. Pius X, and twenty-five in 1951 by Pope Pius XII.

In recent days, it has also been publicized that Pope John Paul II would scourge himself occasionally as part of his spiritual discipline. This of course will be completely misunderstood by many and others may hear of this and  imprudently and harmfully want to begin doing the same.

What do the two have to do with one another?

Here is my take on it.

I would begin by offering a quote, translated from my Italian text, of a letter written by St. Paul Le-Bao-Tinh, one of the martyrs, who wrote of the tortures endured and witnessed in prison.

“In the midst of these torments, which usually bend and break others, by the grace of God I am full of joy and happiness, because I am not alone, but Christ is with me. He, my teacher, sustains the whole weight of the cross, burdening me but with a little and ultimate part: He himself does battle for me, not just as a spectator of my struggles; He the victor and perfecter of every battle. On his head is the splendid crown of victory, in which the members of his body also share.”  (Bold print mine)

I am no mystic, nor am I a spiritual director.  Even more so, I have no real idea what is in someone’s mind and heart. But here is my guess.  Just as St. Paul Le-Bao-Tinh endured his suffering, so too did John Paul suffer with and in the presence of Christ, bringing him into union with Christ who carried all of the burdens and endured all the torments and rendered joyful the weight of the papacy.

Such extreme self-mortification is not done to create pain.  It is not done to beat oneself into conformity. It is not done in self-loathing, nor out of rejection of who one is. It is done, I believe, to allow Jesus Christ to enter our lives and sustain us in the burdens we endure. It is only healthfully done by those select few, and they are very few, whom God calls to unite themselves to him in this manner.

It is a form of martyrdom.

So don’t go out and scourge yourself. St. Paul Le-Bao-Tinh, St. Andrew Dung-Lac and the other Vietnamese martyrs didn’t go out looking for martyrdom. Seeking death for death’s sake, or physical pain for pain’s sake is not spiritually or mentally healthy. 

Remember, God does the calling and we do the responding. We discern our call by prayer, and seeking out wise counsel of others to which we listen.

Only when God calls do you respond. Let us pray none of us will have to face the martyrdom of St. Paul Le-Bao-Tinh, St. Andrew Dung-Lac and companions. Let’s hope we are not called to follow Christ as was John Paul II. But let us pray that should the call be ours, we respond.

About Deacon Bob

Moderator: Deacon Bob Yerhot of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota.
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