[The readings for this reflection are taken from the option for the Memorial of Saint Andrew Kim Taegon, priest and martyr, and Saint Paul Chong Hasang, catechist and martyr, and their companions, martyrs]
I was once told the following story by a religious sister:
In the 50s, there was a young Jewish boy growing up in NY. He had a bunch of Catholic friends in his neighborhood. Every Saturday, they would have to stop playing for them to go along with their parents to confession. This young boy was sad whenever they would quit their games and would tease his friends about confession, saying it was a waste of time and didn’t mean anything. One day, he decided to prove to them that he was right in his conviction. He biked over to the nearby Catholic church and got in line for confession. When it was his turn, he began to tell the priest elaborate lies of the sins he had committed. The priest, being very wise, knew the kid was fibbing and told him that since he had wanted to experience confession, that he would give the boy a penance. For his penance the boy had to go kneel before the tabernacle, above which hung Jesus on a large, beautiful crucifix. The priest told the boy to kneel there and say ten times to Jesus on the crucifix, “You did this for me…and I don’t care.” The young boy was bewildered but did as he was told. He knelt down in the silent church, looked up, and began to say his penance. He couldn’t say the words more than three times before tears started flowing down his cheeks. Looking up at the Crucified Christ, he was granted the grace of conversion. He eventually began his journey to become a baptized Catholic.
This story illustrates that it is only after a deep, personal encounter with the infinite love of our Lord that we ourselves are moved to love. When we grasp what it means that God “did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all” (Rom 8:32) and that He greatly desires to “give us everything else along with Him” (Rom 8:33), that truth has the power to transform our hearts and lives. Jesus Crucified shows us that there is nothing God will not do for us. Only in response to such a love from which nothing can separate us (Rom 8:35–39) can we ourselves dare to love so selflessly.
This is the very love that filled the lives and deaths of the saints honored today.
Saints Andrew Kim Taegon, the first native Korean priest, Paul Chong Hasang, a layman, and the other Korean martyrs (98 lay people—47 women and 45 men), along with 3 French missionary priests, were canonized by Pope St. John Paul II in 1984. Before he was killed, St. Andrew wrote his fellow Christians: “We have received baptism, entrance into the Church, and the honor of being called Christians. Yet what good will this do us if we are Christians in name only and not in fact?”
Suffering persecutions for their faith was not unfamiliar to these men and women martyrs. The Korean monarchy feared Christianity as a colonizing force and repressed it with several violent persecutions between 1791 and 1866. St. Andrew’s family had converted to Christianity, and his own father, grandfather and uncles were executed when he was a boy. It was around 1777 that a lay Church began, and it wasn’t until a dozen years later that a priest was able to enter Korea secretly, finding there 4,000 Catholics who had never seen a priest.
Picking up their crosses daily was not a figure of speech but a reality (Lk 9: 23–26). But even more real than the sufferings they were undergoing was their love for Christ and their belief in His promise of eternal life. It’s astonishing that even though they had lived all this time without the Sacraments, their faith was tested and found true. I can only imagine the great wonder and joy at their encountering Jesus in the Eucharist for the first time.
While we may not be called in our lifetime to shed our blood for our faith, we can shed our own will to seek God’s, dying to ourselves. We can shed our pride and care for human respect to stand firmly in our identity as beloved of Christ, as His friends and disciples. We can kneel at the feet of the tabernacle before Jesus Crucified, coming to know ever more His deep love for us, and say along with the great cloud of witnesses, “You did this for me…and I love You.”
Through the intercession of these saints of God may we have the courage and strength to always proclaim the victory of Christ Crucified and Resurrected in our lives. May we ask for the grace to love boldly with a martyr’s heart.
Sts. Andrew Kim Taegon, Paul Chong Hasang, and all you holy men and women martyrs of Korea, pray for us!
Spend some extra time before Jesus in Adoration this week, praying to grow deeper in the knowledge of His love for you and asking that He may increase your love for Him. You can also pray for our brothers and sisters who are persecuted for their faith today. Or you can spend some time meditating on the Passion using the Ignatian method to vividly imagine yourself in the scene, asking the Holy Spirit to lead you. To learn more about our saints of the day, read here and here.