In reading today, Jesus said, “If a grain of wheat falls to the ground and does not die, it remains just a grain of wheat. However, if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (Jn 12:24). This leads me to share with you a story, which touched my heart and it was a topic for my meditation many times. After 1945 in the north and 1975 in the south, Many Vietnamese men and women religious, seminarians and priests were put in prisons because they were Christians. Some Christians, seminarians, religious and priests had a chance to go out or stay in Vietnam. Go or stay? It was a painful and big discernment. Going would mean freedom and a continuation for religious life. Staying seemed like no future. It would a suffering with the nation; it would be a prison, suffering life and thousands of other challenges.
While the new government killed some priests, and put others into prisons, they also pushed thousands Christians and other Vietnamese people together with their family into forests where they had to cut down trees to build their shacks and make forests became their fields, their new home land, because their own houses, home land were occupied by the new government. In those forests, there was no light, no water, no school, no hospital, no church, and no other common things for a common life. It was a new land of communist system, which did not have even a single place for religious and priests. In addition, people there, still were pressured by strict new government policies.
Among those people in one of those mountains, there was a single middle age man. He worked hard like other people. He had a nice but simple roof. However, he was different from other men. He had no wife, no children, no ID, and very simple things which he carried with him when he arrived among other people to that mountain. He was a gentle and silent man. His garden was always green with vegetables and much fruit. His field produced much grain, but he never sold them for money as others. He brought them to the poorer families. He asked people to come to his garden to get food when they needed. He spent his free time helping others to cut trees or build their houses. No one knew who he was, where he came from, or how his family was, and for his safety, no one asked him about these things. They knew that he seemed to be their stability in this hard life. Every morning, when they passed by his house on the way to their fields, they needed to see his gentle look, see him quietly working in peace. Those brought them more energy and peace. In the afternoon, when they returned home from forests or fields, they often saw him in front of his house. He looked at them in silence. They sometimes saw his gentle smiles to them. It seemed like he was as a good shepherd, who counts his flock before a day ends. Police were confused by him, but they had no reason to take him away from that mountain. Christians believed he was a priest who was hiding himself to be with them.
One afternoon, there was a group of four religious and priests disguised as tourists to hide from the police, but their true purpose was visiting this man to find out who he was. One sister asked him “are you a priest?” His answer was only a very gentle smile on his peaceful face. In that moment both he and the people in the group understood he was truly a priest who had chosen to stay with his flock. However, it was the first time meeting and for his safety and peoples’ safety, no more questions were asked, and they knew, if they did ask, the answer would still be a smile. Later, they found out who he was and which diocese he belonged to.
His image and picture stayed in my mind as I prayed. His smile and face were gentle as a light and fresh wind on that mountain, which brought a silent blessing and peace for people there. He had chosen to stay with his flock. To choose this, he knew he could not celebrate mass at the altar in the church. He could not have chances to give sacraments for his people. However, his life became a long Eucharist celebration on that mountain. In his Eucharist, there was no wine, no bread, no music, no song, no liturgy to consecrate the gift. However, his field became his altar, the mountain was his sanctuary, and the universe was his church. From that high place, he celebrated the Eucharist every day by his life. His sweat flowed out as drops of wine to be consecrated to be the blood of Christ. His blisters burned on his hand were a gift of bread. The natural wind blowing over that mountain was as music and hymns for his liturgy. The leaves danced in forests around to sing with the universe for his Eucharist, and the sun set light on that side of the mountain to bless and consecrate his gift to become blessing and peace for the world. How beautiful and meaningful his life was!
How about us? What do we choose in our daily things? Does our choosing express our love, our beauty of our hearts? Does our choosing express God’s love, God’s mercy and God’s care? Do we die to our selfish way so God can grow in and through us? Do we make our faith to be our living way? Are we grateful for God to be with us in the Eucharist? And are we happy because God in this world? Are we happy to welcome God into our house and our life through communion and living peacefully with others? They are invitations of Jesus Christ, dying to ourselves so God can grow in and through us in this world.