| Memorial of Saint Andrew Dung-Lac,
priest and martyr, and his companions, martyrs
Daniel 1:1-6, 8-20
Daniel 3:52, 53,
54, 55, 56
Today we are confronted with three examples of risky—even costly—choices
made by people trying to be faithful to their God. There’s the story from
Daniel about the four Hebrew lads going vegetarian rather than “breaking kosher”
by eating at the Babylonian king’s table. Then there is the widow praised
by Jesus for contributing her two “mites.” Finally, there is the example
of the Vietnamese martyr Andrew Dung Lac and his 116 companions, killed in
the middle 1800s simply for being Catholic in the wrong place and time.
Picked by their captor to be trained as royal servants in the Babylonian
court, Daniel and his buddies chose to abstain from the rich fare offered
them, and to limit themselves to vegetables—all in the name of being faithful
to Israel’s covenant relationship with God. They turned out to be better looking
and stronger than those who went with the full Babylonian menu. The point
of course was not to promote vegetarianism but to show that trusting in God
works out best in the end.
As for the widow contributing her two pennies, you could argue that Jesus
was pointing her out as an example of the exploitation of the poor by the
wealthy, since, in the preceding verse, Jesus had just condemned the scribes
for “devouring” the houses of widows. But, given Jesus congratulation of the
poor and his “woe” to the wealthy in his Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:20-26),
he is more likely praising the woman for her generosity, her willingness to
give out of her poverty “her whole livelihood” (panta ton bion).
Saint Andrew Dung Lac is not a household name for me; so I had to look him
up. He is one of 117 Catholics who were martyred in Hanoi between 1820 and
1862. They were eight bishops, fifty priests, fifty-eight lay people, and
one seminarian. Two dozen of them were expatriates from France and Spain who
cast their lot with the Vietnamese church during these troubled times of
the persecution under Ming-Mang.
In the relative peace and security of life here in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S.A.,
these examples of “keeping kosher,” giving the last penny, and facing persecution
may not seem to challenge us directly. Oddly, though, I find myself challenged
to eating with a little more gratitude and restraint, managing more carefully
the money I am given to use, and living more deliberately the faith that others
have died for.