Today the Church honours the memory of the 117 Martyrs of Vietnam who suffered for their faith in Christ during the 18th and 19th centuries. These martyrs were recognised and beatified in four groups, and the second group beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1906 were all Dominicans – Saint Ignatius Delgado and his Companions – whom we hold in special honour today. The whole group of 117 were canonised together in 1988 by Pope John Paul II.
If you’ve ever seen photos in the newspaper or watched TV coverage of the London Marathon, you will have noticed that by the final lap the runners look exhausted. Their muscles ache and their hearts pound as they drag themselves towards the finish line. This is the moment they have trained for—their goal is within reach. Leaning forward, they lift their heads and strain to cross the line. All their pain fades away in the joy of having finished the race. All the effort and the pain was worth it.
Sometimes life can feel like a race. The Christian life has often been likened to a race, with heaven as our goal. This analogy can help us understand Our Lord’s words in today’s Gospel. Our Lord encourages his disciples not to be afraid when they see the turmoil and troubles that are sure to usher in the end-time. Instead, Our Lord tells them to stand erect and raise their heads because they know that this upheaval is the sign that Our Lord is returning for his people.
Our Lord tells his disciples to adopt a spiritual posture similar to the posture of runners approaching the finish line: totally focused on the goal, unafraid of danger because God is with them. They can see his return, not as an ominous event, but as the fulfilment of everything he has promised.
Like the Martyrs of Vietnam whom we commemorate today, we live in uncertain times. It’s easy to think that the world is careening out of control and descending into chaos. Many people ask, “Where is God in all of this?”
But despite all the grim news, we who believe in Christ can still have great hope. We can respond differently as we raise our heads and stretch towards the finish line. We can rejoice because we know who is waiting for us. We know that God will never abandon us. We must not be afraid, because we are never alone.