As we come together this evening to begin the year of faith formation in our Confirmation program, I think today’s readings and saints really speak to us. The Gospel this evening reminds us that when we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we have the ability, the gift, and the obligation to witness to our faith. We can’t light a lamp and put it under a bushel basket. Who would think to do something like that? No, when we light a lamp we do it for the express intention of giving light to the place we are. The faith is like that. When it’s lit by the Spirit, we don’t hide it; no, we put that faith on a lampstand, we witness to the faith in our words and actions, so that we can light up the darkness of the world around us.
The saints we honor today were like that. Korea was not a Christian nation, but there were and are Christians who wanted to live and witness to their faith there. In the 1800s, Andrew Kim became the first native Korean to become a priest when he traveled 1300 miles to seminary in China. He managed to find his way back into the country six years later. When he returned home, he arranged for more men to travel to China for studies. He was arrested, tortured and finally beheaded.
St. Paul Chong was a lay apostle who was also martyred. During the persecutions of 1839, 1846, 1866 and 1867, 103 members of the Christian community gave their lives for the faith. These included some bishops and priests, but for the most part they were lay people, including men and women, married and unmarried, children, young people and the elderly. They were all canonized by Pope Saint John Paul II during a visit to Korea in 1984.
These men and women gave witness to their faith at great cost. We don’t have that same pressure in our society today; probably none of us will die for professing and witnessing to our faith. But we may have to give up our lives in other ways to do that. We might have to witness to the faith when people around us, people we want to impress, want no part of the faith. We might feel very uncomfortable with the things a person or group are doing, and choosing the right path might make us less popular or even get us “canceled.” But doing the right thing is never the wrong thing to do, and will never give us a moment’s true regret. Living the faith will always lead us to something greater, even if we don’t see that right now.
Saints Andrew Kim Tae-gon, Paul Chong Ha-sang, and their 103 companions did this at the cost of their own lives. Their sacrifice, like the sacrifice of our Lord on the Cross, was a lamp shining in a very dark place. Let us pray for the grace to live our lives with integrity, the grace to live our faith, so that we can be the lamp shining for others.