A few years ago the Vietnamese Cardinal Joseph Xavier van Thuan died in Rome, exiled from his homeland. Everyone who knew him during the last year of his life was impressed by his interior peace and joy. He was someone who had found Christ’s peace, the stability that comes from discovering and clinging to the deeper truths.
Before his exile he was serving as Archbishop of Saigon. After the Vietnam War, when communists took over both North and South Vietnam, he was arrested by the communist authorities. He spent the next 13 years in prison, as the communists tried unsuccessfully to destroy the Catholic Church in that country.
Nine of those years were spent in solitary confinement, in gruesome conditions and horrible privations.
At first, the authorities decided to have only two guards watch over the Archbishop, so as not to risk contaminating too many young soldiers with the Archbishop’s Catholic ideas. But after a month, the Archbishop had made friends with both of them and taught them some Christian hymns and prayers.
The officials were forced to rotate guards every week in order to avoid such embarrassing conversions. But the rotation strategy backfired. The holy bishop radiated Christ’s goodness so powerfully, even in the midst of his emotional and physical suffering, that he would win over his guards without even trying, sparking their curiosity and interest in his “secret”—that is, his faith.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid…Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.”
We see in this holy man great spiritual stability. A real security in Jesus’ promises even though he was made to face great hardship and suffering. We long for that kind of security. It’s like Jesus asleep in the boat while the storm rages. We’d be more like the disciples, panicked and filled with fear, predicting that they would all die.
But what is it that Jesus promised? He promised that he would be with us always—that he would send the Holy Spirit to guide us. And that we would need to remind ourselves of this promise.
If we are not careful, we allow fears to overwhelm us. It’s not hard for that to happen. But somewhere along the way, he can hopefully catch us. Our goal is to find our joy in Christ. At another place in John’s Gospel he writes: “I have told you this that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.”
That’s our goal, to find that when we have Christ and we express our thanks to him and our willingness to trust in him, we have our joy. This is what makes us happy—this is what gives us the peace that will last, not of the world but of Jesus himself.