How to be holy according to Cardinal Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan

A straight line is made of millions of little points. Likewise, a lifetime consists of millions of seconds and minutes joined together.

If every single point along the line is rightly set, the line will be straight. If every minute of a life is good, that life will be holy.

Cardinal Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan – Road to Hope

He was arrested in 1975, two months before I was born. When he was free again then Archbishop Coajutor of Saigon (the capital city of Vietnam) had been wrongly imprisoned for 13 years, nine of them in solitary confinement. But at the beginning he made a decision to try to fill every moment of his captivity with grace.

It was a turning point in his life and ultimately set him on the path to sainthood. When he was called into the President’s Palace in Saigon and arrested, Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan knew that it was the end of his life as he had known it.

He said:

From the very first moment of my arrest, the words of Bishop John Walsh, who had been imprisoned for 12 years in Communist China, came to my mind.

On the day of his liberation Bishop Walsh said, “I have spent half my life waiting”.

It is true. All prisoners, myself included, constantly wait to be let go.

I decided then and there that my captivity would not be merely a time of resignation but a turning point in my life.

I decided I would not wait. I would live the present moment and fill it with love. For if I wait, the things I wait for will never happen. The only thing that I can be sure of is that I am going to die.”

Wow, I am pretty sure that wouldn’t have been my reaction if it had been me who knew I was going to be left to rot in prison because of my commitment to the Church and the fact that I happened to be related to the country’s first president.

I’ve never been arrested or imprisoned, but haven’t I also spent half my life waiting? Waiting for things to be better, brighter, more exciting, more fulfilling?

Have I been living as though I was imprisoned in my life? Not really free?

Unfortunately yes, I have to say.

Yes, I must say, I have wasted millions of minutes in which I could have filled with love and didn’t. What have I been waiting for? What have I ever really needed that I haven’t been given?

God from his perspective in eternity must see a wide and varied splatter-pattern in moments around the holy mean of my life! I don’t have a straight line to show yet. But I’m so grateful for Lent!

This Lent, like every Lent, I’m inclined to reflect on these words:

“Abide in me, and I will abide in you. Just as the branch cannot produce fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”

If I have lived a useless life, I’m only a moment away from beginning (again!) to abide in  a full, and fruitful and holy one.

To become holy I only have to fill one minute with something good, true, loving, or kind.

I can do anything for one minute! I can be good for sixty seconds. I’ve done it heaps of times.

I just have to keep doing it, one minute at a time.

The cardinal, while he was in prison, wrote himself a little Bible from memory out of scraps of paper, and a book of prayers, Prayers of Hope. He also made a small crucifix out of some wood and wire that some guards smuggled in to him. He wore this crucifix until the end of his life.

Officially, he is already a Servant of God, meaning that his cause for cannonisation has been opened.

I feel that I know his story quite well, only because I wrote about his life once, and met his sister, Anne. I also went to her house in Sydney one time when the cardinal came on a visit, I think in 2003. Alas, I didn’t stay for long, and I really should have –  I knew I was in the presence of a saint! The cause for his beatification was opened by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007.

If you have some spare reading-for-inspiration time, I can recommend the late cardinal’s Ten Rules of Life.

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