Early in my “Catholic Career” (I became a Catholic in my late teens) I was given a book by my spiritual director that changed my life. Its ‘The Book’ – the spiritual work that every now and then you need to flick through to set you back on track when you’ve gone off on a tangent.
You see I’m a ‘do-er’. The kind of person that can’t sit still. That constantly needs to be challenged. To have something going on. To see a need and do something about it. That kind of thing. There is always something to do.
“It is true, Jesus is a demanding friend who sets high goals…” – John Paul II, World Youth Day 1997.
I get so busy with God’s works that I need to be reminded to slow down and spend some time with Him and remember why and who I am doing this for.
Francis Xavier Nguyen van Thuan was the answer to that prayer. His short book Five Loaves and Two Fish is ‘The Book’.
Francis Xavier Nguyen van Thuan was a Vietnamese bishop who was imprisoned by the communist government for thirteen years, nine in solitary confinement. While in prison he wrote and smuggled out messages to his people on scraps of paper. These messages were copied by hand and circulated within the Vietnamese community, and later turned into the book The Road of Hope. He went on to do many great things, such as lead retreats for John Paul II and chair the Pontifical Council for the Laity.
Five Loaves and Two Fish are seven short chapters/meditations covering the seven key parts of Nguyen van Thuan’s rule for life and how he got through his time in prison and solitary confinement. They all relate to JPII’s message for World Youth Day 1997.
Nguyen van Thuan was a busy bishop. He was building his seminaries, forming his priests, developing movements, pastoral visits, missions and more . Then suddenly he was arrested and it all stopped. Totally. He was alone, with only insects, in a small dark room, for years.
We often get involved in ‘doing’ things. We want things to go our way. We want things to change. And when they don’t go our way we get discouraged or upset. We see many people who work for and in the church who can become discouraged, wrapped up in politics or bitter about things that need changing.
In the frustrations of solitary confinement, Francis heard Jesus say to him:
“I am the one you are following, not my work! If I so desire, you will hand over to me the task given you. It matters little who takes your place; it is my affair. You have to choose Me!”
When you get distracted by works (as I can be guilty of), ask yourself as Francis Xavier Nguyen van Thuan did:
“Lord, am I working only for you?Are you always the essential motive of all I do?I would be ashamed to admit that there are other, stronger motives”
Like the little boy who offered his five loaves and two fish (John 6:5-11), confidently offer everything into the hands of Jesus. Jesus accomplished “God’s works”, feeding 5000 men, plus women and children.
Everything for the glory of God. Ad maiorem Dei gloriam.