We Learn To Let Go – Fr. Viet Nguyen

Fr. Viet Nguyen’s Homily September 11, 2021

“In religion class a teacher told me, ‘There’s two questions that you will continue to ask yourselves throughout your whole life, two fundamental questions in our lives for when you’re a high schooler, grade schooler up until really your death.’ These two questions are who am I and what am I here to do? Really condensing those two would be what is your identity and your mission? What is my identity and what is my mission? Today, Jesus asks his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ What are people saying about me? Don’t we often do that? We look, we look outside of us to see who are we? A lot of it is social media, it’s posting ourselves, but also seeing people’s reactions and rely on that, but no Christ is saying, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ For that is most important. Who do you say that I am? Peter says, ‘You are the Christ.’ and there’s no way he can know this without the grace of God. How do we know that Jesus is the Christ in our life? I think if I asked all of you and even the kids in catechesis they can say that Jesus is the Christ intellectually, but belief and knowledge isn’t just intellectual knowledge. True knowledge comes from your intellect but also from experience from the heart. That’s why when we pray we pray with our mind and our heart and lift it up to God not just one or the other, so we might know Christ intellectually, but have you come to believe that Jesus is the Christ of your life?

I’d like to share with you I guess my experience of how I’ve come to know Jesus as Christ in my own life. I find everyone will struggle with their identity in their life. Everyone will that’s why they’re fundamental questions. It’s until you find your identity then you will find your mission and you’ll have the peace of Christ. The world has it backwards. They say what you do is who you are, so we’re always looking to do things trying to find ourselves. We’re seeking, but no it’s when you find your identity your mission will flow from that and I’ve found that and I want to share that with you.

I struggled with my identity especially because I’m a first generation Vietnamese American. My parents are refugees from Vietnam and so they came here. I grew up in Kansas City, MO. My family was fortunate enough to move to the Kansas side and send me to Cure of Ars. I grew up in two worlds. At Cure of Ars my family and cousins we were the only Asians I really feel like the church, the school, so everyone knew that’s the family right here. I would go to grade school at Cure of Ars during the week, but on the weekends we would cross State Line and we would go to the Vietnamese church because there was a Vietnamese Catholic church actually where my dad is a permanent deacon today and so then I would go to Mass at this Vietnamese church with all the Vietnamese people and the Vietnamese language and in some ways I was living these two worlds. One you could say I was living in Missouri and Kansas. In high school I drove down State Line. I would drive to school in Missouri, but drive home in Kansas, but I was also living in these two worlds of am I American? What does it mean to be American? Or am I Vietnamese? In some ways there were parts of my life where I wanted to be American. I wanted to be like everyone else, but then being in America I was in some ways more proud to be Vietnamese because I could see the values that the Asian cultures have that is geared more towards community and family and elder respect and so parts of my life that I identified as one or the other, but there was always this tension of who am I? Who am I? Until I was in seminary and they sent me to Vietnam for the first time in my life. When I got there it felt like home. It felt just like home, the smells, the sounds, the language, the people, it felt like home. I was used to it, but the interesting thing was as I was there I could see okay, I could see the resemblance it feels kind of like home, but then for the first time in my life I was like, I’m proud to be an American. There was a sense of appreciation of the American values, the sense of independence, freedom, things like that and so once again it had in my mind and I think in all of our minds it has to be one or the other again this all or nothing, but it didn’t work. There is that tension there isn’t there? That tension, until I let go. What I realized through prayer and through Christ is that who I was wasn’t American or Vietnamese. I was a child of God and how I found that was by going through the struggles. Today Christ says, ‘The son of man must suffer and anyone who wants to follow him must carry his cross and follow after me.’ I think in the culture today the value is to avoid all suffering and discomfort at all cost and to seek comfort at all cost. That’s not how we grow. That’s not even the biblical message. The biblical message is carry your cross and follow after me and that’s where Peter after proclaiming that this is Christ he kind of in his own sinfulness he says, ‘No you can’t, you can’t suffer.’ Christ is calling us to transcend that. What I’ve found is that in that struggle, in that tension of life and sometimes we even have it with our own sinfulness as well as our own goodness that we are good, we are children of God. We struggle with that tension in our hearts, but when I identified as when I started to look at my true identity comes from Christ I saw things more clearly. Everything I appreciated in American culture really stemmed in the Catholic faith. Everything I appreciated from the Vietnamese culture was actually stemmed in the Catholic faith. The beauty of the Catholic faith and the beauty about Christ, He doesn’t destroy. The faith can go into any culture and actually help purify it. It doesn’t take away. It doesn’t destroy. It purifies and so even with my own tension of my own sinfulness and of my own goodness, identifying Christ to see that it purifies me it doesn’t destroy any part of me. It’s in going through our own suffering, our own struggles that we learn to let go. The whole part of the spiritual life is not so much about achievements of gaining of things, but detachment of letting go. St. Paul continues to talk about you know, when I’m weakest I’m strongest. It’s in dying to myself that Christ rises within me and so we know that Jesus is the Christ, but to believe it don’t be afraid to carry your cross each day for your sacrifices are not wasted. They never are. Your sacrifices when you conform them to the one sacrifice of the Mass, this is why Mass is so important, then it transforms our sacrifices to something much greater, then we’re letting Christ into our lives to transform us into the children we are meant to be.

So what are the tensions of your heart? Be not afraid of it. Wrestle with it, but don’t do it alone. Invite the Lord into that struggle to let it transform you. So as you come to receive the Lord today where Christ is truly present before you in the Eucharist, can we say that this Christ in the Eucharist that’s Jesus the Christ, the saving God as Peter did knowing that our sufferings are with Him to transform our lives? Amen.”