My father left Vietnam in 1989 in search of a better life when I was roughly five years old. He left with absolutely nothing but his clothes and a hope for a better life for himself and our family. My mother spent the next five years tending and caring for my sister and me while struggling financially.
Whatever money dad sent from Hong Kong, and consequently from America, went towards caring for me as I was often ill in those younger days. My mother managed, however, to give us a good education and made sure we were to want for nothing. She sacrificed many of her needs for our needs. And in 1994, the three of us joined my father in Iowa through the sponsorship program.
My family’s story, perhaps not as special as others, teaches me an important lesson—a lesson that cannot be taught by the use of words and definitions. The lesson, of course, is the nature of genuine love and what it looks like when lived out.
While my theology instructors taught me what love looked like through stories, they nevertheless cannot show me what this love is. It is not because they are unwilling, but it is because they are unable.
On the other hand, while my father and mother never did teach me the meaning of the word love through story, they did teach me through their actions. No rational person would board onto a fishing boat that has no destination other that a hope to arrive somewhere else safer than home. No rational person would leave the safety and comfort of his home to seek a better life knowing that a majority of those who have done the very same thing have died at sea. No rational person would neglect his own life for the lives of his wife and children.
In the same way, no selfish person would continue to be faithful to a spouse after he had left her without a word of goodbye, or a promise of return. No faithless person would carry on hope after being left with two young children to care for. No selfish person would abandon her health so that her children may be healthy. No selfish person would willingly give up all her possessions to try to save her daughter’s life when it was told that her daughter may die.
Sacrifice and selflessness
Yet, these were my father’s irrationalities and my mother’s selflessness. They were irrationalities caused by intense and immense passion that knew genuine love demands sacrifice. They were irrationalities that sought for goodness for the other, and, in such journey, forsook himself to seek that which is best for those he loves. They were irrationalities that called a man from safety into danger for the sake of those he loves.
And it was my mother’s selflessness that understood how love bears hope in times when hopelessness seems ubiquitous. It was selflessness that strengthens the will to entertain that which is beyond its capability. It was selflessness that understood the greatest gift a person can give is her own life, and to proceeded to do so. In other words, my father’s irrationality and my mother’s selflessness demonstrated the very incarnation of love.
Because of these irrational and selfless actions, I came to better understand the love of Christ and the sacrifice he made. My spiritual life did not become stronger because I was taught what love meant, but because I was shown what love is.
Gospel of life
It is not only because the Gospel was read to me, but because the Gospel was shown to me. It was not the God who judged that moves my heart to Himself, but the God who died who wins my heart with unhesitating love.
For every Catholic who claims the Church as his or her mother, the image of true love brought about through the life and death of Jesus Christ is limned out and charred upon the heart so that we never forget our purposes in life.
This portrait of a special historical event is meant to stir the soul, strengthen faith, and communicate the irrationality of love—a love so intense that an innocent lover willingly lays down his life for all those he loves. Yet, this magnanimous story of love of Christ, no matter how it was taught, never did touch my heart until the day I realized what that love looked like when it is lived out.
(John Huynh, Director of Diocesan “Faith Journey” program & catechetical institute)