After Caleb's death
Homily following the death of Caleb Van Tuong Nguyen
By Paul Pang, C.Ss.R.*
This morning, as the darkness of night receded at the break of day, our brother Van Tuong Nguyen returned to his Creator. He is now with Jesus, Light and the Life of the world.
Van had come to believe in Jesus as his Lord and Redeemer. He believed too the words of Jesus spoken to Nicodemus who came from out of the darkness into the light:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal lifeJn 3:16
When Van was baptized through water and the Holy Spirit (Jn 3:3) he took the name Caleb. The Book of Numbers, tells us about a group of spies Moses sent to explore Canaan, the land God promised he would give to the people of Israel. They came back with glowing reports of a bountiful land flowing with milk and honey. But they were fearful of the people who occupied the land. They were powerful giants and the Israelites seemed like grasshoppers compared to them.
The people doubted God’s promise; they rebelled against God and treated him with contempt. They were for turning back. But Caleb, with invincible faith in God’s promise, silenced them in the presence of Moses with his courageous words: “We must march in immediately and take it; we are certainly able to conquer it.”
Even before today, through faith, our brother Caleb Van, had reconnoitered the Promised Land, not of Canaan but of Heaven. Because he had seen Heaven with the eyes of faith, he was full of joy and he was ready and even eager to meet Jesus. He believed, as the folk hymn tells us, that he had a home in Glory Land that outshone the sun. He believed in the promise of Jesus:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.Jn 14:1-3
The people of Israel, wandering in the desert, rather than face the challenge of fighting their way into the Promised Land, wanted to return to the security of being slaves in Egypt. We struggle with similar alternatives: do we cling on to the securities of this life or place our hope in Jesus’ promise of a deeper life.
Caleb Van, by his faith and courage in the face of death, like the biblical Caleb after whom his is named, is urging us not to be afraid to enter into this deeper life. It is as if he is saying to us:
Do not be afraid. Nothing can prevent you from entering our Promised Land, not the temptations, not the evil influences which surround you on every side, not the false values of this world, not your weakness, not even your sins. If you believe, you are more than conquerors through him who loves you mercifully.
Today we mourn and we rejoice for Caleb. It is a mystery of our faith that we can mourn and rejoice at the same time. We mourn because we are flesh and blood. Kim, Khoa and Bae, we mourn with you and share your grief.
But Kim, no one can fully feel with you your sorrow, because you are Caleb Van’s mother; no one, except another mother, Mary, mother of Jesus, who stood beneath the Cross and watched his execution. Kim, go to Mary, who knows your sorrow. Her heart was pierced with a sword. Be assured, she understands your pain.
Mary was willing to surrender her son to death, a death that came to Jesus because he would not let anything come between himself and any person, human or divine. Jesus life, death and resurrection have taken away all that divides. Van’s death also transcends all that divides.
In a very beautiful way, Mary showed her motherly love for Caleb Van. It happened like this: a member of our Prison Ministry, on a visit to the prison last year, held Caleb’s hand and sang the “Ave Maria”. Caleb Van was touched and profoundly moved to believe in Jesus as his Lord and Savior! He wept and asked to be baptized as a Catholic.
In the flesh we mourn, but in the spirit we rejoice! We believe that Jesus has destroyed the last enemy, death (Gal 4:16) by his resurrection. We believe that Caleb Van has passed over with Jesus to the happiness and glory of paradise. We rejoice because in the words of the poet Tagore:
“Death is not extinguishing the light. It is putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.”
Caleb, our brother, may the Lord God shine on you and may you see him face to face for ever and ever. Amen.(cf. Revelation, 22:4-5)