2 Maccabees 7
(18-19) Have no vain illusions. We suffer these things on our own account, because we have sinned against our God; that is why such shocking things have happened. Do not think, then, that you will go unpunished for having dared to fight against God.”
These are two of the verses that come later in the seventh chapter of Second Maccabees. We are only reading a very small part of chapter 7 today. This entire chapter is the story of seven sons and their mother. And it presents a theological argument in favor of martyrdom. Each of the seven sons presents a different point:
(1) it is better to die than to break the law
(2) the king may take their lives, but God will raise them up again
(3) the king may dismember them, but God will restore their limbs
(4) they will be restored to life, but the king will not be restored
(5) God will not forsake the people but will torment the tormentor
(6) they are suffering because they have sinned as a people
I will come to number seven in a moment. But through it all, the mother exhorts her sons to remain faithful by reminding them of God’s power to create and to restore life. When the king turns on the youngest son, the mother returns to the theme of God’s creation and re-creation, arguing that if God can make the whole universe and humanity out of nothing, God can also restore life. The last son then sums up all the preceding arguments, adding a new one at the same time:
(7) the martyrs’ deaths play a role in bringing to an end the divine discipline that the people are undergoing.
Martyrdom makes a difference in the life of God’s people. Finally, the mother also becomes a martyr.
It is a gruesome and disturbing story, but the importance for us in our day cannot be underrated. I think we need to look seriously at what some are calling the apostasy of the modern day: the abandonment of following the Catholic faith.
When I listen to the political arguments that are going on around our country, and around our world, I believe that we are seeing the precursors to a persecution of the faith that has not been seen in the history of our country. When I look at the recent history of the church, and all of the abuse issues that are still in the news, I have to say that God is correcting his church.
In the history of Israel, just before the time of the Maccabees, there was a great deal of sin among the people of God, and the falling away from fidelity to how God was calling people to live. There were people who paid a price for that. This mother and her seven sons is but one example. They were people who chose to remain faithful to God. There were parts of the people of God who chose to abandon the historical teachings and lifestyle that was the traditional living out of the Jewish faith.
It is my opinion that we are facing a similar problem now, even though there does not seem to be quite as life threatening of events happening – yet, at least in our country. But that could very easily and rapidly change. There may come a day in the near future when to identify yourself as a Catholic will be a threat to your life. There may come a day when all priests, if they are going to continue to serve, will have to go underground.
Is this inevitable? If you look at the history of the people of God throughout the Bible, both the Old and the New Testament, it would seem to be a foregone conclusion: we are headed for a serious persecution. How long will it be until that comes? I don’t have an answer to that. But there have been warnings of it, and the impending nature of it, for the last three or four decades.
Should we be worried about this? There is no easy answer to that question. Will it be a time of problems for those who are faithful? Yes. Should we be worried about our own salvation? Not if we remain faithful to how God has called us to live!
Last point: note what the sons said would happen to the king. He was overthrown, by the hand of God. And his kingdom did not survive. The lesson in that is very simple. God will use whatever and whomever he needs to in order to accomplish holiness in his people. But, if he needs to use an outside agent, that is outside of the church – that agent needs to be very careful to not become full of pride in thinking that they are the ones who are blessed.
After God is finished correcting his people, he always turned on those he has used to correct his people. And the result is far worse for that agent of correction than for God’s people. The reason for this is because this agent, whether a king or a nation or any other type of organization failed to learn that they were but an instrument of God.
In their pride, they found themselves actually being worse off than God’s people. The same thing is true for the future of our country the way it is going. God will not be mocked forever. God will not allow his people, his church, the bride of Christ, to be ridiculed forever.
Is this the precursor to the end of times, or only a precursor to a new level of holiness that the church will show to the world? This is another question that I do not have an answer to. It is in the hands of God.
But our prayer today needs to be that the church become holy once again. That it regain the truth that God has revealed. That it be a voice for that same truth to a world that does not understand. Even if being that voice means the world tries to silence it. This is the challenge for our generation. It may come to the point where we are treated similarly to the mother and her seven sons.
But God is always faithful. He asks us to be the same.
Jesus, we are in uncertain and confusing times. You are the master of time, for you have made even that. We set before you all of our time. We set before you ourselves. We set before you… Everything. Use us to reveal your glory before the world… Even if that means hard times and persecution.
Help us to make our commitment to your church, to your kingdom, a complete act of our lives. Help us to remove everything from our lives that cannot give you glory and honor and praise. Help us to be what you need us to be in this day, for this church, in this hour, for this world. Amen.
This weekend we are blessing salt for use in the home. There are three sacramentals in the church that have an exorcism attached to them: salt, water, and the St. Benedict medal. Please feel free to take some of the blessed salt home with you at the end of Mass. Blessed salt can even be used in your food. As the holidays are coming up, sprinkle just a little pinch of blessed salt in your food as you would do to spice any food that you make. (Blessing of Salt follows)