Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

The first reading for this Sunday is intense. It describes the suffering of some of the martyrs at the time of the Maccabees[1], a group of faithful Jews who refer to the statue of Zeus as the “abominable desecration”. With courage they refused to give in to the emperor’s decrees. Today we hear about these sufferings. It is a shocking account. It is also accurate. However Second Maccabees became on the favorite books of the early Christians. They would choose Christ and his Kingdom rather than give in to the so-called modern yet pagan world of the Roman empire. Like the Jews in Maccabees they also would choose to suffer rather than reject Christianity. And they did suffer. No pain, no fear, not even death could dissuade Peter and Paul, Bartholomew, and Agnes, Agatha, Cecilia, Lucy, Ignatius of Antioch and all the early martyrs[2].

So what does this have to do with us? Unless the United States is conquered by a brutal people determined to persecute and kill all who do not renounce their faith, we are not going to be put in the position of the Hebrew and Christian martyrs. We will not have to make a choice between our faith or torture. But we will still be persecuted. We are persecuted now. People continue to decry our faith and Christian lifestyle. People mock us for our Catholicism. They mocked Jesus, too. Look at the Gospel reading for today. Jesus is being belittled for preaching that there is life after death. The Sadducees are making fun of Jesus. “So, there is life after death, huh?  Well, how could that be? What if a woman had seven husbands, and they all died before her. Whose wife would she be when she died? So there, we’re a lot smarter than you Jesus. We’ve got you backed into a corner.”

Doesn’t this method of argument sound familiar?  “So, you believe in the Trinity, prove it. So you believe in the spiritual, prove it. Tear a body to pieces and see if you can find the soul. Your Catholicism, your Christianity, is just child’s stories.” Jesus did not back down, nor can we. He told them that they had no clue of what heaven was like. He would also suffer being scorned by others for his faith. And, sadly, because so many around us do not respect our faith, respect us as Christians or as Catholics, we are often called to put up with the scorn for the sake of the faith.
For example, you sit down at lunch with work companions or schoolmates, and someone says to you, “You don’t really believe all the Catholic garbage do you? I mean, you can’t really believe that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ?” Or maybe they come up with the stock anti-Catholic bigotry, “You Catholics worship Mary. You have statues in your churches. Aren’t you are really a bunch of idolaters.” Perhaps they lay into our morality, “You don’t really believe that you have to put others before yourselves, do you? Get real, will you. You don’t really believe that certain things belong only in marriage, do you?” my brother, my sister, it takes a lot of courage for us to say, “This is my faith. I am completely convinced in it. I don’t ask you to believe my faith, just to respect me for having it.”

That statement will most likely be followed by one of two things: silence or more scorn. And right here we have the great fear that confronts us. Our great fear is not torture or death. Our great fear is that we won’t fit in, that people won’t accept us, that people won’t like us because of our faith. Look, we have been and will be belittled for our faith. We are being mocked right now for our faith. The mockery of the world fits the pattern of attacks on religion and morality. We have chosen to be holy. Holiness means to be set aside, separate for God. We have chosen to be different from those elements of our society that exalts in what is basically a pagan lifestyle.  These people can’t stand our holiness. Evil will always attack good. In fact, when we are attacked for what we believe or how we live our Christianity, then we know that we are doing something very right: we are giving witness to the Kingdom. But we are afraid. We are afraid that we are not fitting in. We fear not being accepted even though we freely choose Christ.

My brother, my sister, we cannot be afraid of what others are thinking about us. Our only fear should be the fear that we cave into the world and reject Christ, or in any way push Him aside. Again, with St. Paul, we pray, May the Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God the Father who loves us and gives us everlasting encouragement and hope, fortify our hearts and strengthen us.

You and I are called to be holy. You and I are made for worship. And we cannot allow anything the world throws at us to keep us from Jesus Christ ■

[1] The story really begins with the conquests of Alexander the Great about 330 years before Christ.  Not only did Alexander conquer the military of the nations of the world, he conquered the culture of the nations.  Greek philosophy, Greek art, Greek religion, all things Greek became the new way of the world.  Parts of the world adapted quickly to this.  Parts of the world adapted gradually.  Most of the world was Hellenized, became Greek, though.  Many of the Hebrews went along with the “new  way”, but some held on to their faith and life. When Alexander died, his empire was divided up among his twelve counselor/generals.  The Hebrews were in that part of the empire governed by the Seleucid dynasty. This became one of the largest of the Greek kingdoms.  It extended all the way to India, Persia, Turkey, as well as Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. Perhaps, the empire was so large that the Jews were left alone; that is, at least until about 165 BC. That was when a new King, Antiochus Epiphanes, decided that everyone in his domains should worship the Greek gods and follow Greek practices.  Many of the Jews in Palestine were ecstatic.  They were tired of being left out of what they called modern society.  They wanted to be Greek, part of the mesh of the Hellenistic culture.  They built gymnasiums where they would exercise in the rather immodest Greek style. This was very much against the Law.  They even covered over the male mark of their faith.   They rejected the Law of God.  They were now modern men and women.  They built Greek temples, worshiped Greek gods, dressed and acted like Greeks.  Basically, they became Greeks in Jewish bodies. Antiochus had a statue of the Greek god Zeus put right on the altar in the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem. Right there, in the holiest part of the Temple where a chosen priest could only enter once a year, right there on the most sacred altar of Israel, Antiochus put a statue of a pagan god.
[2] Sunday 7th November, 2010, 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Readings: 2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14. Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full—Ps 16(17):1, 5-6, 8, 15. 2 Thessalonians 2:16 – 3:5. Luke 20:27-38.
Ilustration: The martyrdom of St. Alban, from a 13th century manuscript, now in the Trinity College Library, Dublin.

Y entonces uno se queda con la Iglesia, que me ofrece lo único que debe ofrecerme la Iglesia: el conocimiento de que ya estamos salvados –porque esa es la primera misión de la Iglesia, el anunciar la salvación gracias a Jesucristo- y el camino para alcanzar la alegría, pero sin exclusividades de buen pastor, a través de esa maravilla que es la confesión y los sacramentos. La Iglesia, sin partecitas.

laus deo virginique matris