Scripture: Lectionary 499:II Maccabees 7:1.20-31. Psalm 17: 1.5-6.8.15.
Recently a homilist gave a clear exposition of the two books of Maccabees
that we are listening to and reading during the liturgy. He explained how
I Maccabees is more of chronicle of historical events from the time of
Alexander the Great down to the time of the conflict between the Israelites
and Antiochus Epiphanes who is the one who put the statue of Zeus in the
sanctuary of the Temple. This was the “abomination of desolation” spoken of
by Jesus and the Evangelists. Thus the first book is historical and
straightforward in its presentation; the second is more for the
edification of the Israelites after the destruction and devastation caused
by Antiochus Epiphanes. Book Two is more in the style of a preacher than
We read yesterday about the powerful example of an elderly Israelite who
was martyred rather than betray even the least of the prescriptions of the
law about eating unclean foods. Even more vehement was his resistance to
the sin of idolatry. His name shows us how he was able to be so strong in
his faith, for Eleazar means the help of God.
Today’s reading shows that the women of Israel are as faithful and
dedicated to their faith as Eleazar was. The mother of the seven sons who
are martyred is unnamed but her memory continues throughout the centuries
through the liturgy and the reading of this deuteron-canonical inspired
writing. The Catholic Church affirms the divine inspiration and canonicity
of the I and II Maccabees.
We are reminded of the great faith of the early Christians through an
application of this narrative about the woman and her seven sons. These
Christians likewise were faithful to their religious convictions and their
dedication to the community that was ready to witness to Jesus through the
shedding of their own blood in his name. We recall the adage, “the blood
of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” We are aware that there are many
contemporary men and women who were martyred for the faith and their
upholding of God’s justice. We are even surprised that so many were
martyred in Nigeria in Biafra and of the slaughter of innocent people in
In reading I Maccabees the incidents perpetrated against the Jews reminds
us of the Shoah (Holocaust). Sainthood and martyrdom are not only the
possession of Christians. Many have been martyred for being devout
believers in their faith. The Communion of Saints is not restricted to
144,000 mentioned in Revelation. In the Old Testament and the New
Testament we hear of these saints. Both Jews and Christians believed so
strongly in their faith and their traditions that they poured out their
life for God and for Jesus respectively.
Why? Because of their belief in the afterlife and the resurrection.
Immortality came in through the Greek philosophers but not martyrdom.
Martyrdom was possible because of belief in the resurrection of body and
spirit. One has only to turn to St. Paul in I Corinthians chapter fifteen
to find how he helps us understand what bodily resurrection is about. All
of these martyrs believed their lives would continue with a God who is the
God of the living not the dead as Jesus clearly preached.
We are fortunate to have memorials and feasts dedicated to the martyrs. We
then can see that throughout history there were men, women, and children
who truly loved God beyond their own lives and those of their loved ones.
“Blessed be God who lives forever with the saints.” Amen.