Martyrs’ Mother

As we read at Holy Mass today, the mother of the Maccabean martyrs said to her sons:

I do not know how you came into existence in my womb… Therefore, since it is the Creator of the universe who… brings about the origin of everything, he, in his mercy, will give you back both breath and life, because you now disregard yourselves for the sake of his law.

In other words, the mother had the courage to pray for the martyrdom of her sons.

thomas-more
Paul Scofield as Sir Thomas More in “A Man for All Seasons”

St. John de Brébeuf suffered martyrdom at the hands of the Iroquois, in what is now Ontario, Candada. He had prayed for martyrdom. Every Jesuit, and everyone who prays the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, prays to lose all honor in this world, and be thought a fool—out of loyalty to the Great Fool, Jesus Christ.

In A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More did not pray for, or seek, martyrdom. He had a family; he loved his family. And his family wanted him home with them, not in jail–and certainly not dead. More’s wife and daughter laid guilt trips on Thomas for ‘playing the hero,’ in his dealings with King Henry. In the end, More suffered martyrdom not for something he said, but for his silence.

On the other hand, the Maccabean mother set aside her desire to have the earthly company of her sons. She reckoned, correctly, that the Lord had given her her sons in the first place. So He could give them back to her, in the next life–provided they stayed faithful.

The mother did St. John de Brébeuf one better. A devoted servant of God, with no dependents, might pray for his or her own martyrdom, if it should serve God’s glory. An even-more-devoted servant of God prays for the martyrdom of her beloved children, should it serve God’s glory.

What Makes for Peace

APTOPIX Turkey Syria

If you only knew what makes for peace. (Luke 19:42)

One of the genuinely heartbreaking ironies of our time: “martyrdom” and hope.

Every two years we read at Holy Mass the accounts of the heroes of the Maccabean revolt. The fidelity of the Maccabean martyrs inspires us. But Mattathias, and the Zealots who imitated him, did not fully reveal the face of the Father. Open impiety and irreligion moved Mattathias to kill. But open impiety and irreligion moved Christ to submit to suffering.

We do not know what makes for peace. But Christ teaches us. Holding fast to “the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, despising not its shame.” (Hebrews 12:2)

“The joy set before Him.” The fulfillment for which we were made, the kingdom of true happiness–it cannot be anything less than God. Christ teaches us that this kingdom, this happiness is real. We can, should, and must hope for it.

“He endured the cross.” Christ and the martyrs of Christ do not do violence. They endure violence. The holy martyrs whose memory the Church keeps alive through all the vagaries of history–they counted the joy to come more precious than this passing pilgrim life. So they submitted themselves to an unjust death.

We can and do say that the martyrs have held the world “in contempt.” But a true martyr’s contempt for the world aims only at the falsity and emptiness of a shallow life. In no way does this contempt move a true martyr to acts of violence. To the contrary, a martyr patiently and calmly awaits the coming of the Lord, living a genuinely spiritual life in this world. He becomes a martyr only when violence finds him.

Syria Patriarch YounanNow, if we think that only jihadists make a mockery of the word martyr, then we deceive ourselves.

The Catholic Patriarch of Syria said yesterday: “It is inconceivable to think that [ISIS] can be defeated with air raids: this is a big lie.”

Practically every time we Western powers drop a bomb from the sky, over the land where our father Abraham once walked–every time we do that, we make real martyrs. Innocent bystanders, patiently waiting on God, meaning no harm to anyone, get killed. ISIS is a bunch of unbelievable bad guys, to be sure. And the people who drop bombs that incur “collateral damage” as a matter of course: Also bad guys.

Christ teaches what makes for peace. Staring calmly at death, not to bring it about, but to accept it. Because the joy set before us is greater.

Sweet Nov. 22

St. Cecilia statue
One finger. Two fingers… Yes! Christ: One Person, two natures (human and divine). Thank you, St. Cecilia, for teaching the faith even in death.

What an amazingly wonderful day today is! At Holy Mass, we read about the 25th day of Chislev. The 25th day of Chislev will arrive next week! This year our friends will light their menorahs while the turkey’s in the oven. And in church we read all about it today!

Not being a rabbi, I will offer no Hanukkah exhortations. But the festival certainly has to do with the altar—and during Hanukkah this year, we will have our first Mass in Martinsville, Va., with our tabernacle re-positioned at the altar! Too good!

They belong together of course: The altar of Christ’s Body and Christ’s Body. The altar and the sacrament of the altar—they belong together.

We read in Maccabees how, when the sanctuary had been purified, the Israelites prostrated themselves and adored and praised heaven!

But we’re not done recounting the wonders of today. According to the official history of the martyrs,

Today, November 22, at Rome, St. Cecilia, virgin and martyr, died, who brought to the faith of Christ her betrothed Valerian and his brother Tiburtius, and encouraged them to martyrdom. After their death, being arrested by order of Almachius, prefect of the city, and exposed to the fire, from which she came out uninjured, she terminated her glorious sufferings by the sword, in the time of the emperor Marcus Aurelius Severus Alexander.

Our prayer for the day is:

Grant that what has been devoutly handed down concerning St. Cecilia may offer us examples to imitate and proclaim the wonders worked in his servants by Christ your Son.

Cecilia heard the music of heaven by an interior sense, which makes her the patroness of musicians. May President Kennedy rest in peace. May we play the song of a holy life for the glory of God in Christ.

Understanding the Force of Pork

Alexander the Great

At the end of the church year, we read from the end of the history of the Old Covenant, the books of the Maccabees.*

Not easy to read. To imagine the suffering of so many innocent people, especially a gentle old man and an aging mother.

Anybody remember how it all came to pass? Who took over the Holy Land when he conquered the Persian empire? Alexander the Great, who came from…Greece.

Alexander left his empire to his generals. The great-great-great-grandson of one of his generals demanded that the Jewish people abandon the religion.

The Greek authorities tried to break the peoples’ spirit by forcing them to eat unclean meat. Everybody in the world knew that the Jews did not eat pork, because the Law of Moses prohibited it. So the authorities ordered the most prominent Jews to eat pork, on pain of death.

spider_rollNow, we might reasonably ask: Why would anyone try to force someone to eat anything in particular? (other than your parents, trying to get you to eat your vegetables) If I force you to eat pork, or sushi, or cheese whiz, or any food, what good does that do me? Doesn’t make any sense.

Except: There is one way that we can understand it, one way that we can even relate. When people do wrong, as a group, and they want everyone to accept their wrongdoing as if it were normal, they will do violence just to force people to go along with it. They will do violence even to the people quietly minding their own business, trying to do the right thing, trying to do God’s will.

The faithful Jewish martyrs we read about at Holy Mass never picked a fight. They sought the Lord, hoping in the promises of the prophets. When the new Greek rules came along, they simply refused to do something they knew was wrong.

The faithful Jews willingly paid the ultimate price, rather than commit a sin. May the Lord give us clarity and strength like that.

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I Maccabees stands in relation to II Maccabees not as I Kings stands in relation to II Kings, but rather as I Kings stands in relation to I Chronicles. 🙂

Also: Happy 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address!

Temple Consecration

As the liturgical year draws to a close, we read from the books of the Maccabees and from St. Luke’s account of Christ’s final journey to Jerusalem.

Reading these passages simultaneously sets up a breathtaking drama regarding the Temple. The books of the Maccabees recount a number of great acts of heroic fidelity to the Old Covenant. Above all, the accounts climax with the first Hanukkah, when the Maccabees defeated the Greeks, cleansed the Temple of pagan defilements, and reinstituted the divine service.

The Maccabees had brought off a glorious achievement in the history of God’s covenant with His people. The city of Jerusalem rejoiced. But the story was not over. It was 165 years before the coming of Christ…

No one has ever loved the Temple in Jerusalem more than Jesus of Nazareth loved it. When Christ, too, cleansed the Temple, as Judas Maccabeus had done before Him, the only words that could describe the moment were: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

But: The Temple of God is not a building.

The Son of God came to reveal many truths, and among them is the fact that God builds His Temple in the hearts of His beloved children.

If we seek the “Holy of Holies” outside ourselves, we will search in vain. The Holy of Holies can only be found where God meets me, where the light shines that distinguishes right from wrong and shows me the path to heaven. In other words, the Holy of Holies can be found in the invisible center of myself, where I pray and submit myself to the truth.