By Fr Edward Hopkins
I sought light from the Lord with a special intensity and focus on the day of the elections and even more the day after when the results were confirmed. The Office of Readings, a liturgical prayer of the Church, taken from Scripture, God’s living word, spoke to me and shed a bright light upon this crucial moment in a battle of cultures.
Election Tuesday featured the story from 1Mac.2 in which Mattathias and his brothers stand up to the pagan Kings’ unjust decree that called them to apostatize. Wednesday told of how Judas Maccabeus led the fight to defend Israel from the aggressions of those who surrounded them.
These readings don’t call us to literally take up arms but they do communicate a spirit which is vitally needed if we are to take a stand and fight for the Culture of Life in this most desperate hour of need. It is a call to faith, courage and evangelization! Let’s listen to the first.
The compromise of faith
“Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles around us, for since we separated from them many disasters have come upon us.” (1Mac.1:12) The story of Mattathias and his family begins with a compromise. The People of Israel forsake their Faith and heritage. After Alexander the Great has conquered the world around Israel, his officers divided the Kingdom, began to rule and “caused many evils”. Before long Jerusalem is sacked and the Temple is violated, stripped, desecrated and defiled. The attack is so severe that the Jews flee and Jerusalem becomes a stronghold of the Gentile aggressors. Israel mourned deeply in every community, rulers and elders groaned, young women and young men became faint, the beauty of the women faded. (1Mac.1;25-26)
The result of the defeat and occupation of the Holy City of Jerusalem is described as a loss of what had once been the pride and glory of the nation. Her sanctuary became desolate like a desert; her feasts were turned into mourning, her Sabbaths into a reproach, her honor into contempt. Her dishonor now grew as great as her glory; her exaltation was turned into mourning. (1Mac1:39-40) These descriptions may better express what some of us felt following the election, rather than the simple fear of where it was leading us as a nation. For sure this country has always been a sanctuary for those seeking freedom and opportunity to live their lives and faith. The womb also has always been a sanctuary for the fragile life of the unborn. Both seem now more threatened than ever by those who do not recognize the dignity of their origins.
Well, all this is only to establish the context of the passages that follow. But allow one further prelude. This time of defeat led explicitly to the most horrible of consequences: “According to the decree, they put to death the women who had their children circumcised, and their families and those who circumcised them; and they hung the infants from their mothers’ necks. … Very great wrath came upon Israel.” (1Mac.1:60-64)
The image of children hanging from their mothers’ necks represents a threat that should not be forgotten and the gravity of an intrinsic evil already upon us. There is nothing so offensive than the destruction of innocence. This makes the image of the innocent Savoir hanging from a cross that much more powerful.
Standing Up for Faith, Family and God’s Law
The confrontation of Mattathias and his brothers with a royal officer enforcing the apostasy calls to mind the challenge that each Christian faces in confronting the culture of death. What is easier, more promising for material prosperity is the compromise of our faith and values. Standing up for those same values requires courage and a willingness to pay the price. The world in fact doesn’t expect us to stand, not for long. She seductively offers us so much to satisfy our desires. She flatters and promises wealth (or at least tax brakes) and popularity in the world if we give in. She even suggests lesser causes to fight (poverty and war) so to satisfy our desire to stand for something. She gets us to focus on ourselves and not on the most urgent and grave needs of others.
“You are a leader, honored and great in this town, and supported by sons and brothers. Now be the first to come and do what the king commands, as all the Gentiles and the people of Judah and those that are left in Jerusalem have done. Then you and your sons will be numbered among the Friends of the king, and you and your sons will be honored with silver and gold and many gifts.” (1Mac.2:17-18)
Conviction, courage and leadership mark the response of Mattathias. Human respect is overcome by respect for God and his Laws. The disappointments and challenges of their day did not dampen their spirits but rather inspired and energized their determination to remain faithful.
But Mattathias answered and said in a loud voice:
“Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to obey his commandments, everyone of them abandoning the religion of their ancestors, I and my sons and my brothers will continue to live by the covenant of our ancestors. Far be it from us to desert the law and the ordinances. We will not obey the king’s words by turning aside from our religion to the right hand or to the left.” (1Mac2:19-22)
Real Acts of Zeal
Strangely enough, Mattathias’ steadfast stance and defiance of the threats to life and religion seem to spurn others to flaunt their proud divorce from the teachings and traditions of their fathers. They want to go with the flow and feel the security and affirmation of “what everyone else is doing”. Surely Mattathias could not understand such a submission to the world.
“When he had finished speaking these words, a Jew came forward in the sight of all to offer sacrifice on the altar in Modein, according to the king’s command. When Mattathias saw it, he burned with zeal and his heart was stirred. He gave vent to righteous anger; he ran and killed him on the altar. At the same time he killed the king’s officer who was forcing them to sacrifice, and he tore down the altar.” (1Mac2:23-25)
While our circumstances are far from venting righteous anger by striking out with violence, frustration and anger can tear at our hearts. “How can so many Catholics and good Christians fail to stand up to such proposed evil?!”; “The sanctity of life and the aggression of abortion is the issue at hand, beyond compare with the other moral problems of our time!” Yet our answer must be firm and decisive. The strength and strategy employed to advance the cause of choice and moral relativism must be met with the bold and resolute moral backbone of Mattathias.
“He burned with zeal and his heart stirred.” Heartfelt zeal produces the response of one committed to defend and fight for sacred, innocent life. Mattathais stands tall and asks you: ‘Where is your zeal Christian soldier? Has your heart been stirred by the result of politics, cold and calculated agendas of death and Godless license, the state of our nation’s soul? If so, stand with me in faith and courage.’
Wake up and unite
Then Mattathias cried out in the town with a loud voice, saying: “Let every one who is zealous for the law and supports the covenant come out with me!” Then he and his sons fled to the hills and left all that they had in the town.(1Mac.2:27-28)
We are invited to come out, out of the shadows of silence and private religion to speak, teach and evangelize. We must follow Christian leadership and flee from the compromises of materialism, consumerism and so much human respect. But we must also be willing to leave behind our comforts and ease.
I have often described to men in spiritual talks a scene that I believe describes our world and the cultural battle at hand. Imagine looking up over your back yard on a warm summer afternoon. Beyond the trees and large rooftops, you see a frightening sight. A large band of barbarians is descending upon your neighborhood. They carry cruel weapons of destruction and death. What do you do? How do you respond? Do you sit there comfortable in your lazy-boy? Do you shrug it off: “someone else will fight them off…” Do you simply lock your doors and keep the kids at home for the day? Or do you send urgent word to your neighbors and organize a defense? Do you take up arms and protect your family, friends and neighbors? Do you care?
The barbarians are already in the streets was one man’s response. The anti-Christian values piped into our lives by internet porn, MTV vulgarity, ipods full of suggestive noise and the uncensored communication that reaches the hearts and lives of your children via so many high-tech highways… The culture of death is determined not so much to destroy us but rather to assimilate us, like the Gentiles preferred to assimilate the Jews. Mattathias calls us to take up the challenge with the zeal of our hearts and the love of all that is sacred. But we must stand as one and fight with one heart and one mind. (Efs. 4: 4-6) Division has always been the downfall of Christianity. This stance and the fight it requires will ultimately conquer. If we needed this sad state of affairs to wake up from our comfortable life, blessed be God!