Today’s first reading from the Book of Maccabees is very grim, but it’s important that, as a Church, we acknowledge the timeless reality to which this entire book points, which is the persecution of believers. The persecution which is presented in the Book of Maccabees is particularly brutal. The Hellenizing leaders that controlled Palestine in the second century B.C. were determined to stamp out “the faith of our fathers” in favour of Hellenistic, i.e. Greek, gods and culture. The resistance, as today’s first reading indicates, was firm, and the persecution that fought it was ferocious. In the end, the Jews who were determined to remain faithful to their Jewish beliefs and traditions were victorious against this persecution. It ceased, the regime was overthrown, and there followed a time of peace.
But for Jews, and then Christians, any period in history of absence of persecution is only ever a reprieve. The persecution always comes back. Our relationship as Christians with our world is at best one of unstable equilibrium. There are too many teachings in our gospel that threaten situations of privilege that rest on injustice. To the extent that our gospel of justice and mercy prevails, there is always someone who stands to lose something, and therefore fights back. And usually, those who fight against us are stronger than we are.
It’s important that we be aware that now is a time of particularly harsh persecution of Christians. We are, in fact, the single most persecuted religion in the world right now. People in many parts of the world are suffering and in some cases dying, because they are Christian.
The readings that are provided for us at the Sunday masses between now and the last day of the liturgical year, which falls on November 30th this year are timely, because they evoke the times of persecution in the church’s history, and remind us that the final victory belongs to those “who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb” Rev 7,14, that is to say, the martyrs.
In the face of this dark side of the reality of being Christian disciples, what can we do but remember and pray in solidarity with those who are “suffering in their flesh what is still lacking in the passion of Christ for the sake of his body, the Church.” Col 1,24. Let us pray that since they have taken on his yoke, his cross, that their “yoke will be easy, and their burdens, light.” Mt 11,30 And let us pray for ourselves, that if an hour should come when we are called upon to give witness to our gospel in a situation of hatred and aggressive resistance, that we will be given the help of the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus precisely in view of our testimony to the gospel, and the courage of the testimony that the Father wants from us in that hour.
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On a lighter note, I will be spending this entire week, Monday to Friday, at Clergy Study Days, where for the 31st consecutive year, all the priests in the archdiocese that have a pastoral mandate will be gathered for prayer, formation, and fraternity. Please say a little prayer this week for the priests of our diocese. They are an incredibly devoted bunch of people. I feel honoured to be at their side.
Have a great week and God bless,