32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 6, 2016
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Today’s first reading from the second book of Maccabees,
tells us of the execution—the martyrdom—of seven brothers
during what was called “Maccabean Revolt” during the 2nd century BC.
The Maccabees were part of a Jewish movement that fought attempts
by their Greek rulers and Pro-Greek Jews, called Hellenists,
to destroy the beliefs and practices of Judaism,
by forcing them to adopt the Greek beliefs and practices
–really, trying to secularize Judaism.
By Jesus’ time the successors of this Maccabean movement
were called “Pharisees,”
and the successors of Hellenist-Jews were called the “Sadducees.”
Like the Maccabees before them,
the Pharisees held tightly to all the teachings of the Old Testament,
and its traditional interpretation handed down by the rabbis and priests,
including a strong belief in the dignity of the human body,
which was reflected in their belief in the resurrection of the dead.
And remember what Jesus said about them:
“The Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat;
therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it…”
The problem was, too often the Pharisees didn’t live according to what they taught,
so Jesus added,
“but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.”
The Sadducees, on the other hand, had a very different view of things.
Like their Hellenist predecessors,
they didn’t accept most of the Old Testament books,
and largely rejected Traditional Jewish teaching.
They were also heavily influenced by some Greek philosophers,
especially the ones who saw the body
as merely a temporary vessel used by the soul, really a prison for the soul,
and so something that was bad and so could never share
in something like the glory of the resurrection.
So we see why, in Matthew’s account of today’s gospel text,
Jesus tells the Sadducees frankly:
“You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures
nor the power of God.”
And we can see why there’s a constant struggle between
the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and Jesus, in the Gospels.
But all this really goes back to around 170 BC
when the Greeks and Jewish Hellenists
started to criminalize traditional Jewish practices,
and finally erected a statue of the pagan god Zeus in the Jewish Temple.
And in response, a Jewish priest named Judas Maccabee rose up in revolt,
–and the brothers killed in today’s first reading joined him in that revolt.
All this, sadly, sounds very familiar, and finds clear parallels today.
The Christian West is more and more divided between,
on the one hand, Christians who,
sort of like modern Maccabees and Pharisees,
hold tight to their faith in Christ and Christian Scripture and Tradition;
and on the other hand, folks who,
sort of like the Hellenists and Sadducees
have either given up their Christian faith altogether
or at least compromised their Christian faith by embracing values
of secular leaders and movements.
So, today’s neo-Sadducees,
throw out the bible and traditional Christian teaching,
replacing them with a twisted set of teachings
warped by the influence of strange modern philosophies,
like, for example, Marxism and different forms of relativism.
So, for example, like the ancient Sadducees the neo-Sadducees of our time
don’t respect the dignity of the human body,
arguing that we can kill it when it is still in the womb,
or that we can experiment on it when it’s a tiny embryo,
or that we can use bodies as mere objects of sexual pleasure,
or even that bodies have nothing to tell us about the meaning of sex
or even, most bizarrely, that male and female bodies
have nothing to tell us about whether
we are actually really male or female.
How do faithful Christians respond to this?
How did faithful Jews respond 2200 years ago?
They rose up and fought it, even to the point of dying for their faith.
And so the seven brothers were captured while fighting with the Maccabees,
and tortured and executed for refusing to break the rules
of the Old Testament.
Now, you might say, the rule they refused to break was not to eat pork,
not a hugely important rule, and one that Jesus eventually abrogated.
But it was still what God had told them in the Old Testament,
so they refused to disobey it.
And were executed for it.
But notice, they didn’t die thinking that life in the body didn’t matter,
but that by God’s grace life would go on after death
and the body would eventually be fully restored and glorified.
If only they were faithful to God’s teachings and laws.
God was more important, and powerful, than any human king or law or culture.
Again, how do we respond to modern neo-Sadducees, neo Hellenists,
the secularists and secularized Christians?
Look at the culture, look at our country.
For decades, we’ve been rolling over to secularist values,
compromising left and right, thinking if we just be nice to them,
or give-in a little bit here and there,
they’ll leave us alone—or better yet, they’ll like us, praise us, promote us.
But it hasn’t worked.
They’re taking over the schools and even our government,
forcing us to accept their values that are directly opposed
to the teaching of Christ and His Church, and even common sense.
But think of the Maccabees and their martyrs.
And think of the feast we celebrated last Tuesday, All Saints,
which began as the Feast of “All Martyrs”.
Think of all the Christian martyrs who have died
rather than compromise their faith:
St. Peter and St. Paul, St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More,
St. Charles Lwanga, St. Lorenzo Ruiz, St. Andrew Dung-Lac,
and on and on.
The Maccabees died rather than eat pork.
St. Thomas More died rather than give in to the King’s divorce and remarriage.
What will you do when they tell you you must embrace secular values?
Whether it’s about abortion, contraception, sexual promiscuity,
the definition of marriage, the definition of male and female,
and on and on.
How will you respond?
I hope….by holding tight
to what Christ and His Church and common sense tell you.
And by fighting for that.
Now, there may come a day when Christians, like the Maccabees,
will have to defend our rights with arms and weapons
–but clearly that point has not come, at least not in America.
The first inclination of every Christian is to do as Jesus taught and did
—turn the other cheek.
But remember how Jesus showed us how this “turning the other cheek” works:
at his trial before the Sadducee High Priest Annas
when the guard actually struck him on the cheek
Jesus didn’t strike him back
but he didn’t role over either, but confronted him:
“If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong;
but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?”
And so we defend ourselves with words and truth, not with swords and guns.
We do it with prudence and charity, but also with courage and persistence.
As we read a few weeks ago, St Paul reminds us:
“be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient;
convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.”
Whether at work, at home, in school, on the playground,
or in the voting booth.
And fight by living holy lives, setting a good example
of what Christianity is all about—that is hard for our enemies to beat.
Don’t be like the Pharisees who knew what was right,
but did “not practice what they preach.”
For example, last year when Archbishop Cordileone was here
he told us the best way to defend marriage today
is for Christian married couples to show everyone how great marriage is
by actually loving each other the way Christian spouses should.
And remember, as St. Paul tells us elsewhere:
“we are not contending [merely] against flesh and blood,
but against …the powers…of this present darkness, against evil spirits…..
So fight the devil also by living holy lives,
keeping the commandments in all their fullness,
and so staying on the side of Christ at all times.
And finally, fight by praying.
In today’s second reading, St. Paul says:
“pray …. that we may be delivered from perverse and wicked people,
“…the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you
and guard you from the evil one.”
As we read just a few weeks ago, Jesus teaches us to,
“pray always without becoming weary.”
Again, whether at work, at home, in school, on the playground,
or in the voting booth.
And most especially pray here at Mass—the greatest form of prayer.
As we now enter into more deeply into this Holy Mass,
we remember that this is Christ’s offering of his Body—his whole self
—on the Cross for us.
Like the 7 Maccabean brothers, Jesus on the Cross was at war with evil,
and gave his life out of obedience to God the Father.
And like those brothers Jesus saw his death in the light of the resurrection.
But unlike the Maccabees,
who lost their war against the evil of the worldly Hellenists,
Jesus’ death won the war against all the evil of the world
—beginning by conquering death itself by His Resurrection.
It is true, the battles wage on, but Christ’s victory is assured.
And by our offering our bodies, ourselves,
to him today in this Mass we share in that victory.
And by the Communion of our bodies with His we share in his power.
And in that power, we leave here today to go out to fight the fight,
and win the victory, with Jesus.