These reflections are a result of more than 40 years of ministry as a Roman Catholic priest. Most of these years I spent in the Diocese of Charlotte which covers Western North Carolina. Now I am retired, and live in Medellín, Colombia where I continue to serve as a priest in the Archdiocese of Medellín.
King Antiochus said: “But I now recall the evils I did in Jerusalem, when I carried away all the vessels of gold and silver
that were in it, and for no cause gave orders that the inhabitants of Judah be destroyed.
I know that this is why these evils have overtaken me; and now I am dying, in bitter grief, in a foreign land.” (1 Mc 6:1-13)
Progroms against the Jews has been a consistent part of their long history. As we come to the end of the Books of the Maccabees, we hear this remorse from King Antiochus. In Fiddler On The Roof the question is asked, “Is there a proper blessing for the Tsar? And the rabbi answers: “A blessing for the Tsar? Of course, ‘May God bless and keep the Tsar . . . far away from us!’”
There was great joy among the people now that the disgrace of the Gentiles was removed. Then Judas and his brothers and the entire congregation of Israel
decreed that the days of the dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness on the anniversary every year for eight days, from the twenty-fifth day of the month Chislev. (1 Mc 4:36-37,52-59)
The anniversary of the dedication of the altar in the Temple in Jerusalem is remembered in the Jewish feast of Hanukkah. This year Hanukkah will be celebrated from November 28-December 6.
Then Mattathias went through the city shouting, “Let everyone who is zealous for the law and who stands by the covenant follow after me!” Thereupon he fled to the mountains with his sons, leaving behind in the city all their possessions. Many who sought to live according to righteousness and religious custom went out into the desert to settle there. (1 Mc 2:15-29)
We continue the heroic stories of the Books of Maccabees. Today we hear about Mattathias and his sons. The tiny Christian community in Rome was able to claim the two greatest apostles as its founders, Peter and Paul. Both were martyred in Rome. The anniversaries of the dedication of the two basilicas erected over their tombs have always been celebrated together.
It happened that seven brothers with their mother were arrested and tortured with whips and scourges by the king,
to force them to eat pork in violation of God’s law. Most admirable and worthy of everlasting remembrance was the mother,
who saw her seven sons perish in a single day, yet bore it courageously because of her hope in the Lord. (2 Mc 7:1,20-31)
The story of the mother and her seven sons is another example of faithfulness in the face of death. Saint Elizabeth was an early follower of Saint Francis of Assisi. She is considered the founder of the Third Order of Saint Francis.
When he was about to die under the blows, Eleazar groaned and said: “The Lord in his holy knowledge knows full well that,
although I could have escaped death, I am not only enduring terrible pain in my body from this scourging,
but also suffering it with joy in my soul because of my devotion to him.”
This is how he died, leaving in his death a model of courage and an unforgettable example of virtue
not only for the young but for the whole nation. (2 Mc 6:18-31)
The story of Eleazar gives us an example of faithfulness even to the point of death. The saints for today are like a mini-All Saints Day: Saint Gertrude (d. 1302) was a medieval Benedictine abbess, Saint Margaret (d. 1093) was queen of Scotland, and Saint Giuseppe Moscati (d. 1927), an Italian medical doctor. All three give us example of courage and virtue. Please enjoy the short film, St. Gertrude.
Terrible affliction was upon Israel. (1 Mc 1:10-15,41-43,54-57,62-63)
Hard times indeed for Israel. The Books of the Maccabees tell the story of Israel during the time of the conquest by Alexander the Great and his generals after him, and of the revolt mounted by the Maccabee family and their followers. It’s a tragic story but with many heroic elements to inspire faith and perseverance.
"At that time there shall arise Michael, the great prince, guardian of your people;
it shall be a time unsurpassed in distress since nations began until that time.
At that time your people shall escape, everyone who is found written in the book.” (Dn 12:1-3)
Saint Michael the Archangel is a fascinating figure in Hebrew and Christian scriptures. The archangel always appears as the guardian and protector of God’s people. As we come to the end of the liturgical year and the readings focus our attention on the end (as in the purpose) of all things, we realize that God is in control and that God provides plenteous redemption. And the scripture promises that those “who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever." My favorite depiction of the Archangel Michael is by British actor Tom Wisdom in the fortunately short-lived SyFy series, Dominion.