Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
This weekend, observed as the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Church presents as the first reading a section from the Second Book of Maccabees.
Maccabees, First or Second, rarely appears as a reading at Mass. These books date from a period only two centuries before Christ. They rose from a very dark period in the history of God’s people.
When Alexander the Great, who had conquered so much of the present-day Middle East, died, his generals scrambled to succeed him. One of them, Ptolemy, became the pharaoh of Egypt, an ancestor of Cleopatra. Another of them, Seleucus, became king of Syria.
A successor of Seleucus, Antiochus IV, believed himself to be divine. He demanded that his subjects, including the Jews, worship him. Anyone who refused this demand paid dearly.
These two books of Maccabees lionized the pious Jewish martyrs who refused to forsake the one God of Israel.
This weekend’s reading describes quite vividly the penalty Antiochus IV reserved for those who denied that he was a god.
Heroism, therefore, is one lesson. Another is about the afterlife. The reading mentions the afterlife as a reward for holy living on earth. The afterlife as a doctrine was not well refined in the more ancient Hebrew writings. Thus, Maccabees expands the notion.
The Second Epistle to the Thessalonians provides the second reading. This work too was written when times were very hard for true believers, Christians in this case. The epistle is challenging, but encouraging. Regardless of whatever may lie ahead, it insists that disciples must hold firm to their bond with the Lord. Times may be bad, even terrifying, but they will pass. God and those devoted to God will be victorious!
St. Luke’s Gospel, the source of the last reading, continues the theme of the afterlife. Its message is clear. Those persons faithful to God in this life will live with God triumphantly and eternally in the next life.
This reading also says that the ways of God are beyond our experience and our understanding. We are humans; nothing less, but nothing more. We are nothing less in that we can decide to live properly to receive as God’s gift eternal life itself. We are nothing more in that we need God.
War has tormented every generation of Americans since the Revolution. Americans died in the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the various other military actions. While tensions usually preceded the wars, often a sudden event ignited them. People’s lives forever changed.
Then came COVID. In early 2020, no one realized that human life would change because of it, but it did.
St. Luke wrote for believers who knew that catastrophe and death might well come to them because of persecution then underway.
The Gospel consoled and inspired them. It told them, as it now tells us, that human sin, turning away from God, brings upon people enormous injury and ultimate destruction.
If we follow God, we find the better way to life, to concord, to wholesomeness. God’s law has proven its worth. No other human philosophy can make the same claim.
Finally, God’s eternal reward, awaiting the just, will never fade or go away. True believers move not to death, but they pass death as a milestone on their way to eternal life.
Life on earth is uncertain. Wars show this. All the epidemics that have infected people have too. Sin inevitably weaves a deadly web. We know “not the day nor the hour.” In this “vale of tears,” Christians must endure terrible things, but if they cling to Christ, the future is glorious.
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