The first reading for this Sunday is intense. In 165 B.C., a new King, Antiochus Epiphanes decided that everyone in his domains should follow Greek practices. Many Jews went along without complaint as they wanted to be part of the new modern Hellenistic culture. They built gymnasiums where they would exercise in the rather immodest Greek style. They turned away from the Law of God given to them by Moses and instead they worshiped Greek gods, dressed and acted like Greeks.
But the faithful Jews were appalled. They refused to give in to the king’s decrees. Antiochus then issued a proclamation that anyone who kept the Jewish practices and did not worship the Greek gods would be tortured and put to death. In our first reading from the Second Book of Maccabees we hear about these sufferings.
So what does this have to do with us? While for now we will not have to make a choice between our faith and torture, we still can be mocked and made fun of. There are growing numbers of those who belittle the Christian faith and Christian lifestyle. Some of us have experienced this when we try to live our faith. Jesus did not back down. He would also suffer being scorned by others for His teachings and He would be crucified for them. We cannot back down either.
So, you sit down at lunch with work companions or schoolmates, and someone says to you, “You don’t really believe all the Catholic garbage do you? I mean, you can’t really believe that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ?” Or maybe someone says, “You Catholics worship Mary. You have statues in your churches and are a bunch of idolaters.” Or maybe they mock our morality, “You don’t really believe that sexual physical expression of love belongs only in marriage between a man and a woman, do you?” and so forth. It takes a lot of courage for us to say, “Yes, this is my faith.” That statement will most likely be followed by one of two things: silence or more scorn. And right here we have the great fear that we won’t fit in, that people won’t accept us, that people won’t like us because of our Catholic Faith.
Look, we will at times be made fun of for our faith. The mockery of the world fits the pattern of its immorality. The early Christians were told to be in the world but not of the word, and that applies to us too. We have chosen to become like Jesus. We have chosen to be different from those who live and rejoice in a pagan lifestyle. As a Christian we are giving witness to the Kingdom of God and His values.
Pope Saint John Paul II told us from the very beginning of his papacy, “Do not be afraid.” We cannot be afraid of what others think about us. We cannot be afraid of what others might say about us. We cannot be afraid of what others might do to us. Our only fear should be the fear of rejecting Jesus and His teachings. St. Paul in the Second Reading encourages us, “Pray that you might be delivered from perverse and wicked people. For not all have faith. Be faithful to the Lord and the Lord will be faithful to you. He will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.”