Chapter seven of the Second Book of Maccabees tells us a rather lengthy story of a mother and her seven sons, each of them tortured and executed because they refuse to violate the dietary laws of Israel.
We actually have only a small portion of the story despite what was a rather lengthy reading for a weekday liturgy. A summary of the speeches that each gives to Antiochus informs a great deal of what the Church now believes about the Resurrection of the Dead.
First of all it acknowledges that God is the author of life and will grant resurrection to those who are faithful.
As their bodies are mutilated, the martyrs state that their bodies will be restored in the resurrection. This statement is contained in our own creed.
They also state that not only will the faithful be rewarded, but the wicked will be punished.
They attest to the belief that martyrdom does not in any way diminish God’s power over life and death.
There is much more that could be said about the various words of each of the boys and their mother. Our reading today concentrates on the words of the mother.
One of my CUSA correspondents who is not Catholic recently wrote to me about the martyrdom of Stephen and wondered whether she would have the courage to sacrifice her life in the face of such tyranny. It is a question that I suspect all of us have asked at one time or another. It is important to remember that all humans are weak and that it is God’s strength that makes martyrdom possible.
Today we celebrate the Memorial of St. Cecilia, regarded as the patron of liturgical musicians. The story of her martyrdom and of so many Virgin martyrs reminds us that with God all things are possible. Their fortitude in the face of torture and death is responsible for the conversion of many who witnessed their passion.
Though in all probability none of us will be asked to be martyrs, we are lifted up by the stories of the martyrs, stories that remind us of what Jesus has done for us and of what we celebrate in each Eucharist – the mystery of love.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator