Our first reading from the second book of Maccabees tells the super intense story of a family — a mother and her seven sons — who face martyrdom and manage to hold strong, to persevere, even to death.
One by one, their persecutors try forcing them to eat pork — which to our ears seems like a seemingly small, insignificant thing — and yet we hear the oldest of the brothers stand up and speak on behalf of the rest:
“What do you expect to achieve by questioning us? We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.”
Readings like this confront us. They force us to ask:
“Am I ready to die for my belief in Jesus? Am I willing to go against the prevailing opinions and pressures? Am I prepared to resist and persevere in what I know to be true, even if all the world is against me?”
This family persevered. They stayed true.
What about your family?
I was hanging out with a family just the other day, and we got to chatting about how hard it is to create good, healthy boundaries for their home, the domestic church. To stay true in the face of opposition.
They and so many families like them are working incredibly hard to create a wholesome and healthy environment where their kids aren’t constantly bombarded by the deep confusion of our time. They want to create a safe haven — a kind of mini-monastery — where they can learn virtue together, be formed in the faith, pray, and grow closer to the Lord as a family.
But this is so hard. For a lot of families, it might even sound impossible. There is so much pressure that works against this lifestyle, isn’t there? There are forces at work that seek to destroy the haven of the domestic church.
Screens multiply. Internet access invades every space. Noise builds and builds. Expectations from school and sports compound. TV shows, movies, and books are more and more bold in promoting the world’s false ideas of what it means to be a man, a woman, a father, a mother…
At one point the mom said: “Father, it’s just so exhausting to always resist and protect. Even stuff that we used to be able to assume was totally safe for our kids — now we have to be vigilant over.”
I nodded said: “You’re always swimming against the current…”
She responded: “Always.”
In her voice, I could hear both the tiredness, but also the hope and fierce willingness to carry on. She knew it was all worth it. But, that doesn’t make it any easier.
I just want to speak to that experience from this pulpit, and publicly encourage all the families of St. Bede who maybe feel worn out and maybe even feel a little defeated. I want to encourage you and say:
Thank you for swimming against the current.
Thank you for investing in the daily formation of your children… for dragging everyone to Church every Sunday. Thank you for doing everything you can to teach them the faith at home, and introduce them to Jesus. Thank you for coming up with creative ways to live “in” this world, but not “of” this world. Thank you for disciplining your children, for teaching them responsibility. Thank you for doing all of that, while also keeping up with laundry, paying the bills, buying groceries, fixing the leaks, driving people to school and sports, and managing a budget…
It’s rough out there. The current is so strong.
But as GK Chesterton once put it so well: “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”
Take heart in the fact that you are alive.
But I’m not going to lie to you:
The current is only going to get stronger…
Sr. Lucia, one of the three visionaries of Fátima, once wrote a famous letter where she said this:
“A time will come when the decisive battle between the kingdom of Christ and Satan will be over marriage and the family. And those who will work for the good of the family will experience persecution and tribulation. But do not be afraid, because Our Lady has already crushed his head.”
I love this quote — because it communicates the intense gravity of what we are all facing, but it refuses to leave us in a place of fear.
No — it instills a kind of holy defiance.
A Christian boldness! The gutsiness of the martyrs to swim upstream!
Yes — the decisive battle will be in our living rooms, our bedrooms, at the family dinner table — in so many ways, it’s already there — but do NOT be afraid. Our Lady has already crushed the head of the serpent! In the end, her Immaculate Heart WILL triumph! Jesus has already conquered the world. Christ is ALREADY risen!
This month of November, we honor and pray for all the faithful departed. We visit cemeteries and intercede for the dead — why?
Because we have that holy defiance alive in our hearts that Death is not the end. That one day, every cemetery, every grave will be quaking with life again — the dry bones will begin rattling and flesh and sinew will once again be made whole.
We believe in the Resurrection of the Body.
That hope is certain and REAL…. Therefore — we can be free and joyful in the face of our day-to-day martyrdom! We can have GUTS… we can have a BACKBONE in the face of pressure to conform and give up our faith.
That’s what we saw in the first reading from Maccabees right? The one brother held out his hands, ready for them to be chopped off, saying:
“It was from Heaven that I received these; for the sake of His laws I disdain them; from Him I hope to receive them again.”
Another brother said: “It is my choice to die at the hands of men… with the hope God gives of being raised up by Him.”
Our daily martyrdoms, big or small, should not be sad, bitter, resentful affairs. No — We go to our deaths with stubborn joyful hope alive in our hearts! We face the growing animosity of the culture all around us, not with clenched fists ready to lash out, but with hands open, ready to be crucified.
Because we know and believe: “It was from heaven that I received these hands, and from the Lord Himself, I hope to receive them again.”
This is the stuff that forges Saints. And Saints produce more and more Saints. They give us hope that it’s actually possible to be holy, to stand firm.
It’s all too easy to look around and get sort of worried. It’s easy to think that Christianity is dying… That all our efforts are in vain.
But to that, CS Lewis once wrote this: “Again and again [the world] has thought Christianity was dying, dying by persecutions from without and corruptions from within — But every time the world has been disappointed. Its first disappointment was over the Crucifixion. The Man came to life again.”
This gives me so much hope, and it should give you hope as well. Ages where Christianity is supposedly “dying” are the very ones that burst at the seams with SAINTS. This is a most exciting time to be a Christian — this is an adventurous time to raise a family — but we’d be fools if we tried to go agains the current — to travel upstream on our own strength.
We need God’s grace!
Which is exactly what St. Paul is praying so fervently for in that second reading today:
“May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.”
Families — BE ENCOURAGED! May Jesus Himself personally ENCOURAGE you right now. May you be filled with His Spirit right now!
As one of your priests, I’m with you in this struggle — this martyrdom. There are other families at this parish and around the world in this martyrdom with you as well. The Church is with you. Please don’t isolate yourselves. Don’t try to do this by yourself. Lean on one another. The enemy wants to cut you off from the herd, make you feel like you’re just wasting your time, and convince you to cave in to the pressure. “Oh… how much easier that would be!” “How convenient!” you might think…
Don’t listen to that voice!
Christ himself promises us: “The one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
Here’s the deal. Fathers…mothers… Christian families:
We need you to stand firm to the end.
We need your witness. — I need your witness!
You are such a source of hope for all of us.
This Tuesday, millions of Americans will cast their ballot, and for many — that’s where their hope lies. Their hope rests on whether this or that political party has power…
Now, we ought to vote. And we ought to do so to the best of our abilities according to a well-formed conscience guided by the teachings of Christ in His Church. This is a very important election…
But that’s not where my hope comes from.
What gives me hope — what gives me the GUTS to swim against the current — is the Lord and His promise of Resurrection.
What gives me hope is God working through ordinary families like yours, who bear witness to that Truth, regardless of the circumstances.
Your family is meant to be a witness to Resurrection hope. Your fearless willingness to die rather than transgress the path Christ has marked out gives ALL of us the permission to believe that there’s more to life than what the present world offers. It’s proof that there is another way to live. A better way.
Step up to that challenge!
As Pope St. John Paul II said so often: “Be who you are.”
Families — be who and what you are. Don’t compromise. Be ready to die rather than give up your identity in Jesus.
Our God is not the God of the dead, but of the living!