Our texts are rich in a number of themes – Manmade Chaos versus Integrity, A mother teaches Gratitude for the God of the Living,
And finally she and Jesus both bring us Confidence in the joy of Resurrection. Our first reading is from Chapter 7 of the second book of Maccabees.
The first 6 chapters of 2 Maccabees reveal chaos created by ugly grievances festering in men corrupted by greed and blind ambition, men who want more – more land, more gold, more power, more recognition from the king. These are not grievances for Social Justice that lead to better lives. No, these deadly grievances led to horrific betrayals, theft, and murders – a man-made, chaotic hell-scape – it was terrifying to read because many of these same evils are present here and across our world today!
What can end this hell-scape?
At the end of chapter 6, Eleazar the 90 year old Jewish Scribe, claims his personal integrity. He refuses to betray his faith, refuses to lead the young astray just to “… gain a brief moment of life” here on earth (2 Macc 6:25, 28b). He takes the first step toward ending the chaos of deadly grievances.
Then, in Chapter 7 we see the transformational power of a mother who brings gratitude and faith in God‘s infinite compassion to her seven sons. Today we hear just 8 verses from this chapter. We see the Mother with her sons being punished because they also will not betray their faith. The lectionary presents the torture of only three of her sons and their abiding belief that God’s creative power & mercy will “raise us up to everlasting life” (2 Macc 7:9) - a teaching they received from their mother.
Sadly, we don’t hear the actual words of this “most admirable & worthy” woman (2 Macc 7: 20). In verse 23 she tells her sons, and us, to look, see “… the Creator of the world ... [who] … in his mercy gives life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws.” (7:23)
Like St. Paul, she encourages them to remember and be grateful; every breath is a gift from God. Her sons learned well – they are certain God will look on them with compassion as they suffer and die. They echo Psalm 17’s promises that when I call on you, “… you will answer me, O God. “In righteousness, I shall behold your face”.
She sees her first six sons die. As her last endures torture she whispers, “Son, have pity on me, who … brought you up, educated and supported you … look at the heavens and the earth and see all that is in them … you will know” that God made them from nothing and know - “In the same way [we] came into existence.” She directs her sons to a state of gratitude for God, their creator.
She tells this last son to, “… prove yourself worthy … so that through the mercy of God I shall receive you back again along with them.” Here she exhibits a stunning confidence that her faith, and her sons’ faith, will bring them together again in the joy of resurrection.
As I read and re-read this mother’s words I saw her as a woman imbued with a sense of gratitude for every breath of life. This capacity for gratitude distinguishes her and her sons from the men of deadly grievances of the six chapters. Gratitude for God and all of God’s creation strengthened their determination to remain faithful to the holy laws. Their gratefulness and steadfast faith made them confident they would be together again in the community of resurrection. If you would like the thrill of witnessing this mother’s deep faith and expert teaching - take a few minutes to read 2 Maccabees chapter 7 verses 20 – 41.
Eleazar and this mother’s teachings are the pivot point for 2 Maccabees. The rest of the book turns from petty, but deadly grievances to preserving the Jewish faith and communities.
Can personal integrity and deep gratitude transform our grievances into prayers and actions? – that’s my question – actually it’s my challenge to myself.
In the passage from Luke, the Sadducees, who don’t believe in the resurrection, bring this hidden grievance to Jesus. They present a case in which a woman is married to one of seven brothers – the brothers die one by one-so she’s passed from one to the next. The Sadducees assume if there were an after-life it would be bound by our physical laws & needs. So they are sure there will be chaos – because no one will know who is married to whom.
Jesus doesn’t argue – but responds by giving the Sadducees a wonderful alternative – he assures them, and us, that in the Resurrection, there will be no need to marry or to be given in marriage. For we will no longer die because the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is not the God of the dead, but of the living – “… to God all are alive.” (Lk 20:38) Here Jesus and the mother give us virtually the same teaching – that God is the God of the living. As the mother – promised, “the Creator of the world … in his mercy gives life and breath back to you again …” (2 Macc 7:23)
With today’s chaos of wars, famines, natural disasters, compounded by political factions and grievances we need to maintain faith in the God of the Living and Practice Gratitude.
The Benedictine Brother, David Steindl-Rast has analyzed the simple ways we can be grateful in each moment by stopping to look – to see a gift – and act to bring our gratitude to others. Research has shown that our sense of well-being and our capacity to connect improve with gratitude. Looking back I ask – why weren’t the mother and her seven sons also filled with deadly grievances like the others in the first 6 chapters?
Perhaps their hearts were so full of gratitude and faith that there wasn’t room or time for that type of hate and fear. If I want to begin to make just one difference in our chaotic world – I need to start with a willingness to be grateful for what is before me and a willingness to act to bring it to others.
Video Credit: Lightfield Entertainment, Inc.: Executive Producer-Director, Susan Campochiaro Confrey, Camera 1 – Whit K. Lee, Camera 2 and Editor – Amanda Bailey, Sound – Joel Shaw. I am most grateful to Susan and her team for their patient and professional work.
Anselm Academic Study Bible Catholic Edition, 2013, 2015. General Ed., Carolyn Osiek, RSCJ; Assoc. Ed., Old Testament, Leslie J. Hoppe, OFM. Introduction to Second Book of Maccabees, Patricia D. Ahearne-Kroll, pp. 806-808.
“A Benedictine monk for over 60 years, Steindl-Rast was formed by 20th-century catastrophes. He calls joy “the happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.” And his gratefulness is not an easy gratitude or thanksgiving — but a full-blooded, reality-based practice and choice.” On Being Podcast, April 9, 2020, Episode 824.
Rita L. Houlihan
Rita L. Houlihan
Rita is a member of Ascension parish in New York City where she teaches Confirmation. She is on FutureChurch’s Board of Directors and is committed to restoring our historical memory of early Christian women leaders with a special focus on Mary Magdalene and the women omitted from our Sunday Lectionary readings. Rita has researched the questions, “Why, in 591, did Pope Gregory I distort Mary Magdalene by conflating her with Luke’s unnamed sinner (7.36-50) and Mary of Bethany?” “Why do so many still believe the legends, versus the scripture today?” She is documenting answers and working to share the history of the conflation and of its effects.
New art is needed to counter centuries of negative images of Mary Magdalene. Examples are the sculpted relief – “Mary Magdalene Proclaims the Resurrection” (Margaret Beaudette, SC, 2014) and Laura James’ series, “Mary Magdalene and the Risen Jesus” commissioned in 2021.
In June 2015, working with a small group, Rita requested that Pope Francis correct the false legend, elevate Mary Magdalene’s memorial to a Solemnity and add John 20: 10-18 to Easter Sunday. On June 3, 2016, the Vatican changed her mass to a Feast (a level below a Solemnity) and issued a decree declaring her an apostle and evangelizer. She and Mary, the mother of Jesus, are the only women with Feast designations. These are great steps, but more needs to be done to fully restore Mary Magdalene and other New Testament women to their rightful places in our liturgies and imaginations. One vehicle for those changes, the “ReclaimMagdalene” project. Please spread the word on the real Mary Magdalene.
Rita had a 32+ year career at IBM, in sales and Change Strategy Consulting and has a BA in Psychology and Philosophy (Newton College of the Sacred Heart, now Boston College) and an MA in Educational Psychology from NYU.
Links to videos of Boston College’s Mary of Magdala lectures, BC’s online Mary of Magdala course, and the Vatican’s 2016 Decree elevating her memorial to a Feast:
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