Memory of the Saints and the Prophets

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Remembrance of the dedication of the Roman basilicas of Saint Peter’s in the Vatican and Saint Paul’s outside the walls

Reading of the Word of God

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

You are a chosen race,
a royal priesthood, a holy nation,
a people acquired by God
to proclaim his marvellous works.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

2 Maccabees 7, 1.20-31

It also happened that seven brothers were arrested with their mother. The king tried to force them to taste some pork, which the Law forbids, by torturing them with whips and scourges.

But the mother was especially admirable and worthy of honourable remembrance, for she watched the death of seven sons in the course of a single day, and bravely endured it because of her hopes in the Lord.

Indeed she encouraged each of them in their ancestral tongue; filled with noble conviction, she reinforced her womanly argument with manly courage, saying to them,

'I do not know how you appeared in my womb; it was not I who endowed you with breath and life, I had not the shaping of your every part.

And hence, the Creator of the world, who made everyone and ordained the origin of all things, will in his mercy give you back breath and life, since for the sake of his laws you have no concern for yourselves.'

Antiochus thought he was being ridiculed, suspecting insult in the tone of her voice; and as the youngest was still alive he appealed to him not with mere words but with promises on oath to make him both rich and happy if he would abandon the traditions of his ancestors; he would make him his Friend and entrust him with public office.

The young man took no notice at all, and so the king then appealed to the mother, urging her to advise the youth to save his life.

After a great deal of urging on his part she agreed to try persuasion on her son.

Bending over him, she fooled the cruel tyrant with these words, uttered in their ancestral tongue, 'My son, have pity on me; I carried you nine months in my womb and suckled you three years, fed you and reared you to the age you are now, and provided for you.

I implore you, my child, look at the earth and sky and everything in them, and consider how God made them out of what did not exist, and that human beings come into being in the same way.

Do not fear this executioner, but prove yourself worthy of your brothers and accept death, so that I may receive you back with them in the day of mercy.'

She had hardly finished, when the young man said, 'What are you all waiting for? I will not comply with the king's ordinance; I obey the ordinance of the Law given to our ancestors through Moses.

As for you, who have contrived every kind of evil against the Hebrews, you will certainly not escape the hands of God.


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

You will be holy,
because I am holy, thus says the Lord.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

We have just heard of the martyrdom of the last of the Maccabees brothers, the youngest one. The passage highlights the action of the mother who calls the son to accept death, and the action of the king who wants to convince him to abandon the faith of the fathers. This page tells us clearly that fidelity to the law of God can bring martyrdom. The mother is in fact, aware of the primacy of the Law of God and exhorts the son to welcome death with peace: "My son, have pity on me. I carried you for nine months in my womb, and nursed you for three years, and have reared you and brought you up to this point in your life, and have taken care of you. I beg you, my child … do not fear this butcher, but … Accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again along with your brothers" (v. 27-29). It is the strong faith of a mother who is aware of the greatness and strength of God. For her the Lord is stronger than pain and even death. For this reason she overcomes the temptation of the flesh that could drive her to remove her son from death but at the cost of betraying the faith. This mother knew that in doing so she has killed him. She chose, instead, to give him life a second time, eternal life, which never ends and which no one can take away. We could say that she too, in that moment, is a martyr, a believer who was giving her life to her son. Archbishop Romero said something similar during the funeral of a priest who was killed by the death squads. In his homily the archbishop said that the Gospel asks all Christians to be martyrs. To some, he added, like that priest, he asks it to the point of giving blood. But to everyone is asked to give life. Romero gave the example of a mother who generates a child in her womb, who holds it for nine months, gives birth to it, breastfeeds it and nourishes it…And yet, said Romero, this mother is a martyr because she is giving her life for her son. The road travelled by this Gospel demands a love that knows no limits. And it was the same for Jesus.