In our first reading today from the Second Book of Maccabees, we see the king trying to force the seven brothers and their mother to eat pork in violation of their conscience. Today we have those in authority who want to force people to pay for abortions in violation of their conscience. The attacks on religious liberty continue in our own time. May this story of the Maccabees give us courage.
Courage. I like this quote from the late General Douglas MacArthur. He said,
“Last, but by no means least, courage – moral courage, the courage of one’s convictions,
the courage to see things through. The world is in a constant conspiracy against the brave.
It’s the age-old struggle – the roar of the crowd on one side and the voice of your conscience on the other.”
What is the source of courage? Courage does not come out of thin air. It has roots, deep roots.
The first root is self-esteem.
Self-esteem is a clear realization of who we are, that we have dignity and worth as human beings.
This dignity and worth does not depend on what others think or say. It comes with our creation and our re-creation.
Creation. The Bible tells us that we are created in the image and likeness of God. (Cf. Genesis 1:27)
That gives us great dignity. Re-creation. Baptism makes us members of the Body of Christ. St. Paul says we are
temples of the living God. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 6:16). It doesn’t get any better than that. To feel good about who we are
and what we are (all by the grace of God), gives us the self-esteem to face difficult situations with strength and
confidence. In Philippians, St. Paul says, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13.).
The second root of courage is strong conviction. The mother and brothers in our first reading had a strong conviction about resurrection. They believed with all their hearts that God would raise them up to live forever. This gave them the strength to suffer great pain and even death.
We have this same conviction that God will raise us up to live forever, thanks to the death and resurrection of Jesus. St. Paul tells us in Romans, “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection” (Romans 6:5).
This third root of courage is trust. The early Christians we able to suffer martyrdom because they
were baptized, received the Holy Spirit, and trusted. In our second reading St. Paul says, “May the
Lord Jesus Christ…console your hearts and strengthen them for every good work and word. The
Lord…keeps faith; he it is who will strengthen you and guard you.” Paul trusted that God would be
with him to strengthen him at all times. And, by the grace of God, Paul was one gutsy guy.
So we ask the Lord to stiffen our backbones and give us the courage that we need today and every day.
Speaking of courage and resurrection, I read this story. Leonid Brezhnev, who was once president of the
USSR, died in 1982. At the funeral his wife stood motionless by his coffin until a few seconds before it
closed. Just as the soldiers touched the lid, she performed an act of great courage and hope. In a gesture
that must rank as one of the most daring acts of civil disobedience, she reached down and made the sign
of the cross on her husband’s chest.
There in the center of secular, atheistic power, the wife of the man who had run it all believed that her husband was wrong. She believed that there was another life, best represented by Jesus who died on the cross. And she hoped that the same Jesus might yet have mercy on her husband. (Cf. Gary Thomas, Christian Times, October 3, 1994, p.26.)
Self-esteem, strong conviction and trust give us the courage to face trials, even death.
Finally… At one point in his life, Ben Franklin wrote his epitaph. Remember, he was a printer. His epitaph went like this:
Like the cover of an old book,
Its contents torn out,
And stript of its lettering and gilding,
The body of B. Franklin, Printer,
Lies here, food for worms.
But the work shall not be lost;
For it will (as he believ'd) appear once more
In a new and more elegant edition
Revised and corrected
By the Author.
Come, let us give thanks for the hope that is in us.