The 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
II Macc 7:1-2,9-14 + 2 Thes 2:16—3:5 + Lk 20:27-38
November 6, 2016
“‘It is for His laws that we are dying.’”
You would not have heard about their case from most secular news sources. But an order of nuns in the United States was recently forced by the government to pay for artificial contraceptives for their members. What the government thought these nuns were going to do with the contraceptives is anybody’s guess. But the Little Sisters of the Poor—that’s the name of their religious order—have found themselves in much the same predicament as the seven brothers in today’s First Reading: forced by a secular government to act against their religious principles.
At last month’s diocesan Clergy Conference, the Bishop of Wichita encouraged his priests to speak about the issues that are at stake in Tuesday’s elections. Religious liberty is chief among these.
Over the last several years, one of the not-so-subtle shifts attempted by those who want to place the laws of men above the Law of God is to claim that the “freedom of religion” that was set down by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights is actually a “freedom of worship”. Those who, like the king in today’s First Reading, want to place the laws of men above the Law of God, want the government to grant citizens the right to worship any way they want within the walls of their churches. But this “freedom of worship” would end once you walk outside of your church on Sunday morning. Everything you do elsewhere during the remaining hours of the week would be governed by the dictates of the secular government. Should your moral, spiritual and religious principles happen to contradict the principles of the reigning secular government, your principles would have to be given up, or you would be subject to a punishment of the government’s choosing.
We might wonder why the Church proclaims today’s First Reading on this Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time. Every year during November, in these “thirty-something” weeks in Ordinary Time, as the Church’s liturgical year draws to a close, the Church proclaims scriptures that focus our attention upon what are called “the Last Things”: namely, Heaven, Hell, death, and judgment.
In fact, it’s not arbitrary that the Church focuses on the Last Things during these “thirty-something” weeks in Ordinary Time, rather than at the beginning of the Church’s year, or during the summer. The Church focuses on the Last Things during these weeks in November because the final Sunday of the Church year is the Solemnity of Christ the King. This year, the Solemnity of Christ the King will be celebrated on November 20, the Sunday before Thanksgiving.
The reason that Christ the King is the final Sunday of the Church year is that this parallels the truth that the Second Coming of Christ is the final act of human history. At the end of human history, Christ will come to earth a second time, to rule as the King of all creation. At the Second Coming, Christ the King will separate the wheat from the chaff, the sheep from the goats. His yardstick or ruler by which He will judge every human person is the Law of God, not the laws of men. “It is for His laws that we are dying”, the Maccabean brother said to the king.
It’s unfortunate that today’s First Reading is so abbreviated. Today’s First Reading is only eight verses long, taken from the seventh chapter of the Second Book of Maccabees. I’d encourage you, sometime during November, to turn in your bible at home to Second Maccabees and to read the entire seventh chapter of II Maccabees, so that you hear the depth of the suffering endured by the seven brothers and their mother, all eight of whom were tortured and killed by the pagan king.
Perhaps one of the points that the Church—in having this First Reading proclaimed just two Sundays before Christ the King—wants us to reflect upon is the inevitability of being judged by another. We will be judged by the laws of another. We may or may not be judged by secular pagans in human courts, but we most definitely will be judged by the Lord God before the courts of Heaven. So the question is: whose judgment concerns us more: the judgments of men, or the judgement of God?
The irony of the secular claim that’s offered you each day through the media of secular culture is that the chief creed of secular humanism is that no one has the right to judge you: neither man nor God. This creed was enshrined as doctrine in the highest court of human law within the United States. It happened in the year 1992. The Supreme Court of the United States heard arguments in the case of Planned Parenthood v. the pro-life governor of Pennsylvania. In their decision in favor of Planned Parenthood, the majority opinion of the Court made the following declaration: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” Apparently, someone forgot to tell this to the Little Sisters of the Poor, as well as to the millions of innocent children who have been aborted in this nation since the Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade.
Again: read the entire seventh chapter of II Maccabees, so that you can hear the Word of God speak to this subject. As an encouragement, I’ll conclude today with four verses from later in the chapter, following what we heard in today’s First Reading. This passage concerns the mother of these seven sons, and occurs immediately after the torture of the sixth:
“The mother was especially admirable and worthy of honorable memory. Though she saw her seven sons perish within a single day, she bore it with good courage because of her hope in the Lord. She encouraged each of them in the language of their fathers. Filled with a noble spirit, she fired her woman’s reasoning with a man’s courage, and said to them, ‘I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath…. Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of man and devised the origin of all things, will in His mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of His laws.”
 II Maccabees 7:20-23 (RSV-CE).