As we enter the holiday season, when the culture wars become especially obvious, yesterday’s homily by Pope Francis, about why we must resist those who want to impose a “new way” of life on us that relegates God to the sidelines, becomes particularly timely.
Vatican Radio is reporting on the homily which was based on the story of the martyrdom of Eleazar found in the book of Maccabees (Maccabees 6:18-31).
During his reflections, the pope noted the three types of persecution: purely religious persecution; a “mixed” persecution such as the Thirty Years War which involved both religious and political motivations; and culture persecution which occurs when a new culture comes along and wants “to make everything new and to make a clean break with everything: the cultures, the laws and the religions of a people.”
Just as Christians are experiencing in our world today, Eleazar suffered this last type of persecution when the Jewish people became enamored with the progressive Antiochus Ephiphanes. Wanting to be up-to-date and modern like him, they asked their king if they could introduce pagan institutions to their own society. They didn’t want the pagan gods, just the institutions. This was allowed and as the people brought in these new institutions, it inspired them to make a clean break with everything – their culture, religion, and law. And as they did so, they began to lose their freedom as this “new way” became imposed upon them to the extent that other beliefs were no longer acceptable. Those people who, like Eleazar, didn’t want to embrace the new way, gradually became more and more persecuted. In the end, Eleazar is martyred.
This is an example of true ideological colonization, the Pope said. In its haste to make everyone the same, it always leads to persecution and then to destruction.
“And this is the path of cultural colonization that ends up persecuting believers too,” the pope said.
“But we do not have to go too far to see some examples: we think of the genocides of the last century, which was a new cultural thing: [Trying to make] everyone equal; [so that] there is no place for differences, there is no place for others, there is no place for God.”
This is because ideological colonization comes from a perverse root.
Eleazar, on the other hand, comes from a life-giving root, and is willing to die in order to give a good and noble example to the young people about what it means to be faithful to God.
“He gives [his] life; for love of God and of the law he is made a root for the future. So, in the face of that perverse root that produces this ideological and cultural colonization, there is this other root that gives [his] life for the future to grow.”
This doesn’t mean that all new things are bad, the pope continued. Remember, Jesus was a novelty in His day.
But when it comes to novelties, the Pope said, one has to be able to make distinctions:
“There is a need to discern ‘the new things’: Is this new thing from the Lord, does it come from the Holy Spirit, is it rooted in God? Or does this newness come from a perverse root? But before, [for example] yes, it was a sin to kill children; but today it is not a problem, it is a perverse novelty. Yesterday, the differences were clear, as God made it, creation was respected; but today [people say] we are a little modern… you act… you understand … things are not so different … and things are mixed together.”
He went on to warn that “Ideological and cultural colonizations only look to the present; they deny the past, and do not look to the future. They live in the moment, not in time, and so they can’t promise us anything. And with this attitude of making everyone equal and cancelling out differences. . . they make a particularly ugly blasphemy against God the Creator. Every time a cultural and ideological colonization comes along, it sins against God the Creator because it wants to change Creation as it was made by Him. And against this fact that has occurred so often in history, there is only one medicine: bearing witness; that is, martyrdom.”
Eleazar teaches us that even though we live amongst, and dialogue with, people who think much differently than we do, our testimony must always be that we believe in the law of God. This response may not win us praise in the present, but it will ensure a future for those who, like us, want to continue in God’s way. In this way, the legacy of our testimony is the same as Eleazar because it becomes a “promise” for the future of our young.
As we gather around our tables tomorrow, let us not forget to give thanks to the One who provided for us during the past year – regardless of whether or not our culture recognizes His existence. All that matters is that we recognize it, we live it. And in doing so, we keep it alive for all of those people in future generations who will grow tired of the godless “new way” and seek the kind of meaning and certainty that can only be found in the Truth.
Even though cultural colonization may be intent on destroying the Christian roots of our world, it can only do so as far as we allow it.
On this Thanksgiving Day, and always, may our hearts remain firm, faithful, and free.