Wednesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time
(II Maccabees 7:1.20-31; Psalm 150; Luke 19:11-28)
One of the greatest achievements of the twentieth century was completed on December 10, 1948. On that day the United Nations overcame cultural and ideological barriers to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Of course, the system of rights and responsibilities has not always been honored by its signees. We will even find breaches in the conduct of the United States government despite its founding on many of the same principles as the Universal Declaration.
One right which Pope Benedict thinks resides at the very core of the freedoms expressed in the Universal Declaration is that of practicing one’s religious beliefs. Taken seriously, religion is not a personal choice much less a whimsical fancy, but the following one’s conscience where God speaks to the person. Furthermore, religion gives one reason to live virtuously respecting others and striving for personal perfection. Where religion is downplayed or its expression unreasonably curtailed, we should expect not only loss of initiative and other personal values but also rebellion and eventually anarchy.
The pious story that the Second Book of Maccabees today relates tells of the attempt of a ruler to suppress the Jewish religion. Evidently many Jews went along with the barbarism possibly thinking that religion does not matter so much as long as there is food on one’s table and a roof overhead. The mother and her seven sons know better. Because they believe that violating a commandment of God is worse than death, they willingly accept the latter. Their sacrifice anticipates that of Jesus who likewise dies in obedience to God. But his sacrifice seems even greater since he had to endure the contempt of the religious leaders of his own people.