As we hear today, the story of the Maccabees did not start out as a violent persecution. It started with a new Greek king, Antiochus Epiphanes. Some of the Israelites in the area thought that it would be a good idea to suppress some of their own customs in favor of the Gentile customs. These Israelites are described as “breakers of the law,” who “covered over the mark of their circumcision,” “abandoned the holy covenant,” “allied themselves with the Gentiles,” and “sold themselves to wrongdoing” (1 Macc. 1:11–15). In order to get along better with the Greeks, they compromised their religious obligations, ceased to perform some of their customs, and began backsliding toward immorality.

After eight years of this, the situation was so bad that Antiochus Epiphanes could put an idol on the altar, mandate idolatry, and destroy any physical remnants of Jewish practice. This was ultimately the straw that broke the camel’s back for Judas Maccabeus and the Maccabees, who then started a guerilla war against the Greeks.

But what was so terrible, in the inspired author’s view, about what the Israelites were doing? They were unfaithful. In fact, this is the sin that so wounds God’s heart throughout the writings of the prophets and the history of Israel. Israel goes to join the other nations, forgets God, and slips into dissipation, deeply offending God and prompting Him to call them back to Him. The Israelites do the same thing with the Greeks, albeit with the goal of seeking peace. But we see that even the most minimal catering to atheism, secularism, and the like leads to a lack of faith, a lack of conviction, and the potential for abuse by those who do not listen to the Lord.

It’s safe to say that most people today don’t get as worked up about religious customs or liturgical disputes as did the Maccabean warriors, but perhaps that is more a lesson about us than it is about them. They understood that nothing good can come from compromising the Faith, even if the aim is to be accommodating. Eventually, nations will not respect those who do not show respect to their own traditions.

The Gospel should be brought to the world, but that is not the same thing as to adjust the Gospel message to fit the desires of those who do not yet believe. The Gospel does not change, the Faith does not change, and the world is to be invited into its fullness, where they will find communion with the God who loves them and made them. If we attempt to soften the message of Christ or abandon our own pious practices, customs, and traditions, we will lose the respect of those around us. The Maccabees understood that the Faith is something to cherish, not just in the abstract, but in the details of prayer, devotions, customs, and traditions. We have something unique, and it is worth preserving.

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Saint Ambrose

Saint Ambrose was a 4th-century bishop, influential theologian, defender of orthodoxy, and mentor to Saint Augustine, known for his eloquence and strong moral stance.
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