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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[2 Mach. 6]

THE most terrible trial which the Jews had to undergo was that which came upon them at the time when they were made subject to the proud and cruel Antiochus, king of Syria. The king ordered the Holy Books to be torn and burnt; he profaned the Temple, and forbade the observance of the divine laws under the penalty of death.

Unhappily, many of the Jews, yielding to a guilty fear, obeyed the king’s order; but many more refused to comply with the impious mandate, and chose to die rather than violate the holy precept of God. Among these was an old man named Eleazar, ninety-nine years of age, who was renowned as a doctor of the law.

When Eleazar refused to eat swine’s flesh, the use of which was forbidden by the law of Moses, they opened his mouth by force to compel him to eat. But he still refused, and declared that he would undergo any torment that might be inflicted on him, rather than stain his soul with sin by a violation of the commandment of God. Then some of those who stood by, pitying the good old man, advised him to eat of other meat which was not forbidden, so as to feign compliance with the king’s command.

 

Fig. 59. Zeus (Jupiter). Old Roman painting. Naples Museum.

Eleazar replied: “It does not become our age to dissemble.” He then explained to these false friends that even if he made a mere show of complying with the king’s orders in this matter, the young men of his nation might be tempted to follow his example, saying: “The aged Eleazar has become a pagan, why may not we do the same?” Moreover, he exclaimed: “Though for the present time I should be delivered from the punishment of men, yet should I not escape the hand of the Almighty, neither alive nor dead.”

Having thus spoken, the holy old man was dragged to the place of execution, where he suffered a glorious death. In the midst of his torments he cried out: “Lord, Thou knowest I suffer grievous pains, but I am well content to suffer these things, because I fear Thee.”

Firm faith. Eleazar was strong and steadfast in faith, preferring to die under torture rather than deny his faith by eating the forbidden meat.

The fear of God. The fortitude with which Eleazar endured his torture proceeded from the holy fear of God, to whom he said in presence of the bystanders: “I am well content to suffer, because I fear Thee”; being persuaded within himself: “If I escape from this torture by a miserable hypocrisy, I could not escape the punishment of God.” It is thus we ought to reason when tempted either to do what is wrong, or to neglect what is right. Our Lord has spoken these warning words: Fear not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him that can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mat. 10:28).

Bad example. Eleazar wished to avoid even the appearance of sin, and therefore refused to adopt the suggestion made to him of secretly eating meat which was allowed, though he seemed to be eating swine’s flesh. Every one would have thought that he had eaten forbidden meat, and, as he himself said, he would thus have given a bad example to all the Jews, and especially to the young. This act would also have drawn others into transgressing the law and denying their faith. Those who are the occasion of sin in other persons give scandal, and sin against the Fifth Commandment.

Counselling sin. Did those who advised Eleazar to act as if he had eaten the forbidden meat commit sin? Yes, for though it is true that they felt full of compassion for the poor, weak, aged man, they felt no compassion for his soul; and it was, after all, a very erroneous sort of compassion which made them counsel him to commit a sin.

The shameful faithlessness of many Christians. Our Lord Jesus Christ had not yet died for Eleazar. He had not received the teaching and graces of Christianity, nor was heaven open to him; and yet he gave a splendid example of fortitude. How much more shameful would it be for Christians to deny their faith, having before them, in very truth, the example of our Lord, of the holy apostles, and of 13,000,000 martyrs of the Catholic Church, and receiving, as they do, so many graces from God!

APPLICATION. Are you ready to suffer a painful death rather than deny the holy Catholic faith, or commit any other grievous sin? Do you pray for the gift of fortitude?

If a Catholic eats meat on Friday, he acts as if he were not a Catholic, and refuses obedience to the Church of God. Do you always observe the days of abstinence?








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