Let me share with you some of the nuggets this one small chapter has:
Now I urge those who read this book not to be depressed by such calamities, but to recognize that these punishments were designed not to destroy but to discipline our people. In fact, not to let the impious alone for long, but to punish them immediately, is a sign of great kindness ... [For God] never withdraws His mercy from us. Though He disciplines us with calamities, He does not forsake us, His own people. (Emphasis added.)Then it tells the story of Eleazar, who would not eat the swine the Greeks were trying to force all the Jews to eat contrary to the laws of God in effect at that time. The punishment for not obeying the Greeks was execution. Even so, Eleazar "[welcomed] death with honor rather than life with pollution [and so] went up to the rack of his accord."
When Eleazar's friends told him to take meat that was lawful and eat it instead of swine but to say, "It's swine that I'm eating," his response is classic:
Such pretense is not worthy of our time of life lest many of the young should suppose that Eleazar in his ninetieth year has gone over to an alien religion, and through my pretense, for the sake of living a brief moment longer, they should be led astray because of me, while I defile and disgrace my old age. For even if for the present I should avoid the punishment of men, yet whether I live or die I shall not escape the hands of the Almighty. Therefore, by manfully giving up my life now, I will show myself worthy of my old age and leave to the young a noble example of how to die a good death willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws.As he was being beaten and thus put to death, he nonetheless found the strength to get out the following last words:
It is clear to the Lord in His holy knowledge that, though I might have been saved from death, I am enduring terrible sufferings in my body under this beating, but in my soul I am glad to suffer these things because I fear Him."Shades of St. Paul in Philippians 1:19-26!
The chapter closes thusly:
So in this way he died, leaving in his death an example of nobility and a memorial of courage, not only to the young but to the great body of his nation.Wow. And so we remember this great man, Eleazar. Who remembers those who caved -- who understandably caved in "for the natural love of life" (2 Mac 6:20), but who crumbled under pressure, nonetheless? Who remembers the apostate, except those who were the most grievous in their apostasy?
We do not remember them. Some 2,100+ years later, however, we still know and remember Eleazar.
This is not to take pride in our being on the side of good and on the side of our holy religion. To date, it has been easy. It is getting harder in certain circumstances and in some places.
However, no one is going to arrest me today for catechizing my children, for going to Mass, for speaking for the true, good, and beautiful in the public square. Yet.
When they do, I hope ... I pray ... the Holy Spirit will give me the humility to know that any good I do will not be out of my own abilities but through the grace of the Holy Spirit won for me by my Brother, Jesus Christ, God the Son, whose sibling I am by God the Father's humbling adoption of me, an adoption won for me by Christ Jesus not because of any merit on my part, but as a freely given gift because He loves me.
In the history of Christianity, many boasted, "When it comes time, it will not be I who fail." Many times, those were the very people who did just that. They failed in their resolve. Like Lot's wife, they looked back. They did not trust in Our Lord to save them. They recommitted the sin of Adam. What a horrifying prospect. DearGod! Please save me from it! I am too weak and too likely to falter and fall. Protect me! Do not let that happen to me, I beg you.
St. Eleazar, if the premonitions of bad times to come prove accurate, pray for us that God will give us all that is necessary so that we will not fail, we will not falter, that we will not hesitate to follow your holy example. Amen.