Today’s scripture reading at Mass from the Book of Maccabees tells of the bravery of Eleazer, an old scribe put to death during the invasion of Jerusalem by Antiochus Epiphanes IV in the Second Century BC. All Eleazer had to do was eat some pork to signify he wasn’t “addicted” to his Jewish belief and he was home free. But he wouldn’t do it and so they put him to death.
Here’s how he explains why he wouldn’t give in:
“He told them to send him at once
to the abode of the dead, explaining:
“At our age it would be unbecoming to make such a pretense;
many young people would think the ninety-year-old Eleazar
had gone over to an alien religion.
Should I thus pretend for the sake of a brief moment of life,
they would be led astray by me,
while I would bring shame and dishonor on my old age.
Even if, for the time being, I avoid the punishment of men,
I shall never, whether alive or dead,
escape the hands of the Almighty.
Therefore, by manfully giving up my life now,
I will prove myself worthy of my old age,
and I will leave to the young a noble example
of how to die willingly and generously
for the revered and holy laws.” (2 Mac. 6, 18-31
The Eleazers are still with us. One of the reasons the church will survive is the example of its elderly. I was with some of them last night.