November 3, 2009

Judas Maccabeus vs. Gaudium et Spes

At the beginning of this thirty-first week of Ordinary Time we arrive at one of the oddest and most challenging counterpoints in the whole of the liturgy: the two day juxtaposition, in the Office of Readings, of 1 Maccabees and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World of Vatican II. I didn't catch much of it this year, yesterday having been All Souls and opting for John XXIII's beautiful homily for the canonization of Martin de Porres today, but I did the readings anyway because they strike me so strongly each year at this time.

In the reading from Maccabees today, the great Mattathias is so filled with zeal to follow the Law that he not only kills the messenger bearing the king's demand of cultural assimilation, but even another Jew who was going to comply. He and his fellow zealots, after having left the city in order to protect the purity of their religious observance, go about destroying pagan altars and forcibly circumcising any uncircumcised boys they find.

After having meditated on all of this, one then turns to Gaudium et spes and is exhorted to "cooperate, willingly and wholeheartedly, in building an international order based on genuine respect for legitimate freedom and on a brotherhood of universal friendship." We are to "cooperate actively and constructively with other Christians" and to share resources "without being uniform and inflexible."

It's the classic question of how people of faith who value religion are supposed to relate to the unbelieving, persecuting, or lax world around them. Do we separate ourselves so as to protect the purity of our life, or do we assimilate to the world a little so as to include more souls in what really matters? What is our duty to the lapsed or unobservant among us? Do we come at them honey or vinegar, with cooperation or separation, with 'relevant,' 'updated' activities or a bomb?

Is it good to have a Catholic politician, even if they don't seem to believe and work for everything the Church teaches? Or is it an unacceptable scandal?

Christians have always enjoyed the right of 'plundering the Egyptians;' we may take the tools of the unbelieving world and use them for the benefit of the Gospel. (What else does it mean to be a Catholic blogger?) But in our relationship to the world, how willing are we to risk allowing its errors to infect the purity of our faith? It's a hard question, to know where to draw the line. If we run up into the mountains and refuse any relationship to the earthly city, we will fail to be the missionaries that we are called to be. But if we live in too close a spirit of cooperation with the unbelieving world, we will soon find--as we have!--that the faith becomes distorted by those of us who start to accept and support the world's crimes and absurdities, like abortion and various other things.

There have always been Christians firmly planted all over the map on this question, and it remains a challenge for each individual and community.


Warren said...

Obviously Judas Maccabeus represents something of a hero to the Jews of his time, and his culture. A man of action, violent decisive action. A man we would today call a terrorist.

Yesterday I read an interesting article on, an excerpt from the book written about (and partially by) the son, and wife of Osama Bin Laden.

You could say Osama Bin Laden and Judas Maccabeus are two peas in a pod. They are certainly both men who care nothing for the modern world's moral categories.

You could say that the Russians created Osama, and that Seuclids (greeks) created Maccabeus. He is acclaimed (according to wikipedia) as a great warrior, along with David, Joshua and Gideon.

Is there a difference? I think there is. And I think our culture uniquely blind to that difference.

It's interesting to me to reflect on St. Francis riding to war, full of idealism and dreams of knighthood, and then cooling his heels in a prison in Perugia.

It warms my heart to think that in the end, little Francis may have changed the world more as a poor friar, than as a mighty warrior, and to think that this quiet victory of love over hate and destruction, might in the end, be all that really mattered.


Brother Charles said...

Amen, Warren! Thanks so much!

Buck George said...

We are in the world but not of the world, and I think Our Lord is the supreme example of how we, his disciples, should relate to the world.

To everyone--the lapsed, unobservant, sometimes over-observant, unbelieving, and persecuting alike--He spoke the truth out of love. Sometimes He used honey, as to the woman caught in adultery. Sometimes He used vinegar, going so far as to call the Pharisees a brood of vipers. Assimilate is a tricky word; Jesus was ethnically, culturally, and religiously Jewish but never compromised the truth to make his message seem more acceptable to the culture. And it got him killed.

Those of us out here in the world confronting an increasingly anti-Christian culture can follow His example and cooperate but not compromise. The early martyrs were Roman citizens but refused to worship the emperor. In our time, perhaps we can cooperate to reform the health care system, but we cannot compromise and support a plan with provision for abortion or euthanasia.

But the Catholic Church is large enough to have room for both those of us who are in the thick of things and those who separate themselves in a more dramatic way. And those who separate themselves haven't refused all relationship to the earthly city. Even the Carthusians tucked away in the alps serve by making their lives a constant prayer on behalf of the world.

Just my two cents.

Brother Charles said...

Thanks for this, Buck, especially for the contemporary application and the sense of catholicity.

ben in denver said...

There is really no contradiction here. The king's demand for cultural assimilation was clearly not compatible with an "order based on LEGITIMATE freedom and a brotherhood of universal friendship." I think the when GS speaks about "cooperating extensively with other Christians...without being uniform and inflexible" that what the council fathers may have had in mind were approaches like what we are currently seeing with the Anglicans and the SSPX, where we have a flexible and multiform Christiantiy as far as it is LEGITIMATE and does no harm to the universal brotherhood of man. It in now way calls for compromising on issues of real importance where souls are at stake.

Brother Charles said...

Ben: Thanks for the comment. There can be no conflict in revelation, only the appearance because we have not yet figured things out. Thanks for another contemporary application. Perhaps I should try to get one of our students to write a paper called, "Benedict XVI and the SSPX and Anglican Provision: The Spirit of Vatican II at Work." That would be great!

Qualis Rex said...

To eccho the sentiments of those before, I think both Judas Maccabeus and Gaudium et Spes represent two extremes of a spectrum: one saying avoid change at all cost, the other seeking an (uneasy) accommodation with the modern world. Yet we have to look at both texts in historical context. Maccabees was written in a very brutal time in human civilization where the "clash of cultures" between the Greeks and Hebrews was underway due to Greek expansionism/imperialism. Likewise, Gaudium et Spes was written a mere 20 years after the most devastating war humanity had ever seen and the world was in the grip of the cold war. Neither texts should be taken as roadmaps for what to do in any given situation, but rather "given the information we have at the moment, this is how we are attempting to deal with the situation" type of exercises.