But preferring a glorious death to a life of defilement, . . . (Eleazar) went forward of his own accord to the instrument of torture, as people ought to do who have the courage to reject the food which it is unlawful to taste even for love of life. 2 MC 6: 19 – 20
The Scriptures for today’s Mass invites us to reflect upon the role of personal courage in our journey of faith.
Most of us grew up hoping that we could be courageous when that time came. Popular books and movies often portrayed heroes and heroines as their main characters. Men and women who did courageous acts of bravery in war, or in saving lives, sometimes quite by accident or suffered death while defending just causes were often lifted up for our edification and admiration. Being recognized as courageous in the midst of a dangerous situation was one of the highest achievements that could be conferred upon someone. Courageous men and women just made us feel good. And they inspired us to be courageous when our time came to act with courage. We only have to witness a ceremony of the President conferring a Medal of Honor to experience those feelings.
I remember reading books and accounts of the lives of the saints that would highlight the courage of these men and women as they confronted the evils of this world and even their own communities and religious leaders. It did not take long for me to figure out that there would be times when I would need to be strong and courageous in my convictions and commitments to my faith, my Church and my God. Likewise, there would be times in our lives when we have to decide to act with courage rather than cowardice, integrity rather than duplicity, truthfulness rather than deceitfulness.
Today’s readings give us two examples of courage, Eleazar, a ninety year old man who was put to the test to save his life by breaking his religious law, a man of respect and beyond reproach, a man whose example would lead others to do what he did; and Zacchaeus, a thief, a cheat, and a tax collector for the Roman Empire. Both were asked to do the most courageous act of their lives, say no to an unjust law for Eleazar and to invite Jesus into his life and home for Zacchaeus. For Eleazar, that meant certain death. For Zacchaeus, a whole new way of life. Both acts of courage led to everlasting life. We have a lot to learn from their example.
To be a faithful follower of Jesus today and a member of the Church that He established, takes an extraordinary amount of courage. In living our daily life of faith, we quickly learn that the courage we are talking about is not just human courage but Christian Courage, the kind of courage we need to pray for every morning. Every day, we will be asked to act with courage and integrity, to do the right thing, to be a good person. Ordinarily, this will cost us nothing. But there will come a time when it will cost us everything. We will be asked to choose to do the right thing, to stand with God’s Word, God’s Values and God’s Love while rejecting the false promises of human happiness and success. There will come a time when Jesus will be passing by and we will have the urge to climb a tree to see him, and then experience Jesus’ invitation to let him into our hearts and homes. Then, we will know what needs to be given away. We will need the courage to be converted and changed forever. Then, we will hear Jesus say to us: “Today, salvation has come to this house!”
Let us pray for the grace of this kind of courage every morning we wake up!
Fr. Clemente Barrón, C.P. is a member of Mater Dolorosa Community in Sierra Madre, California.