Saint Charles Lwanga and his Companions, Martyrs – Readings

Commentary on 2 Maccabees 7:1-2,9-14; Psalm 123; Matthew 5:1-12

The Gospel reading for today’s celebration comes from Matthew and contains the Beatitudes, which form the opening words of the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon, in general, is an outline of how the individual Christian should live his life. The prominent place given to the Beatitudes indicates that they take the place of the Ten Commandments which hold a similar prominence in the Law of Moses.

The Commandments are expressed in legal terms of ‘Do’ and ‘Do not’ and are relatively straightforward and, to some extent, not too difficult to observe. In fact, those expressed negatively can theoretically be kept by doing nothing at all!

The Beatitudes are quite different. They are not a list of Do’s and Don’ts but are a list of values and attitudes which should be characteristic of a follower of Christ. They describe the kind of person the Christian should be. In fact, they can also be seen as a portrait of Christ himself.

And rather than listing activities that one should or should not do, they throw out a challenge, calling a person ever forward to a goal that can never be fully reached. They are also a recipe not just of good moral behaviour but of happiness. Fortunate are those who can claim those qualities to be truly part of their lives and character.

We see Charles and his companions living out these qualities under very challenging circumstances. And certainly the last Beatitude applies to them:

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven [i.e. in the sight of God], for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The First Reading is the famous scene from the Second Book of the Maccabees where seven brothers are executed for refusing to renounce their Jewish faith by eating pork. In today’s passage, we hear the second son, who has had the skin and hair of his head removed, refusing to give in. Just before dying he cried out:

You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to a renewal of everlasting life…

A call very similar to that made by the Ugandan martyrs before their death.

On the death of the third son in Maccabees:

…the king himself and those with him were astonished at the young man’s spirit, for he regarded his sufferings as nothing.

It was similar to the reaction of those who put Charles and his companions to death.

None of us will likely be asked to make such sacrifices in remaining faithful the call of Jesus in the Gospel, but the courage of these young men should help us in facing the much smaller challenges we are likely to face.

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