The wonderful Jewish holiday of Hanukkah ended the other day, and in honor of the event, I went back and re-read the Books of Maccabees. They are a fascinating and sobering read — full of heroism and bloodshed, honor and sacrifice. They also are an important reminder of the need for people of faith to stand strong for our freedom to worship God as he commands, and not as the powers of this world wish to dictate.
The story is fairly straightforward. In the Second Century BC, the Greek kings of the Middle East, for a variety of reasons, decided to suppress the religious practices of the Jews. They used various measures. The mildest was to induce them to adopt Greek ways of living. The most serious was to blaspheme the Temple in Jerusalem by desecrating the altar of sacrifice, and erecting a statue to one of their pagan false gods. This led to warfare, suppression, and gruesome torture.
Throughout it all, a strong body of the faithful remained firm, and resisted. They ultimately were successful, and rededicated the Temple to the worship of the One True God. The great event is remembered still today, by the lighting of eight candles to honor the eight days of the ritual purification of the Temple — the holiday of Hanukkah.
This commemoration should remind us of the importance of fidelity to our faith, and the need to be willing to sacrifice and even suffer for it. It is a lesson that is being demonstrated in our midst by the Christians who are being brutally persecuted around the world, especially in the Middle East.
The suffering of our Christian brethren can barely be imagined by those of us in the comfortable West. The facts are clear and available to anyone who wishes to see them. Unfortunately, far too many people prefer to avert their eyes, or even to pretend that it is not happening. Even our government, which bears some considerable responsibility for creating the conditions that led to the persecution, refuses to call it by its real name — genocide.
At this time, it is incumbent on us all to rally with our Christian brethren. We must speak out and make sure that this crisis is an important part of the conversation during this election year. We should press our government to provide direct material aid to Christian refugees, including allowing them to come into the safety of our nation. We should give generously to organizations like the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and Aid to the Church in Need, that give material support to those who are suffering. And we need to pray without ceasing for the rescue of those who are persecuted, and for the conversion of their persecutors.
Like our Jewish friends, we should light a candle to remember the need to defend our faith. According to the ancient Hanukkah tradition, there wasn’t enough oil to light the original candles. But a miracle occurred, and there was enough oil for all eight days of light. There’s a lesson for us there — if we have faith, and remain steadfast with our God, He will provide all that we need.