The Cloud of Witnesses

20 November 2007 Tuesday of the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time
2 Maccabees 6, 18-31; Psalm 3; Luke 19, 1-10

The readings today speak about witnessing. The Greek word that denotes witnessing is martyr (μαρτυς). The first reading is about Eleazar, a true martyr or witness of the faith, who chose to die rather than to defile himself by eating pork which is an abomination to the Jewish faith. The Gospel is about Zacchaeus who also witnessed to the forgiveness of God. Eleazar and the lives of many martyrs and saints are important evidences of the truth of our faith. Hebrews 12, 1 tells us of this proof: “We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, [so] let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us.”

Moreover, in legal proceedings, a witness has firsthand experience or knowledge about a crime or an event, and thus verify to the truth of that crime or event. In addition, those who attend certain important official occasions such as baptisms and weddings are also witnesses, and may have signed a contract, to provide evidence that the event took place. These witnesses provide proof, for example, that a baptism had been done (in the case of lost documents) or a wedding took place (in cases of divorce and bigamy).

Honorable people are testimonies to the truth and importance of certain values or causes. Heroes are recognized for giving importance to patriotism and nationalism. Social advocates are awarded for giving testimonies to environmental protection and human rights. Philanthropists are remembered for their lifelong contribution to the upliftment of the marginalized, oppressed, uneducated, and abused. Peace corp volunteers are lauded for their peacekeeping efforts.

In all these cases, the men and women who have given their lives for particular advocacies and causes have inspired many others to follow in their footsteps. Therefore, as the letter to the Hebrews would put it, we are not to doubt the veracity of our faith because of these ‘cloud of witnesses’ but we should focus on taking the challenge to uphold these values. Psalm 3 assures us: as we uphold the commandments of God in our lives as witnesses, God too, in turn, would uphold us.

As Eleazar, in his old age, look back and saw that he had lived life to the full, we should also look back or face our future with this question: If I were to die now, what value would I desire people to remember me by?

Eleazar and many honorable individuals who followed him like saints, martyrs, heroes, advocates, and altruistic persons, became models of courage and have given the world an ‘unforgettable example of virtue not only for the young but for the whole’ world.

*The Renovation of Vows: 6 am mass, 19 November 2007, Monday @ Loyola House of Studies. Jesuits do not 'renew' their vows, because our first vows are also perpetual (there is nothing to renew). However, we recognize our tendency to forget our promises, so we call it a 'renovation' --- it is a devotional gesture that gives importance to our vowed life, as it also reminds us at least twice a year of our lifetime promise to the Lord. For most of us, the reason is very practical: it jolts us from the onslaught of senility.

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