Right at the end of today’s first reading is one of the most chilling lines in all of Scripture: “and they did die.” The people’s faith was sorely tested: would they give in and worship the false gods of the people around them so that they could have some kind of peace and security, or would they prefer to stand up for what they believed and more likely than not, give their lives for their faith? Many gave up and gave in and worshipped the false gods. But many stood their ground and clung to their belief in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
But, let’s be clear about this: they all died. In some way. Those who were martyred literally gave their lives for the faith, we get that. But those who chose to give up and give in brought about the death of their culture and the death of their souls. Sure, they may have had some kind of peace and security now, but who would protect them if the people they allied themselves with were overtaken? And that is to say nothing of their eternal souls. They did die.
The persecution never ends. It would be easier in our own day to give in and accept abortion as a necessity, or to accept whatever special interest groups think is best for us, or keep our faith private and never share it or show it in any way. Our culture would like that; they would appreciate our willingness to blend in and not give offense. But that would be the death of our way of life and our spirituality. It will surely cost us to witness to our faith, to challenge co-workers when a business deal blurs the lines of morality, to insist that our children attend Church on Sunday before they go to a weekend-long soccer tournament, or whatever the challenge may be.
But better that we die a little for our faith than that we die without faith at all.