20th Sunday after Pentecost
The lessons in the divine office during the whole month of October, are often taken from the books of Machabees.
After the Babylonian captivity God's people returned to Jerusalem where they rebuilt the Temple. Incidentally, it was at this time that today's Offertory psalm was composed. But soon they were once more punished because of renewed unfaithfulness. On this occasion Antiochus Epiphanes took Jerusalem and pillaged the Temple; afterwards publishing an edict everywhere forbidding the practice of the Jewish faith. Idolatrous altars were raised in every place, and the number of apostates became so great that it seemed as if the faith of Abraham, Israel and Moses must disappear.
Then God raised up some heroes. A priest named Mathathias rallied all who were still filled with zeal for the Law and the worship of the Covenant and named his son Judas Machabeus as leader of the force which he had raised to champion the rights of the true God; and with his tiny army Judas gladly fought the battles of Israel. In war he was "like a lion and like a lion's welp roaring for his prey." He wiped out "the wicked", and routed Antiochus' great army and re-established the true worship at Jerusalem, Filled with the Spirit of God, the Machabees had reconquered their country and saved the soul of their people.
"The sacrilegious superstitions of the Gentile world," says St. Augustine, "had filled the temple with defilement; but is was cleansed from all these profanations of idolatry by that most valiant captain Judas Machabeus, the conqueror of the generals of Antiochus" (Second Sunday in October, second Nocturn).
Again, St. Ambrose comments: "Some men have been captivated by the glory of arms, and rate courage in warfare above all else. But not of this kind was the valour of Josue, who, in a single battle, took six kings prisoners. With three hundred men Gedeon triumphed over a powerful army. Jonathas, while still a boy, distinguished himself by some fine feats of arms.
And what shall we say of the Machabees? With three thousand Jews they conquered forty-eight thousand Syrians! We can form some idea of the mettle of a captain like Judas Machabeus, from the action of one of his soldiers. This man, Eleazar, having noticed an elephant taller than the rest and covered with the royal body-cloth, concluding that it was ...