The Great Ones

This homily was given at Mater Dolorosa Parish, South San Francisco, CA on the Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 6, 2022. The audio is available here.

In the seminary, we often sing a hymn to the martyrs which goes like this: 

“These were thy great ones: we, thy least,
One in desire and faith with them,
Called by the Lord to keep one feast,
Journey to one Jerusalem.”

The seven brothers in today’s first reading were truly great ones.

“Even the king and his attendants marveled at their courage, because those young men regarded their sufferings as nothing.”


They were “ready to die rather than transgress the laws of their ancestors.”

For these holy brothers, the issue was not just about forbidden food; it was about who was king in Israel: God, or their pagan overlords, who wanted to humiliate them and destroy their faith by forcing them to eat pork. 

In the history of the Church, many martyrs have died for less.

Thousands upon thousands of Christians died in the Roman Empire because they refused to burn a pinch of incense before a statue of the Emperor.

The issue was the same: who was King, Christ or Caesar?

For the Christians, it was idolatry, blasphemy, to offer a sacrifice of worship to a man, when all glory, honor, and worship belong to Jesus Christ alone.

They were ready to die rather than deny Christ the King.

Most of us have grown up and lived all our lives in places where being a Christian was no great risk.

The United States, the Philippines, Mexico: these were Christian countries, and even as the faith is fading, we have not had much to fear.

When I became Catholic in high school, I got teased and lost some friends—I didn’t face torture and death. 

But make no mistake: we are living in a new apostolic age.

As we believe and follow Jesus, we can expect to suffer some consequences.

The teacher who bravely stands up for the truth that “God created them male and female…” 

The nurse who refuses to assist with abortions or euthanasia…

Or the pharmacist who refuses to dispense contraception…

Even the ordinary Catholic who dares to go out in public wearing a cross around her neck or praying the rosary, or says God bless you at Safeway!

The world sees our faith in Jesus and His Gospel as a threat to its own power, just like our forefathers who refused to burn a pinch of incense to the Emperor, or the Maccabees who refused to take a bite of pork.

Our reputations, our jobs, our livelihood may all be on the line before long.

It’s natural for us to be afraid, to count the cost … even to be tempted to burn the pinches of incense our new pagan overlords demand.

But like the martyrs, “one in desire and faith with them,” there comes a time for all of us that we must choose on whose side we stand: God or the world, Jesus Christ or the princes and powers of this age. 

Jesus Christ is the true King of the world.

And Jesus is not afraid.

All authority and dominion has been given to Him by His Father.

Jesus holds all the princes and powers of this age in the palm of his hand.

He knows it, and the Devil knows it: “he knows his time is short,” his power is temporary; his defeat is already accomplished; God’s victory is secure.

Following King Jesus, like the great martyrs in former days, we hold on to the faith of our fathers steadfastly, courageously, through times of trial.

We stand strong, like lights in the darkness, to give hope and a good example to those who might falter and fall.

Whatever we may risk, whatever we may lose, we know “it was from Heaven that we received them, and from Jesus we hope to receive them again.”

For Jesus is “faithful; he will strengthen us and guard us from the evil one,” the Devil, whom He conquered once and for all on the Cross.

And even though we pass through the valley of the shadow of death, following our King, we know that on the last day He, the King of Life, will “raise us up to live again forever.”

Today, at this Holy Mass, ask Jesus to encourage and strengthen us with faith in His kingdom and good hope through His grace.

Ask Him to be with us and support us when trials come.

As we receive Jesus today in the Holy Eucharist and choose to follow Him unreservedly, we are united in the Body of Christ with all the saints and martyrs.

We share in their strength, their courage, the full inheritance of the saints.

And when the final trumpet sounds, when the dead are raised and the Lord appears in glory, our joy will be full, and we will be welcomed into their company to share in the victory that lasts forever.

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