Today, May 1st, Chaldean Catholics around the world commemorate Mart Shmoni and her seven sons, whose grisly martyrdom is featured in the Second Book of Maccabees.
During that time, the foreign, oppressive, invading power (Greece) was forcing all of the Lord’s people, under penalty of torture, to partake in unlawful practices. Mart Shmoni and her sons (though the father of the children remains unaccounted for in the Biblical account) are compelled by the king at the time to eat pork, which was forbidden to the Israelites. This mother and her sons heroically refused to comply, and held fast to the Lord’s commands, submitting themselves to tortures and eventually death, one-by-one, in front of their surviving family members.
Why is such emphasis placed on this morbid, and seemingly depressing story?
Each of Mart Shmoni’s sons was given an opportunity to escape an untimely and graphic death, if he but repented of his rebellious ways; each one was addressed individually and given the opportunity to eat a small piece of meat, or flatter an enraged king, or presume the Lord’s future forgiveness, and each one in turn refused to lower his moral standards. Not only that, but each of them did not meekly bow their heads in shameful defeat, or quiver in fear as their other siblings were boiled before their eyes; no, they each of them had tremendous courage, in the truest sense, and faced death unafraid — each verbally assaulted the earthly king, spewing vile insults from their mouths, rightly reviled by the thought of offending the Almighty God.
Mart Shmoni is especially admirable, for she encourages each son before his questioning not to weaken in resolve, reminding them of the true and valid authority of God. She did not strive to keep them alive, because she recognized the fact that her children did not belong to her, just as any child does not truly belong to his biological parents. Each child is entrusted to a father and mother on earth, and that father and mother are given the responsibility of seeing that child back to his true Father in heaven. To prolong or make profitable a child’s earthly life by damning his soul is the ultimate failure in parenting. Ergo, Mart Shmoni fulfilled her duty nobly to the fateful end.
Would that all mothers could have the strength to watch their children suffer horribly, and not plead for their lives in exchange for their souls. Would that all youth would gladly forfiet their longevity rather than sin. Would that all young people could speak confidently for justice’s sake, without restrait so often cause by vanity. Would that all parents diciplined their children that well. Would that all people were as prioritized as these commemorative saints.
All Catholics should all pray that the Lord channels His grace through their righteous example, and produces good fruit in the souls of the Church militant, strengthening human relationships with one another by making each member see everyone in the light of the final destination.
The biblical account reads as follows:
It happened also that seven brothers and their mother were arrested and were being compelled by the king, under torture with whips and cords, to partake of unlawful swine’s flesh.
One of them, acting as their spokesman, said, “What do you intend to ask and learn from us? For we are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our fathers.”
The king fell into a rage, and gave orders that pans and caldrons be heated.
These were heated immediately, and he commanded that the tongue of their spokesman be cut out and that they scalp him and cut off his hands and feet, while the rest of the brothers and the mother looked on. When he was utterly helpless, the king ordered them to take him to the fire, still breathing, and to fry him in a pan. The smoke from the pan spread widely, but the brothers and their mother encouraged one another to die nobly, saying, “The Lord God is watching over us and in truth has compassion on us, as Moses declared in his song which bore witness against the people to their faces, when he said, `And he will have compassion on his servants.'”
After the first brother had died in this way, they brought forward the second for their sport. They tore off the skin of his head with the hair, and asked him, “Will you eat rather than have your body punished limb by limb?”
He replied in the language of his fathers, and said to them, “No.” Therefore he in turn underwent tortures as the first brother had done. And when he was at his last breath, he said, “You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws.”
After him, the third was the victim of their sport. When it was demanded, he quickly put out his tongue and courageously stretched forth his hands, and said nobly, “I got these from Heaven, and because of his laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again.” As a result the king himself and those with him were astonished at the young man’s spirit, for he regarded his sufferings as nothing.
When he too had died, they maltreated and tortured the fourth in the same way.
And when he was near death, he said, “One cannot but choose to die at the hands of men and to cherish the hope that God gives of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life!”
Next they brought forward the fifth and maltreated him.
But he looked at the king, and said, “Because you have authority among men, mortal though you are, you do what you please. But do not think that God has forsaken our people. Keep on, and see how his mighty power will torture you and your descendants!”
After him they brought forward the sixth. And when he was about to die, he said, “Do not deceive yourself in vain. For we are suffering these things on our own account, because of our sins against our own God. Therefore astounding things have happened. But do not think that you will go unpunished for having tried to fight against God!” The mother was especially admirable and worthy of honorable memory. Though she saw her seven sons perish within a single day, she bore it with good courage because of her hope in the Lord.
She encouraged each of them in the language of their fathers. Filled with a noble spirit, she fired her woman’s reasoning with a man’s courage, and said to them, “I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you.
Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of man and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws.”
Antiochus felt that he was being treated with contempt, and he was suspicious of her reproachful tone. The youngest brother being still alive, Antiochus not only appealed to him in words, but promised with oaths that he would make him rich and enviable if he would turn from the ways of his fathers, and that he would take him for his friend and entrust him with public affairs.
Since the young man would not listen to him at all, the king called the mother to him and urged her to advise the youth to save himself. After much urging on his part, she undertook to persuade her son. But, leaning close to him, she spoke in their native tongue as follows, deriding the cruel tyrant: “My son, have pity on me. I carried you nine months in my womb, and nursed you for three years, and have reared you and brought you up to this point in your life, and have taken care of you. I beseech you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed. Thus also mankind comes into being. Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again with your brothers.”
While she was still speaking, the young man said, “What are you waiting for? I will not obey the king’s command, but I obey the command of the law that was given to our fathers through Moses.
But you, who have contrived all sorts of evil against the Hebrews, will certainly not escape the hands of God. For we are suffering because of our own sins. And if our living Lord is angry for a little while, to rebuke and discipline us, he will again be reconciled with his own servants. But you, unholy wretch, you most defiled of all men, do not be elated in vain and puffed up by uncertain hopes, when you raise your hand against the children of heaven. You have not yet escaped the judgment of the almighty, all-seeing God. For our brothers after enduring a brief suffering have drunk of everflowing life under God’s covenant; but you, by the judgment of God, will receive just punishment for your arrogance. I, like my brothers, give up body and life for the laws of our fathers, appealing to God to show mercy soon to our nation and by afflictions and plagues to make you confess that he alone is God, and through me and my brothers to bring to an end the wrath of the Almighty which has justly fallen on our whole nation.”
The king fell into a rage, and handled him worse than the others, being exasperated at his scorn.
So he died in his integrity, putting his whole trust in the Lord. Last of all, the mother died, after her sons.
Let this be enough, then, about the eating of sacrifices and the extreme tortures.
Mart Shmoni and her seven martyred sons, pray for us.