What 2 Maccabees Can Teach Us About Holy Indifference

Too many today are like travelers without a map or GPS.

Not so with us! We know that we are created by the hands of a loving God to praise Him, reverence Him, love Him, and serve Him; and by means of that, to save our immortal soul. Furthermore, we know that all God created is good and that we are called not to abuse creation, but to use it properly. With all of this as our rock solid philosophical and theological foundation (Mt 7: 24-29), we are now ready to plunge into St. Ignatius’ concept of Holy Indifference.

Word Clarification

Right off the bat it must be stated that the concept of Holy Indifference does not mean apathy, inertia, spiritual-anemia, or a “whatever” attitude of life. Quite the contrary!

For Saint Ignatius the concept of Holy Indifference really means a total openness to discovering God’s will in our lives and carrying it out to the fullest extent possible. Nothing more nor less! In other words, we want to give ourselves to God fully, totally, absolutely, without any reservations!

Biblical Passage: 2 Maccabees 7

We present one of the most challenging Biblical passages so as to understand the concept of Holy Indifference. This passage is from the Old Testament, the seventh chapter of the second Book of Maccabees. It is the story of the Martyrdom of a Mother and her seven sons. This passage highlights living out the concept of Holy Indifference to the maximum.

This passage manifests the eternal value of the soul, of truth, and of the total giving of oneself to God, even to the point of the shedding of one’s blood. Jesus Himself stated this: “No greater love has a man than to lay down his life for his brothers.” (Jn 15:13)

Slow Reading and Meditation

Take time to read this somewhat lengthy, but inspiring, chapter in the Old Testament in 2 Maccabees Chapter 7. Get to know the sterling character of this Mother who had seven sons—seven splendid gifts from God, the Giver of all good gifts!

Kosher Laws

The King ordered these faithful Jewish people and family to eat pork, meat from the pig, which was against the Kosher Law of the Jews.

The Mother and Her Children

The Mother of these seven young men had an enormous love for her children. However, her love for God transcended even the love that she had for her seven boys. She believed in God and His promises!

Question for prayer: do we love persons, places, or things above God? Pray over this challenging question!

Trust in God

This noble mother, who loved her children so much, loved God even more and placed her total trust in His promises for her and for her sons! For this reason she was ready to encourage and sacrifice her children, even their very lives, rather than offend God by breaking His Holy Command.

Physical and Spiritual Health

Our physical life has great value. Our body is indeed the Temple of the Holy Spirit. However, it must be said, and this is the very heart of the concept of Holy Indifference,our soul and our love, service, and obedience to God far transcends the value of our physical body!

One of the most striking passages in all of Sacred Scripture is this passage in which this noble Mother encourages every one of her seven sons to choose death, even to the point of suffering and torture, over and above eating the pork and thereby offending Almighty God.

Another challenging question: how many parents place the spiritual lives of their children above their material and natural needs? Place the eternal above the transient, that which passes?

The Final Martyrdom

The Mother of the Maccabees witnessed the suffering, torture, and death of her seven sons with her own eyes. Then she herself underwent the same martyrdom. What strength of body, mind, and soul! What purity and fortitude of conscience!

In a word, what great love this Mother really had for God and the eternal salvation of her sons! Now she and her sons are bathed in God’s heavenly glory for all eternity. As Saint Paul reminds us: “The sufferings of this life are nothing in comparison to the glory of the sons and daughters of God.” (Rom 8:18) And, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, the wonderful things that God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Cor 2:9)

Holy Indifference to the Max

The passage of the Maccabees presents the concept of Holy Indifference to the max, to the highest degree — to prefer even death over breaking the Holy Law of God. On the surface, this passage may seem to be extreme, but in the eyes of God it is not.

Holy Indifference means, in its essence, that we are called to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength (Lk 10:27), even to the point of sacrificing our physical life for love of God and neighbor. Of course Jesus’ death on the cross on Good Friday is by far the best example ever of the utter profundity and depths of Holy Indifference.

Ignatian Four Categories of Indifference

In all of these categories, the willful choosing and ardent desire of willing what God willsis the prevailing theme! The motivating cause is love of God and trust in His promises!

1) We should not prefer long life over a short life. 

These seven sons of the Mother in 2 Maccabees were not elderly, but young. Their life was given by God and ended by obedience to God’s holy will! In The Imitation of Christ, Thomas Kempis asserts: “It is not important a long life, but a holy life.”

2) We should not prefer health over sickness. 

In this passage from 2 Maccabees, it was not an instance of health or sickness; rather, in the case of the seven sons and their loving Mother it was a rejection of comfort and ease and a choosing of suffering and torture for the salvation of their immortal souls. We can see this in the death of Jesus on the cross and His Mother Mary standing at the foot of the cross. (Jn 19)

3) We should not prefer riches over poverty.

Most likely, if the Mother and sons were to have capitulated to the desires and whims of the King, he would have given them security. However, their security and strength was in God, their rock and their fortress! “Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.” (Ps 124:8)

4) We should not prefer honors over humiliations

Beyond the shadow of a doubt, all of the sons were humiliated, both in word and deed, by their martyrdom. If they were to have given in, there is a good chance they would have been honored by the King. But no! The seven sons and the Mother in 2 Maccabees willfully chose humiliations to the point of death so as to be honored by God, the Lord of Lord and King of Kings, for all eternity!

Conclusion: Holy Indifference

The concept of Holy Indifference without a doubt is one of the most challenging and difficult in the whole expanse of our spiritual journey. None of us will be able to live out Holy Indifference right off the bat and with ease. It demands time, effort, purpose, and good will, but most especially the grace of God! It also demands a great love of God and trust in His promises! “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ” And that future is peace and joy in heaven with our Loving God for all eternity!

As we read in Revelation 21:4: “God shall wipe away all the tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

Half the battle in attaining a state of Holy Indifference is that of comprehending the concept. Holy Indifference challenges us to look deep into the inner recesses of our soul, into our life, our actions, and even our intentions, and come to terms with the fact that we still have many disordered attachments. These must be brought to the light of God’s grace, admitted, and then submitted and subjugated to God’s all-powerful grace. If this is done, then we will start to experience the true liberty of the sons and daughters of God.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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Father Ed Broom is an Oblate of the Virgin Mary and the author of Total Consecration Through the Mysteries of the Rosary and From Humdrum to Holy. He blogs regularly at Fr. Broom's Blog.

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