A biblical figure – and old man – named Eleazar lived at the time of the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes. He is a great character. His character gives us a witness to the special relationship that exists between the faithfulness of old age and the honor of faith. He’s a proud one, isn’t he? I would like to speak precisely of the honor of faith, not only of the steadfastness, proclamation and resistance of faith. The honor of the faith periodically comes under pressure, even violent pressure, from the culture of the rulers, who try to degrade it by treating it as an archaeological find, or an ancient superstition, an anachronistic fetish, and so on.
The biblical story tells of the episode in which the Jews were forced by a king’s decree to eat meat sacrificed to idols. When it comes Eleazar’s turn, an elderly man much respected by all, in his nineties; highly respected by all – an authority – the king’s officials advised him to resort to a make-believe, that is, to pretend to eat the meat without actually doing so. hypocrisy. Religious hypocrisy. There is so much! There is so much religious hypocrisy, ecclesiastical hypocrisy, there is so much. These people tell him, “Be a little hypocritical, nobody will notice.” In this way Eleazar would be saved, and – they said – in the name of friendship he would accept their gesture of compassion and affection. A hypocritical way out. After all, they claimed, it was a small gesture, pretending to eat but not eating, an insignificant gesture. It’s a small thing, but Eleazar’s calm and firm response is based on an argument that strikes us. The focal point is this: to dishonor the faith in old age, to gain a handful of days, cannot be compared with the legacy it must leave to the young, for whole generations to come. Well done Eleazar! An old man who has lived all his life in the context of his faith, and now adapts to pretending to deny it, condemns the new generation to think that the whole faith has been a sham, an outward covering that can be given up, assuming it can be kept inside. And that’s not the case, says Eleazar. Such conduct does not honor faith, even before God. And the effect of this external trivialization will be devastating to the inner life of young people. But the consistency of this man who considers the young! He thinks of his future inheritance, he thinks of his people.
It’s just old age – and that’s beautiful for all you old people, isn’t it! — which appears here as the decisive place, the irreplaceable place for this testimony. An elderly person who, because of his vulnerability, accepts that the practice of faith is irrelevant, would lead young people to believe that faith has no real relationship with life. It seems to them from the beginning a series of behaviors that, if necessary, can be imitated or hidden, because none of them are particularly important for life. [. . . ]Perhaps it is up to us elders to restore the faith, to make it coherent, that is Eleazar’s testimony: consistency to the end. The practice of faith is not the symbol of our weakness, no, but rather the sign of its strength. We are no longer young people. We weren’t kidding when we walked the path of the Lord!
Faith deserves respect and honor to the end: it has changed our lives, it has purified our minds, it has taught us the worship of God and the love of our neighbor. It’s a blessing for everyone! But faith as a whole, not just part of it. Like Eleazar, we will not trade our faith for a handful of quiet days. [. . .] Dear older brothers and sisters – not to say old, we are in the same group – please look at the younger ones: they are looking at us. They’re watching us. Do not forget that. It reminds me of that wonderful post-war movie: The Children Are Watching Us. We can say the same about young people: young people look at us and our consistency can open up a beautiful life path for them. Hypocrisy, on the other hand, will do so much damage. Let’s pray for each other. May God bless us all old people.
(General Audience, Rome, May 4).