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The Everyday Prayer

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Icon of the Holy Face
Church of Sant'Egidio, Rome

Reading of the Word of God

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

You are a chosen race,
a royal priesthood, a holy nation,
a people acquired by God
to proclaim his marvellous works.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Ezra 9,1-15

Once this was done, the officials approached me to say, 'The people of Israel, the priests and the Levites, have not renounced the disgusting practices of the people of the country -- the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Moabites, the Egyptians and the Amorites-

since they and their sons have married some of their women, as a result of which the holy race has been contaminated by the people of the country. The officials and leaders have been the worst offenders in this act of infidelity.'

On hearing this, I tore my clothes and my cloak; I pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down in horror.

All who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered round me, when faced with the infidelity of the exiles, while I went on sitting there in horror until the evening sacrifice.

At the evening sacrifice I came out of my stupor and, falling on my knees in my torn clothes and cloak, stretched out my hands to Yahweh my God,

and said: 'My God, I am ashamed, I blush to lift my face to you, my God. For our iniquities have increased, until they are higher than our heads, and our guilt has risen as high as heaven.

From the days of our ancestors until now we have been deeply guilty and, because of our iniquities, we, our kings and our priests, have been handed over to the kings of other countries, to the sword, to captivity, to pillage, to shame, as is the case today.

And now, for a brief moment, the favour of Yahweh our God has allowed a remnant of us to escape and given us a stable home in his holy place, so that our God can raise our spirits and revive us a little in our slavery.

For we are slaves; but God has not forgotten us in our slavery; he has extended his faithful love to us even under the kings of Persia and revived us to rebuild the Temple of our God, restore its ruins and provide us with a refuge in Judah and in Jerusalem.

But now, our God, what can we say after this? For we have abandoned your commandments,

which you gave through your servants the prophets in these terms, "The country which you are about to possess is a polluted country, polluted by the people of the country and their disgusting practices, which have filled it with their filth from end to end.

Hence you are not to give your daughters in marriage to their sons, or let their daughters marry your sons, or ever concern yourselves about peace or good relations with them, if you want to grow stronger, to live off the fat of the land and bequeath it to your sons for ever."

'After all that has befallen us because of our evil deeds and our deep guilt -- though you, our God, have punished us less than our iniquities deserved and have allowed us to escape like this-

are we to break your commandments again and intermarry with people with these disgusting practices? Would you not be enraged with us to the point of destroying us, leaving neither remnant nor survivor?

Yahweh, God of Israel, you are upright. We survive only as the remnant we are today. We come before you in our guilt; because of it we cannot stand in your presence.'


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

You will be holy,
because I am holy, thus says the Lord.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Returning to the Promised Land does not guarantee integrity and salvation. Living in the ancestral land actually requires faithfulness to the Word of God. Exile, when Israel was deprived of the land, was the consequence of their betrayal of the covenant. The same happened during Ezra’s time and he felt the confusion of a man who discovers the infidelity of his people. A man of God feels embarrassed not only for his own sin, but also for the sin of his people: "I am too ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens." Being conscious of one’s sin is an essential aspect of a person of faith: there is no salvation without awareness of evil and one’s own sin. Prayer arises precisely from this awareness that accompanies the life of the believer everyday. Ezra shows us the necessity of analysing ourselves, of recognizing God’s free love, for which we are all pardoned like slaves freed from bondage: "For we are slaves; yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery." God’s love is greater than our sin. It calls us, however, to humility in recognizing it without hiding behind so many of our justifications. Ezra knows that God at least had left a remnant among his people, the survivors of the deportation, who are "before [him] in [their] guilt." God does not pretend that all of us are just in his eyes (and who possibly could be?), but at least that we know how to recognize our sin and ask for God’s forgiveness.

Memory of the Saints and the Prophets