Memory of the Saints and the Prophets

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Memory of the patriarch Abraham. In faith he journeyed to a land that he did not know, but that was promised to him by God. Because of this faith, he is called the father of believers by Jews, Christians and Muslims.

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

1 Maccabees 2, 29-38

Many people who were concerned for virtue and justice went down to the desert and stayed there,

taking with them their sons, their wives and their cattle, so oppressive had their sufferings become.

Word was brought to the royal officials and forces stationed in Jerusalem, in the City of David, that those who had repudiated the king's edict had gone down to the hiding places in the desert.

A strong detachment went after them, and when it came up with them ranged itself against them in battle formation, preparing to attack them on the Sabbath day,

and said, 'Enough of this! Come out and do as the king orders and you will be spared.'

The others, however, replied, 'We refuse to come out, and we will not obey the king's orders and profane the Sabbath day.'

The royal forces at once went into action,

but the others offered no opposition; not a stone was thrown, there was no barricading of the hiding places.

They only said, 'Let us all die innocent; let heaven and earth bear witness that you are massacring us with no pretence of justice.'

The attack was pressed home on the Sabbath itself, and they were slaughtered, with their wives and children and cattle, to the number of one thousand persons.


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

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

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

The text suggests that Mattathias’ example had been effective. Next to the first group that followed him, other Jews abandoned Jerusalem to go to the desert and reorder their life in the faith of the Covenant with God. Possibly, the real “desert” was the very city of Jerusalem because it rejected the Lord and accepted other gods. Indeed, also our cities become often like a desert when hatred, violence, injustice, and above all the oblivion of God rule over them. It is urgent, even more essential, to create places of love, justice, and peace everywhere in our cities. We do not need to abandon our cities but to stay in the heart of the society as yeast of life, as places of prayer, as places where everyone is respected, as shelters of solidarity for the poor and the weak. However, in the biblical language, desert sometimes has a positive aspect when, for example, it indicates the forty years the people of Israel had to face the long way to the Promised Land. During this pilgrimage in the desert, certainly the people of Israel not only had to face many trials and temptations but they also received the gift of the Law. In the end, the desert is the time of the Exodus, of the journey to the Promised Land: it is, therefore, the symbol of conversion, or of the moment where to find, again, our closeness to God. This is what the prophet Hosea writes about Israel, the unfaithful bride: “I will bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her” (Hos 2:14). After the faithful of Israel fled to the desert to reorganize everything, the officers of the king chased them and decided to face them in a battle on the Sabbath. They had been informed by the Jews that they had apostatised the sacredness of the Sabbath. Moreover, the compliance with the day of rest became stricter in the post-exile period and was extended to businesses and even to the closure of the doors of the city (Ne 10:32; 13:15-22). The followers of the king, once near the Jews, called on them to go back to the city. In that case, their lives would have been spared. The Jews refused to break the rest of the Sabbath. With no resistance, they preferred to die instead of committing sin against the Lord. The sacred author writes, “But they did not answer them or hurl a stone at them or block up their hiding places, for they said, ‘Let us all die in our innocence; heaven and earth testify for us that you are killing us unjustly’” (vv. 36-37). Everyone was killed. An analogous episode comes to mind at the beginning of the Christian Church. In Abitene, near Cartagena, in the fourth century, a group of Christians was condemned to death because they did not want to renounce to the observance of Sunday. To the pagan judge exhorting them to renounce the worship, they replied, “We cannot live without Sunday.” And they were all killed. If we can call those Jews the martyrs of the Sabbath, these latter are the first martyrs of Sunday. This is a lesson to be learned today, in order to give new meaning to the “day of the Lord.” Christians of today will be spared thanks to the observance of Sunday: liturgy, gratuitous love, meeting among brothers and sisters free from the slavery of a society where money and business are increasingly more totalitarian.