Prayer for peace

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Reading of the Word of God

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

This is the Gospel of the poor,
liberation for the imprisoned,
sight for the blind,
freedom for the oppressed.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

1 Maccabees 1, 10-15.41-43.54-64

From these there grew a wicked offshoot, Antiochus Epiphanes son of King Antiochus; once a hostage in Rome, he became king in the 107th year of the kingdom of the Greeks.

It was then that there emerged from Israel a set of renegades who led many people astray. 'Come,' they said, 'let us ally ourselves with the gentiles surrounding us, for since we separated ourselves from them many misfortunes have overtaken us.'

This proposal proved acceptable,

and a number of the people eagerly approached the king, who authorised them to practise the gentiles' observances.

So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, such as the gentiles have,

disguised their circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant, submitting to gentile rule as willing slaves of impiety.

The king then issued a proclamation to his whole kingdom that all were to become a single people, each nation renouncing its particular customs.

All the gentiles conformed to the king's decree,

and many Israelites chose to accept his religion, sacrificing to idols and profaning the Sabbath.

On the fifteenth day of Chislev in the year 145 the king built the appalling abomination on top of the altar of burnt offering; and altars were built in the surrounding towns of Judah

and incense offered at the doors of houses and in the streets.

Any books of the Law that came to light were torn up and burned.

Whenever anyone was discovered possessing a copy of the covenant or practising the Law, the king's decree sentenced him to death.

Month after month they took harsh action against any offenders they discovered in the towns of Israel.

On the twenty-fifth day of each month, sacrifice was offered on the altar erected on top of the altar of burnt offering.

Women who had had their children circumcised were put to death according to the edict

with their babies hung round their necks, and the members of their household and those who had performed the circumcision were executed with them.

Yet there were many in Israel who stood firm and found the courage to refuse unclean food.

They chose death rather than contamination by such fare or profanation of the holy covenant, and they were executed.

It was a truly dreadful retribution that visited Israel.


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

The Son of Man came to serve,
whoever wants to be great
should become servant of all.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

We begin reading the first book of Maccabees. The author, an educated Jew of the time of the experiences of the three Maccabee brothers, outlines already in the first two chapters the perspective of the entire history: the people of Israel defend the Law from the pollution of neighbouring peoples who wish to impose pagan traditions on them. Therefore, the author praises the behaviour of the believers who refuse every concession to the Hellenic worldview, even to the point of death. The believers are identified with martyrs. The first book of Maccabees, which includes Israel’s history from 167 B.C. to 134 B.C., opens with a brief historical summary on Alexander the Macedonian (Alexander the Great) who had his empire stretching throughout the East, "until the ends of the Earth." In order to combine the diverse peoples into one civilization, Alexander made Greek the official language of his empire and ordered that centres of Hellenist civilization be built everywhere, both by building new cities and reconfiguring the existing ones to conform to the Greek model. Hellenism used theatres and gymnasiums, as well as temples, to spread Greek divinities. As a way to show the hegemonic strength and cultural influence of Alexander, the author observes, "the earth became quiet before him." Yet pride for such enormous power took possession of the Emperor’s heart and divine justice would check him: Alexander fell sick and died. Beforehand, however, he divided up his kingdom between his officials; one of them was Antiochus Epiphanes "a sinful root," who, among his deeds, would eventually sack Jerusalem. During the reign of Antiochus, a few renegade men of Israel (literally "transgressors of the Law") seduced other Jews into accepting the Hellenist attitude and lifestyle. They said to others, "Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles round about us, for since we separated from them many disasters have come upon us." The initiative of the Hellenization of Jewish customs was also the work of a part of Jewish society that wished to be like the citizens of all the other nations. This sort of assimilation had already occurred at Samuel’s time when the people wanted a king "like all other nations" (1 Sam 8:5,20). In Jerusalem, a gymnasium whose central part was a gym, was built, a clear expression of Hellenistic culture. For the Jews, however, there was the issue of circumcision. As the Greeks would exercise and perform naked, the Jews sought to hide their circumcision. Such an attitude, however, meant hiding their covenant with God, which was the foundation of Israel’s existence. Defending their connection with God above everything else was the people of Israel’s reason for living. Only on the solid basis of their alliance with God could they have relationships with other peoples, otherwise they would jeopardize their very reason for being as a people of Israel. This is a lesson that speaks to us today when we adapt worldly attitudes that only seem to suit ourselves. As believers, we are called to stay faithful to God and friends to men and women, especially to the poor.