Meditation on Canticle of the Three Young Men, in Book of Daniel

God Does Not Abandon Us to Death or Loneliness, Pope Says

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 19, 2003 ( Here is a translation of John Paul II’s address at today’s general audience, during which he reflected on Chapter 3 of the Book of Daniel, the canticle of the three young Israelites.

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1. «Then these three [young men] with one voice sang, glorifying and blessing God» (Daniel 3:51). This phrase introduces the famous Canticle that we just heard in its fundamental passage. It is found in the Book of Daniel, in the part that has come down to us only in Greek, intoned by courageous witnesses of the faith, who did not want to bow in adoration of the statue of the king and preferred to face a tragic death, martyrdom in the fiery furnace.

They are three Jewish youths, placed by the sacred author in the historical context of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, the great Babylonian sovereign who destroyed the holy city of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and deported the Israelites «by the waters of Babylon» (see Psalm 136). Despite the extreme danger, when the flames were already licking their bodies, they found the strength «to praise, glorify and bless God,» certain that the Lord of the cosmos and history would not abandon them to death and nothingness.

2. The biblical author, who wrote a few centuries later, evokes this heroic event to stimulate his contemporaries to hold high the standard of faith during the persecutions of the Syro-Hellenistic kings of the second century B.C. Precisely at this point the courageous reaction of the Maccabees took place, combatants for the freedom of the faith and of Jewish traditions.

The canticle, called traditionally «of the three young men,» is similar to a flame that lights up the darkness of the time of oppression and persecution, a time that has often been repeated in the history of Israel and of Christianity itself. And we know that the persecutor does not always assume the violent and macabre countenance of the oppressor, but often is pleased to isolate the righteous with mockery and irony, asking him with sarcasm: «Where is your God?» (Psalm 41[42]:4,11).

3. All creatures are involved in the blessing that the three young men raise to the Omnipotent Lord from the crucible of their trial. They weave a sort of multicolored tapestry where the stars shine, the seasons flow, the animals move, angels appear and, above all, the «servants of the Lord» sing, the «holy» and «the humble in heart» (see Daniel 3:85,87).

The passage that was just proclaimed precedes this magnificent evocation of all the creatures. It constitutes the first part of the canticle, which evokes the glorious presence of the Lord, transcendent and yet close. Yes, because God is in heaven, where he «looks into the depths» (see 3:55), but also «in the temple of your holy glory» of Zion (see 3:53). He is seated on the «throne» of his eternal and infinite «kingdom» (see 3:54), but also [the] «throne upon the cherubim» (see 3:55), in the ark of the covenant placed in the Holy of Holies in the temple of Jerusalem.

4. He is a God who is above us, capable of saving us with his power; but also a God close to his People, in whose midst he willed to dwell in his «glorious holy temple,» thus manifesting his love. A love that he will reveal fully in making his Son Jesus Christ, «full of grace and truth,» «dwell among us» (John 1:14). He will reveal the fullness of his love in sending his Son among us to share in every way, save sin, our condition marked by trials, oppressions, loneliness and death.

The praise of the three young men to the God Savior continues in various ways in the Church. For example, St. Clement of Rome, at the end of his Letter to the Corinthians,» inserts a long prayer of praise and trust, woven throughout of biblical reminiscences and perhaps reechoing the early Roman liturgy. It is a prayer of gratitude to the Lord, who, despite the apparent triumph of evil, guides history to a good end.

5. Here is a passage:

«You enlightened the eyes of our heart (see Ephesians 1:18)
so that we would know you the only One (see John 17:3),
Highest in the highest heavens,
the Holy One who are among the saints,
who lay low the haughtiness of the ruthless (see Isaiah 13:11),
who frustrates the plans of the peoples (see Psalm 32:10),
who sets on high those who are lowly
and those who mourn are lifted to safety (see Job 5:11).
You who enrich and impoverish
who kill and give life (see Deuteronomy 32:39),
the only benefactor of spirits
and God of all flesh
who fathom the deeps (see Daniel 3:55),
who look upon human works,
who rescue those who are in danger
and save those in despair (see Judith 9:11),
creator and custodian of every spirit,
who multiply the peoples on earth,
and who choose, among all, those who love you
through Jesus Christ,
your most beloved Son,
through whom you have educated, sanctified,
and honored us»
(Clement of Rome, «Lettera ai Corinzi» [Letter to the Corinthians], 59, 3:I «Padri Apostolici» [The Apostolic Fathers], Rome, 1976, pp. 88-89).

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the Audience, the Holy Father gave the following summary in English:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Canticle found in the third chapter of the Book of Daniel is a magnificent hymn in praise of God’s transcendent glory. Sung by the three young men condemned to the fiery furnace for their fidelity to the God of Israel, the Canticle evokes the holiness and power of the Creator, who dwells among his people in his holy temple in Jerusalem. This prophetic celebration of God’s closeness to his People prefigures the coming of the Son of God, who in the fullness of time «took flesh and dwelt among us.» In her Liturgy the Church in every age takes up this song of gratitude for God’s merciful love, which guides all history to its appointed end.

I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience, especially those from England, Japan, and the United States. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace.

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