CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, JULY 10, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of John Paul II’s address at today’s general audience, which he dedicated to a meditation on a canticle in the Book of Daniel.
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1. A luminous prayer is inserted as a litany in Chapter 3 of the Book of Daniel, a true and proper Canticle of creatures, which the liturgy of lauds proposes to us on several occasions, in different fragments.
We have just heard the fundamental part, a great cosmic choir, framed by two recapitulating antiphons: “Blessed are you in the firmament of heaven, praiseworthy and glorious forever. Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord, praise and exalt him above all forever” (verses 56-57).
Between these two acclamations a solemn hymn of praise unfolds, which is expressed with the repeated invitation “Bless”: formally, it is only an invitation addressed to all creation to bless God; in reality, it is a song of thanksgiving that the faithful raise to the Lord for all the wonders of the universe. Man gives voice to the whole of creation to praise and thank God.
2. This hymn, sung by three Hebrew youths who invite all creatures to praise God, flows from a dramatic situation. The three youths, persecuted by the Babylonian sovereign, find themselves plunged in a burning furnace because of their faith. And yet, even when they are about to suffer martyrdom, they do not hesitate to sing, to be joyful and to praise. The harsh and violent pain of the trial disappears, it seems almost to dissolve in the presence of prayer and contemplation. It is precisely this attitude of trusting abandonment that elicits divine intervention.
In fact, as Daniel’s thought-provoking account attests, “the angel of the Lord went down into the furnace with Azariah and his companions, drove the fiery flames out of the furnace, and made the inside of the furnace as though a dew-laden breeze were blowing through it. The fire in no way touched them or caused them pain or harm” (verses 49-50). The nightmares are dispersed like fog in the sun, the fears are dissolved, suffering disappears when the whole human being becomes praise and trust, expectation and hope. This is the force of prayer when it is pure, intense, total in its abandonment to God, provident and redeeming.
3. The Canticle of the three youths has a kind of cosmic procession file before our eyes, which begins from the heavens populated with angels, where the sun, moon and stars also shine. From on high God pours down on earth the gift of waters that are above the skies (see verse 60), namely rain and dew (see verse 64).
Then the winds also blow, lightning flashes, and the seasons erupt with warmth and cold, with the burning heat of summer, but also with frost, ice, snow (see verses 65-70,73). The poet also includes the rhythm of time in the song of praise to the Creator, day and night, light and darkness (see verses 71-72). Finally his gaze turns to earth, beginning with the mountaintops, a reality that seems to join earth and heaven (see verses 74-75).
Here, now, are united in praise of God the vegetable creatures that grow on earth (see verse 76), the springs that bring life and freshness, the seas and rivers with their abundant and mysterious waters (see verses 77-78). Indeed, the singer also evokes “the sea monsters” along with the fish (see verse 79), as a sign of the primordial aquatic chaos on which God imposed limits to be observed (see Psalm 92:3-4; Job 38:8-11; 40:15-41 […]).
Then it is the turn of the vast and varied animal kingdom, which lives and moves in the waters, on the earth, and in the skies (see Daniel 3:80-81).
4. The last actor of creation to appear is man. First the gaze extends to all the “sons of men” (see verse 82); later, the attention is focused on Israel, the people of God (see verse 83); then it is the turn of those who are totally consecrated to God not only as priests (see verse 84), but also as witnesses of faith, justice and truth. They are the “servants of the Lord,” the “spirits and souls of the just,” the “holy men of humble heart” and, among them, the three youths emerge, Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael, who have given voice to all the creatures in a universal and eternal praise (see verses 85-88).
The three verbs if divine glorification have resounded constantly, as in a litany: “Bless, praise, exalt” the Lord. This is the authentic spirit of prayer and song: to celebrate the Lord ceaselessly, in the joy of being part of a choir that includes all creatures.
5. We would like to conclude our meditation by giving voice to Fathers of the Church like Origen, Hyppolitus, Basil of Caesarea, Ambrose of Milan, who have commented on the account of the six days of creation (see Genesis 1:1-2, 4a) linking it, precisely with the Canticle of the three youths.
We will limit ourselves to take up the comment of St. Ambrose, who, referring to the fourth day of creation (see Genesis 1:14-19), imagines that the earth speaks and, thinking of the sun, finds all creatures united in praise of God: “In truth, the sun is good, because it serves, helps my fruitfulness, nourishes my fruits. It was given to me for my good, and is subject with me to exhaustion. It groans with me, for the adoption as sons and the redemption of the human race, so that we also can be released from slavery. At my side, together with me it praises the Creator, together with me it raises a hymn to the Lord our God. Where the sun blesses, there the earth blesses, the fruitful trees bless, the animals bless, the birds bless with me” (“I Sei Giorni della Creazione,” SAEMO, I, Milan-Rome, 1977-1994, pp. 192-193).
No one is excluded from the blessing of the Lord, not even the sea monsters (see Daniel 3:79). Indeed, St. Ambrose continues: “Even the serpents praise the Lord, because their nature and aspect reveal to our eyes a certain beauty and show that they have their justification” (Ibid., pp. 103-104).
All the more reason why we, human beings, should add our joyful and trusting voice to this concert of praise, coupled with a consistent and faithful life.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father gave the following summary of his address in English.]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Canticle of the three young men condemned to the fiery furnace by the King of Babylon is a magnificent litany in praise of God the Creator. It portrays a great cosmic procession in which the entire universe joins in singing the glory of God. Like all true prayer, it is a joyful celebration of God’s providence, a hymn of thanksgiving for his many blessings, and an act of renewed faith in the midst of suffering and persecution.
I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience, especially those from Ireland, Malta, Canada, and the United States. My special greeting goes to the priests of the Archdiocese of New York and to the choir from Ireland. Upon all of you I cordially invoke joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.