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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

Praise to you, o Lord, King of eternal glory

The Spirit of the Lord is upon you.
The child you shall bear will be holy.

Praise to you, o Lord, King of eternal glory

Ecclesiastes 4,7-12

And something else futile I observe under the sun:

a person is quite alone -- no child, no brother; and yet there is no end to his efforts, his eyes can never have their fill of riches. For whom, then, do I work so hard and grudge myself pleasure? This too is futile, a sorry business.

Better two than one alone, since thus their work is really rewarding.

If one should fall, the other helps him up; but what of the person with no one to help him up when he falls?

Again: if two sleep together they keep warm, but how can anyone keep warm alone?

Where one alone would be overcome, two will put up resistance; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.


Praise to you, o Lord, King of eternal glory

Look down, O Lord, on your servants.
Be it unto us according to your word.

Praise to you, o Lord, King of eternal glory

Qohelet extends the preceding reflection on work, projecting it onto the future. And he gives a concrete example: the man who is alone, without heirs, without anyone. Such a one ceases not to toil and his eye is never sated with the contemplation of riches. But the disturbing question is raised: "For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?" In effect, his growing weary and busying himself is "hebel," it is work in the wind. The desire to have for oneself, to hoard for oneself, is "an evil business," "an ugly affair." There is no loneliness more radical than that which leads to being busy only for one’s self. Avarice inexorably leads to loneliness and dryness of heart. Ben Sira will say: "The eye of the greedy person is not satisfied with his share; greedy injustice withers the soul" (Sir 14:9). Greedy injustice leaves empty the soul and one’s life. It is an unforgivable mistake to try to enjoy only for one’s self. It is not possible to be happy all alone. This is why Qohelet writes: "Two are better than one." And he praises the benefits, the "advantages" (v. 9) of solidarity and its superiority over and against solitude. He illustrates three examples to graphically show the strength and beauty of solidarity. If one falls, there is another to help him up. If one sleeps next to another (here one should not read a reference to spouses), one can keep him warm. In pairs it is easier to defend oneself and put the potential plunderer to flight. The pericope ends with a proverb: "A threefold cord is not quickly broken" (v. 12). This very ancient proverb, found even in the Gilgamesh epic, explains the symbolic meaning of the number two, which should not be taken literally. In fact, it affirms that a threesome is better! If friends are many, so much the better. Solidarity is stronger and more solid, in so far as it is broad, like a rope triply-braided. The conclusion is that man’s "good" is not solitude, but solidarity.

Memory of the Mother of the Lord