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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

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

Praise to you, o Lord, King of eternal glory

Ecclesiastes 6,1-12

I see another evil under the sun, which goes hard with people:

suppose someone has received from God riches, property, honours -- nothing at all left to wish for; but God does not give the chance to enjoy them, and some stranger enjoys them. This is futile, and grievous suffering too.

Or take someone who has had a hundred children and lived for many years, and, having reached old age, has never enjoyed the good things of life and has not even got a tomb; it seems to me, a still-born child is happier.

In futility it came, into darkness it departs, and in darkness will its name be buried.

It has never so much as seen or known the sun; all the same, it will rest more easily than that person,

who would never have known the good things of life, even by living a thousand years twice over. Do we not all go to the same place in the end?

All toil is for the mouth, yet the appetite is never satisfied.

What advantage has the wise over the fool? And what of the pauper who knows how to behave in society?

Better the object seen than the sting of desire: for the latter too is futile and chasing after the wind.

What has been is already defined -- we know what people are: They cannot bring to justice one who is stronger than themselves.

The more we say, the more futile it is: what good can we derive from it?

And who knows what is best for someone during life, during the days of futile life which are spent like a shadow? Who can tell anyone what will happen after him under the sun?


Praise to you, o Lord, King of eternal glory

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

Praise to you, o Lord, King of eternal glory

Qohelet, after having just shown that there is a possible joy, given by God as his revelation, introduces another "evil" which "lies heavy upon mankind" (v. 1). He presents a person who possesses goods, riches and honours. He lacks nothing to satisfy his desires; he nonetheless cannot enjoy what he has. It is not said what is blocking and impeding his joy. In fact he is a stranger to the enjoyment of his riches. In any case, God is the source both of the goods and of the capacity to enjoy them. Qohelet does not rule out that God can act arbitrarily, and that humans may find themselves powerless before the whims of a despot. He restricts himself to exclaiming: that is "hebel." But he himself denies that one should "dispute with those who are stronger" (v. 10). There is then the man who in addition to riches has also many children. This means that his property will not fall into strange hands, but will go to one of his heirs. He is, in short, a happy man because he has riches and progeny. But, even this one is dissatisfied and unhappy. His "desire" is not satiated by the goods that life has given him, and he is perpetually restless, tormented by a longing which is never sated (v. 7). Even if he were to live a thousand years twice, that is double that of the longest living man in the Bible, Methuselah, who lived 969 years (Gen 5:27), he would not be a happy man (v. 6). He lacks the ability to enjoy his goods and be satisfied with them (vv. 3, 6). It is not a long life that makes one happy, since it will always be limited. The height of misfortune for this man would be not to have a burial, which was considered an ignominious end. Here Qohelet concludes: "I say that a stillborn child is better off than he" (v. 3). If life is not enjoyed it is better not to even enter into it. An aborted foetus is not tormented, as humans are, by the insatiable desire that makes them suffer; he experiences no desires. But both, in any case, end up "in one place," that is, death (cf. 3:20). But if the end is the same for both, the opportunities offered are very different, and it would be foolish for someone to live as if he were an abortion. In fact, to live only for desires, without satisfaction, would be like an aborted foetus that has no desires. But take heed: to live dominated by one’s desires means never to be satisfied. Whoever lives this way is very much like a "mouth" always open, a "throat" never sated, therefore unhappy (v. 7). Everyone, wise and foolish, poor and rich, all must die. Wisdom, ability, stupidity, poverty draw all near to the inevitable port that is death. None of these free one from the human destiny of dying. For mankind the best thing is to enjoy what "is seen with one’s eyes," to be satisfied with what one has, rather than to wander unceasingly in search of unforeseeable and uncertain "desires" (v. 9). Limitless desire dries up the soul and disquiets life. This too is "hebel," a breath of wind. The wandering of desires is useless and vain. But even enjoyment is a difficult undertaking, though desired, for mankind. And anyway pleasure too is "hebel," that is, "chasing the wind."

Memory of the Poor