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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

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

Judith 3,1-10

They therefore sent envoys to him to sue for peace, to say,

'We are servants of the great King Nebuchadnezzar; we lie prostrate before you. Treat us as you think fit.

Our cattle-farms, all our land, all our wheat fields, our flocks and herds, all the sheep-folds in our encampments are at your disposal. Do with them as you please.

Our towns and their inhabitants too are at your service; go and treat them as you think fit.'

These men came to Holofernes and delivered the message as above.

He then made his way down to the coast with his army and stationed garrisons in all the fortified towns, levying outstanding men there as auxiliaries.

The people of these cities and of all the other towns in the neighbourhood welcomed him, wearing garlands and dancing to the sound of tambourines.

But he demolished their shrines and cut down their sacred trees, carrying out his commission to destroy all local gods so that the nations should worship Nebuchadnezzar alone and people of every language and nationality should hail him as a god.

Thus he reached the edge of Esdraelon, in the neighbourhood of Dothan, a village facing the great ridge of Judaea.

He pitched camp between Geba and Scythopolis and stayed there a full month to re-provision his forces.


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

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

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Facing the advance of Holofernes’ army, all the nations surrender to Nebuchadnezzar even before the combat. They turn to the king and say: "We, the servants of Nebuchadnezzar, the Great King, lie prostrate before you. Do with us whatever you will." Not only do these words express a civil submission to a new and stronger power, but they have a religious tone; they express a total submission like that owed to God alone. In effect, another human being is placed upon the divine throne. In this case it is the king that is put on the divine throne, but the same thing occurs when we glorify ourselves, our own interests or nation or any other thing to which we would sacrifice our lives. It is the ancient sin of Adam and Eve: being human, they wanted to occupy God’s place. But in the creation account it is clear that humanity is of God and belongs to Him. No other can seek man’s submission, not even one’s own ego. And this is the guaranty of the dignity and freedom of humanity from all slavery, even to oneself. The nations which submit to Nebuchadnezzar, attribute to the king a divine quality. It is this idolatry which is the sin of the nations; the one true sin that leads humans to destruction. It is interesting to note that the sacred author does not blame the other religions, whose value he recognizes. Rather, what is condemned without appeal is idolatry, and especially the idolatry of the king. The other religions, at the very least, are not an absolute alternative in regards to the religion of the one God. The gods are but personifications of the divine in nature and express that sense of the divine which humanity discerns as present in creation. Before God revealed himself to humanity in the prophetic dispensation through events of a sacred history, and before God became incarnate in the man Jesus, humans have encountered God through the beauty of the cosmos, the power of the elements, the stability of the mountains, and the serene luminosity of the heavens. Thus the gods of the nations are personifications of the divine in creation: they are not in opposition to God per se, but hint at and prepare for his revelation. Nebuchadnezzar, on the other hand, proclaiming himself god, not only goes against the God of Israel, but against every religion, because no religion can accept the universality and uniqueness of his claim of divinity. Nebuchadnezzar raises himself in absolute opposition to the one God. This same logic can be applied to those who allow their own egos to claim dictatorship. Change occurs only when we recognize our own limits and weaknesses as well as our need to lift our eyes from ourselves in order to turn them to the One on High. The Christian faith is the height of human religious attitude: at the same time it pushes humans to lift their eyes towards the One on High, God reveals himself through his name and his face. Only faith saves humanity from the inevitable destruction that comes from the human attempting to substitute ourselves (or any thing) for God.

Memory of Jesus crucified