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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

I am the good shepherd,
my sheep listen to my voice,
and they become
one flock and one fold.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Judith 6,1-9

When the uproar of those crowding round the council had subsided, Holofernes, general-in-chief of the Assyrian army, reprimanded Achior in front of the whole crowd of foreigners and Ammonites.

'Achior, who do you think you are, you and the Ephraimite mercenaries, playing the prophet like this with us today, and trying to dissuade us from making war on the people of Israel? You claim their God will protect them. And who is God if not Nebuchadnezzar? He himself will display his power and wipe them off the face of the earth, and their God will certainly not save them.

But we, his servants, shall destroy them as easily as a single individual. They can never resist the strength of our cavalry.

We shall burn them all. Their mountains will be drunk with their blood and their plains filled with their corpses. Far from being able to resist us, every one of them will die; thus says King Nebuchadnezzar, lord of the whole world. For he has spoken, and his words will not prove empty.

As for you, Achior, you Ammonite mercenary, who in a rash moment said these words, you will not see my face again until the day when I have taken my revenge on this brood from Egypt.

And then the swords of my soldiers and the spears of my officers will pierce your sides. You will fall among their wounded, the moment I turn on Israel.

My servants will now take you into the hill-country and leave you near one of the towns in the passes;

you will not die, until you share their ruin.

No need to look so sad if you cherish the secret hope that they will not be captured! I have spoken; none of my words will prove idle.'


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

I give you a new commandment,
that you love one another.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Holofernes reacts violently to Achior’s lengthy reply to his question of who the small people are who dared to resist his army. Holofernes’ reaction is not simply to Achior’s erroneous speech. It stems from the opposition which "evil," by way of its servants - for such is Holofernes-- does not cease to wage against God’s salvific design. Holofernes reiterates the decision to destroy the people of Judah. In fact, mere exile and deportation is not enough, only total extermination is acceptable. Nebuchadnezzar’s power, which wants to put itself in God’s place, calls for the blotting out of the people who entrusts itself to God. Holofernes cannot tolerate that the people of Judah has a God other than Nebuchadnezzar. It is the logic of dictatorship: whoever puts himself in place of a "god" cannot admit limits to his despotism; he can only accept total subjection. Jesus will say it himself: "No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth" (Mt 6:24). In Holofernes’ words the idolatrous nature of power is illustrated clearly. In their arrogance humans do not tolerate anyone above themselves and attribute to themselves absolute powers. This is a temptation that can also seize believers. But in so far as this gives no witness to God, but rather substitutes self for God and affirms oneself; in fact, it is in this way that one prepares and accomplishes their own ruin. Humans, who often forget that they are limited creatures, absolutely depend on God even though they have received the freedom to decide their destiny. Only if they rediscover their dependence on the One above can human beings exercise their true power to love. God, in any case, avails himself of each of his creatures to fulfil his designs, even against the will of those who would fight against Him. All that we are is dependent on a will that is superior to us; we will live more to the extent that we accept our dependence on this will. But even if we fight against it, we can gain nothing and we will only live our own ruin. Thus happens with Holofernes: with that intemperate reaction to Achior’s words he condemns himself to his own ruin and Judith will be God’s instrument. Holofernes has defied the living God and now he must experience His might. In the book of Judith once again we witness that eternal struggle which the evil one began against God from the beginning of creation, and will continue until the end. All human beings are engaged in this struggle and are called to take up sides. The believers who take their place next to the Lord, despite all their limitations, will participate in the Lord’s victory if they entrust themselves to Him.

Memory of the Church