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The Everyday Prayer


 
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Icon of the Holy Face
Church of Sant'Egidio, Rome

Memory of the prophet Elijah who was taken into heaven and left his mantle to Elisha.


Reading of the Word of God

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

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

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Judith 8,1-27

Judith was informed at the time of what had happened. She was the daughter of Merari son of Ox, son of Joseph, son of Oziel, son of Elkiah, son of Ananias, son of Gideon, son of Raphaim, son of Ahitub, son of Elijah, son of Hilkiah, son of Eliab, son of Nathanael, son of Salamiel, son of Sarasadai, son of Israel.

Her husband Manasseh, of her own tribe and family, had died at the time of the barley harvest.

He was supervising the men as they bound up the sheaves in the field when he caught sunstroke and had to take to his bed. He died in Bethulia, his home town, and was buried with his ancestors in the field that lies between Dothan and Balamon.

As a widow, Judith stayed inside her home for three years and four months.

She had had an upper room built for herself on the roof. She wore sackcloth next to the skin and dressed in widow's weeds.

She fasted every day of her widowhood except for the Sabbath eve, the Sabbath itself, the eve of New Moon, the feast of New Moon and the joyful festivals of the House of Israel.

Now she was very beautiful, charming to see. Her husband Manasseh had left her gold and silver, menservants and maidservants, herds and land; and she lived among all her possessions

without anyone finding a word to say against her, so devoutly did she fear God.

Hearing how the water shortage had demoralised the people and how they had complained bitterly to the headman of the town, and being also told what Uzziah had said to them and how he had given them his oath to surrender the town to the Assyrians in five days' time,

Judith immediately sent the serving-woman who ran her household to summon Chabris and Charmis, two elders of the town.

When these came in she said: 'Listen to me, leaders of the people of Bethulia. You were wrong to speak to the people as you did today and to bind yourself by oath, in defiance of God, to surrender the town to our enemies if the Lord did not come to your help within a set number of days.

Who are you, to put God to the test today, you, of all people, to set yourselves above him?

You put the Lord Almighty to the test! You do not understand anything, and never will.

If you cannot sound the depths of the human heart or unravel the arguments of the human mind, how can you fathom the God who made all things, or sound his mind or unravel his purposes? No, brothers, do not provoke the anger of the Lord our God.

Although it may not be his will to help us within the next five days, he has the power to protect us for as many days as he pleases, just as he has the power to destroy us before our enemies.

But you have no right to demand guarantees where the designs of the Lord our God are concerned. For God is not to be threatened as a human being is, nor is he, like a mere human, to be cajoled.

Rather, as we wait patiently for him to save, let us plead with him to help us. He will hear our voice if such is his good pleasure.

'And indeed of recent times and still today there is not one tribe of ours, or family, or village, or town that has worshipped gods made by human hand, as once was done,

which was the reason why our ancestors were delivered over to sword and sack, and perished in misery at the hands of our enemies.

We for our part acknowledge no other God but him; and so we may hope he will not look on us disdainfully or desert our nation.

'If indeed they capture us, as you expect, then all Judaea will be captured too, and our holy places plundered, and we shall answer with our blood for their profanation.

The slaughter of our brothers, the captivity of our country, the unpeopling of our heritage, will recoil on our own heads among the nations whose slaves we shall become, and our new masters will look down on us as an outrage and a disgrace;

for our surrender will not reinstate us in their favour; no, the Lord our God will make it a thing to be ashamed of.

So now, brothers, let us set an example to our brothers, since their lives depend on us, and the sanctuary -- Temple and altar -- rests on us.

'All this being so, let us rather give thanks to the Lord our God who, as he tested our ancestors, is now testing us.

Remember how he treated Abraham, all the ordeals of Isaac, all that happened to Jacob in Syrian Mesopotamia while he kept the sheep of Laban, his mother's brother.

For as these ordeals were intended by him to search their hearts, so now this is not vengeance that God is exacting on us, but a warning inflicted by the Lord on those who are near his heart.'

 

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

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

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

This page contends with the arrogance of power. While the people of Israel is now reduced to the extreme, Judith appears, a woman and moreover a widow. Widowhood highlighted even more the weakness and irrelevance of women in social life. Judith is however solemnly introduced. Her name is accompanied by a long genealogy, unique for a woman in Scripture: it indicates she is fully rooted in the history and faith of the people of God. She lives out her widowhood in fasting and mourning dwelling in a tent placed on the terrace. Judith seems to live as an alien, as a pilgrim who binds her heart to nothing except the Lord. Yes, for her only the Lord is important, she spends her days in fear of him. Her widowhood had lasted three years and four months. The fear of the Lord which has a hold on her allows her that "deep knowledge" which enables her to know not just historical events but also the depth of God’s love for his people. She is in appearance a "beautiful" woman, transparent in her feelings, available to all; envy and wickedness find no place in her. She lives apart but not disinterested in whatever happens to her people. She learns of the difficulties in which the people of Israel find themselves, and of their misery for lack of water and fear of dying even before the fight. She also knows that those responsible for the city have found no solution but to give the Lord an ultimatum: if he does not help within five days, they will surrender like all other peoples to the enemy. Judith, with the freedom of one who is on familiar terms with the Lord, summons the elders of Bethulia and speaks to them with authority and simplicity: they cannot treat the Lord in that manner, as if they could give him orders. One can not trust God halfway. He reminds the chiefs that the problem is not Bethulia but Jerusalem, the city where God dwells. What is at stake is not simply defence of oneself, but of all of Israel and its religious mission among the peoples. And with a spiritual look at the distressing present situation, she says that what is taking place is a test that the Lord is sending to correct the people’s little faith. The same thing had happened with the fathers, beginning with Abraham. The Lord tests those who are close to him. From here flows trust in God without any pretence. The Lord hears the cry of His people and intervenes when He wants. And He knows what to do. Judith’s words to the two elders show a serene and clear faith. It is she, a poor woman, who with her faith saves the people of Israel from slavery and above all from apostasy.


07/20/2010
Memory of the Mother of the Lord


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