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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

Daniel 13, 1.9.15-62

In Babylon there lived a man named Joakim.

They threw reason aside, making no effort to turn their eyes to Heaven, and forgetting the demands of virtue.

So they waited for a favourable moment; and one day Susanna came as usual, accompanied only by two young maidservants. The day was hot and she wanted to bathe in the garden.

There was no one about except the two elders, spying on her from their hiding place.

She said to the servants, 'Bring me some oil and balsam and shut the garden door while I bathe.'

They did as they were told, shutting the garden door and going back to the house by a side entrance to fetch what she had asked for; they knew nothing about the elders, for they had concealed themselves.

Hardly were the maids gone than the two elders sprang up and rushed upon her.

'Look,' they said, 'the garden door is shut, no one can see us. We want to have you, so give in and let us!

Refuse, and we shall both give evidence that a young man was with you and that this was why you sent your maids away.'

Susanna sighed. 'I am trapped,' she said, 'whatever I do. If I agree, it means death for me; if I resist, I cannot get away from you.

But I prefer to fall innocent into your power than to sin in the eyes of the Lord.'

She then cried out as loud as she could. The two elders began shouting too, putting the blame on her,

and one of them ran to open the garden door.

The household, hearing the shouting in the garden, rushed out by the side entrance to see what had happened to her.

Once the elders had told their story, the servants were thoroughly taken aback, since nothing of this sort had ever been said of Susanna.

Next day a meeting was held at the house of her husband Joakim. The two elders arrived, full of their wicked plea against Susanna, to have her put to death.

They addressed the company, 'Summon Susanna daughter of Hilkiah and wife of Joakim.' She was sent for,

and came accompanied by her parents, her children and all her relations.

Susanna was very graceful and beautiful to look at;

she was veiled, so the wretches made her unveil in order to feast their eyes on her beauty.

All her own people were weeping, and so were all the others who saw her.

The two elders stood up, with all the people round them, and laid their hands on her head.

Tearfully she turned her eyes to Heaven, her heart confident in God.

The elders then spoke, 'While we were walking by ourselves in the garden, this woman arrived with two maids. She shut the garden door and then dismissed the servants.

A young man, who had been hiding, went over to her and they lay together.

From the end of the garden where we were, we saw this crime taking place and hurried towards them.

Though we saw them together, we were unable to catch the man: he was too strong for us; he opened the door and took to his heels.

We did, however, catch this woman and ask her who the young man was.

She refused to tell us. That is our evidence.' Since they were elders of the people and judges, the assembly accepted their word: Susanna was condemned to death.

She cried out as loud as she could, 'Eternal God, you know all secrets and everything before it happens;

you know that they have given false evidence against me. And now I must die, innocent as I am of everything their malice has invented against me!'

The Lord heard her cry

and, as she was being led away to die, he roused the holy spirit residing in a young boy called Daniel

who began to shout, 'I am innocent of this woman's death!'

At this all the people turned to him and asked, 'What do you mean by that?'

Standing in the middle of the crowd, he replied, 'Are you so stupid, children of Israel, as to condemn a daughter of Israel unheard, and without troubling to find out the truth?

Go back to the scene of the trial: these men have given false evidence against her.'

All the people hurried back, and the elders said to Daniel, 'Come and sit with us and tell us what you mean, since God has given you the gifts that elders have.'

Daniel said, 'Keep the men well apart from each other, for I want to question them.'

When the men had been separated, Daniel had one of them brought to him. 'You have grown old in wickedness,' he said, 'and now the sins of your earlier days have overtaken you,

you with your unjust judgements, your condemnation of the innocent, your acquittal of the guilty, although the Lord has said, "You must not put the innocent and upright to death."

Now then, since you saw her so clearly, tell me what sort of tree you saw them lying under.' He replied, 'Under an acacia tree.'

Daniel said, 'Indeed! Your lie recoils on your own head: the angel of God has already received from him your sentence and will cut you in half.'

He dismissed the man, ordered the other to be brought and said to him, 'Son of Canaan, not of Judah, beauty has seduced you, lust has led your heart astray!

This is how you have been behaving with the daughters of Israel, and they have been too frightened to resist; but here is a daughter of Judah who could not stomach your wickedness!

Now then, tell me what sort of tree you surprised them under.' He replied, 'Under an aspen tree.'

Daniel said, 'Indeed! Your lie recoils on your own head: the angel of God is waiting with a sword to rend you in half, and destroy the pair of you.'

Then the whole assembly shouted, blessing God, the Saviour of those who trust in him.

And they turned on the two elders whom Daniel had convicted of false evidence out of their own mouths.

As the Law of Moses prescribes, they were given the same punishment as they had schemed to inflict on their neighbour. They were put to death. And thus, that day, an innocent life was saved.


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

The passage we have read reports the story of the young Susanna, trapped by two senior judges of Israel during the Babylonian exile. The prophet Daniel appears as a young visionary through whom the Lord manifests his justice. The young Susanna becomes the symbol of that part of the people of Israel who remained faithful to God and resisted every seduction, even that of the treacherous leaders who, like bandits, kidnap to satisfy their cravings. Obviously, the sacred author sharply condemns the wicked and deceitful leaders, who are far from God and unworthy of guiding the people who had been entrusted to them. What emerges, however, with even more strength, is the firm trust in the Lord who loves the small, the weak, the innocent and never leaves those who place their trust only in him. Crying, the young Susanna replied to the two wicked elders with these words: "I am completely trapped. For if I do this, it will mean death for me; if I do not, I cannot escape your hands. I choose not to do it; I will fall into your hands, rather than sin in the sight of the Lord "(vv.22-23). Without any human support, the young woman faced the difficult decision of choosing to die rather than consenting to evil. Sentenced to death, she puts her trust only in God who "knows what is secret" (v.42). For this, she is able to experience God's intervention. And it comes through the voice of a "young man", one of her own age. Yes, the power of God is manifested through the weak. One youth saves another. Really no one is so weak that he or she cannot save another who is weaker. Of course, that is, as long as one chooses to be guided by God. This passage questions us all, even the youngest, on how to defend the countless women, even young girls who are still oppressed in many ways, and, with them, on how to defend all poor people. It is urgent for other Daniels - weak like him - to arise today to invoke justice and to defend whoever is oppressed. The Lord will not fail to help.

Memory of the Poor