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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 7,19-32

The Israelites called on the Lord their God, dispirited because the enemy had surrounded them and cut all line of retreat.

For thirty-four days the Assyrian army, infantry, chariots, cavalrymen, had them surrounded. Every water-jar the inhabitants of Bethulia had was empty,

their storage-wells were drying up; on no day could a man drink his fill, since their water was rationed.

Their little children pined away, the women and young men grew weak with thirst; they collapsed in the streets and gateways of the town; they had no strength left.

Young men, women, children, the whole people thronged clamouring round Uzziah and the chief men of the town, shouting in the presence of the assembled elders,

'May God be judge between you and us! For you have done us great harm, by not suing for peace with the Assyrians.

And now there is no one to help us. God has delivered us into their hands to be prostrated before them in thirst and utter helplessness.

Call them in at once; hand the whole town over to be sacked by Holofernes' men and all his army.

After all, we should be much better off as their booty than we are now; no doubt we shall be enslaved, but at least we shall be alive and not see our little ones dying before our eyes or our wives and children perishing.

By heaven and earth and by our God, the Lord of our fathers, who is punishing us for our sins and the sins of our ancestors, we implore you to take this course now, today.'

Bitter lamentations rose from the whole assembly, and they all cried loudly to the Lord God.

Then Uzziah spoke to them, 'Take heart, brothers! Let us hold out five days more. By then the Lord our God will take pity on us, for he will not desert us altogether.

At the end of this time, if no help is forthcoming, I shall do as you have said.'

With that he dismissed the people to their various quarters. The men went to man the walls and towers of the town, sending the women and children home. The town was full of despondency.


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

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

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

In these first chapters the book of Judith presents the relentless advance of evil, personified by Holofernes’ army which should pave the way to adoration of Nebuchadnezzar as the "god" of the earth. Evil appears to grow until its climax, until it finds its way into the very people of Israel. It is now thirty-four days that the city has been under siege and the food provisions are spent. The pangs of hunger and thirst are felt, and the women and children are the first to be struck down. The sight of the army surrounding the city causes discouragement. The days pass and fear and dismay grow in the hearts of the people. Trust in God falters and the people see nothing before them but death. In effect, the failure to trust in the Lord is the beginning of resignation to slavery. Uzziah and the other elders begin to say that it is better to be slaves of Nebuchadnezzar than to see little ones and women die. Certainly, we can ask ourselves where trust in God and hope in the Lord is now. Now that the danger is imminent, now that the people see the enemy surrounding the city, hope in salvation falters. But resignation to the power of evil is the beginning of defeat. And yet it is precisely when everything is wanting that the firmness of faith and the strength of hope is manifested. God has tried the faith of his people, but their faith falters. But trust in God is the virtue of the weak, of the poor, of the desperate. As long as we put trust in ourselves, in the strength of numbers, in the strength of health, in the power of money, we can easily forget God. The poor show us what we truly are: weak men and women who depend on others, and on God, for everything. Let us look at them as they put out their hands: they are our teachers in faith. When we are like them, needful of everything, let us remember to implore the Lord and not resign ourselves to the power of the evil one. It is true, at times it can seem that God is silent, or that he sleeps on a cushion as happened with Jesus when they crossed the lake while the disciples’ boat was overwhelmed by the waves. Jesus scolded the disciples: "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" (Mk 4:40). True hope is to trust in the Lord even if at times he seems to be absent. It is true that the people of Bethulia have waited, have done penance, have prayed and God seems not to have heard. In effect, in the life of the Church and of the world there is also the mystery of God’s silence. And we can all experience a feeling of disorientation and emptiness. But perhaps God is silent also because the believers do not put all their trust in Him. They prefer slavery to Nebuchadnezzar to complete trust in God. Evil seems to have reached its peak in conquering the hearts and the minds of the people of Israel: for, they choose to abandon God rather than to die. In truth the believers’ salvation is through death. Thus, Abraham got his son back, a foreshadowing of what would happen with Jesus. Believers are called to die to themselves and to their own security, in order to rely only on God. To the famished people of Bethulia who fall in the street from starvation, there could remain a faith which is also trust in a God who seems to abandon his people to extermination. It is precisely this faith which could have had the strength to obtain the miracle. This page of Scripture shows us the radicality of God’s love. Even Uzziah’s words are marked by unbelief: "Let us hold out for five days more ... But if these days pass by, and no help comes for us, I will do as you say." Even in the head of the people faith seems to falter. The religious life of God’s people, at this moment, was harboured only in the heart of a woman, Judith. Judith, a poor and weak woman, fully trusts in the strength of God, who loves his people and who will once more deliver them from slavery.

Memory of the Poor

Calendar of the week
Sunday, 19 November
Liturgy of the Sunday
Monday, 20 November
Prayer for peace
Tuesday, 21 November
Memory of the Mother of the Lord
Wednesday, 22 November
Memory of the Saints and the Prophets
Thursday, 23 November
Memory of the Church
Friday, 24 November
Memory of Jesus crucified
Saturday, 25 November
Sunday Vigil
Sunday, 26 November
Liturgy of the Sunday