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The Everyday Prayer

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

Memory of Mary, a mentally ill woman who died in Rome. With her we remember all who are mentally ill.

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 12,1-20

With that he had her brought in to where his silver dinner service was already laid, and had his own food served to her and his own wine poured out for her.

But Judith said, 'I would rather not eat this, in case I incur some fault. What I have brought will be enough for me.'

'Suppose your provisions run out,' Holofernes asked, 'how could we get more of the same sort? We have no one belonging to your race here.'

'May your soul live, my lord,' Judith answered, 'the Lord will have used me to accomplish his plan, before your servant has finished these provisions.'

Holofernes' adjutants then took her to a tent where she slept until midnight. A little before the morning watch, she got up.

She had already sent this request to Holofernes, 'Let my lord kindly give orders for your servant to be allowed to go out and pray,'

and Holofernes had ordered his guards not to prevent her. She stayed in the camp for three days; she went out each night to the valley of Bethulia and washed at the spring where the picket had been posted.

As she went she prayed to the Lord God of Israel to guide her in her plan to relieve the children of her people.

Having purified herself, she would return and stay in her tent until her meal was brought her in the evening.

On the fourth day Holofernes gave a banquet, inviting only his own staff and none of the other officers.

He said to Bagoas, the officer in charge of his personal affairs, 'Go and persuade that Hebrew woman you are looking after to come and join us and eat and drink in our company.

We shall be disgraced if we let a woman like this go without seducing her. If we do not seduce her, everyone will laugh at us!'

Bagoas then left Holofernes and went to see Judith. 'Would this young and lovely woman condescend to come to my lord?' he asked. 'She will occupy the seat of honour opposite him, drink the joyful wine with us and be treated today like one of the Assyrian ladies who stand in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar.'

'Who am I', Judith replied, 'to resist my lord? I shall not hesitate to do whatever he wishes, and doing this will be my joy to my dying day.'

So she got up and put on her dress and all her feminine adornments. Her maid preceded her, and on the floor in front of Holofernes spread the fleece which Bagoas had given Judith for her daily use to lie on as she ate.

Judith came in and took her place. The heart of Holofernes was ravished at the sight; his very soul was stirred. He was seized with a violent desire to sleep with her; and indeed since the first day he saw her, he had been waiting for an opportunity to seduce her.

'Drink then!' Holofernes said. 'Enjoy yourself with us!'

'I am delighted to do so, my lord, for since my birth I have never felt my life more worthwhile than today.'

She took what her maid had prepared, and ate and drank facing him.

Holofernes was so enchanted with her that he drank far more wine than he had drunk on any other day in his life.


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

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

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Judith is admitted into Holofernes’ tent and stays with the leader of the armies, although in a separate space, for three days in a row. The representative of God and the foolish servant of the prince of evil find themselves face to face. In human eyes, power is very clearly in Holofernes’ hands. Judith seems to have become his servant: she is staying in the same tent as Holofernes, who even wants her to dine with her; it is as if Judith is almost in his hands. Only one verse (13:16), near the end of the story, proves that Holofernes did not have the opportunity to take advantage of her physically. Nonetheless, everything seems to be moving towards that outcome. Holofernes is so taken, however, that he allows Judith to eat her own food until it runs out. Judith’s reply reveals the strength of her faith: "As surely as you live, my lord, your servant will not use up the supplies I have with me before the Lord carries out by my hand what he has determined" (12:4). Completely sure of himself, Holofernes does not understand the woman’s words. He permits Judith to do whatever she wants. For Holofernes, Judith’s faith in her God seems to be a secondary thing, which consequently is senseless and ineffective. He believes that her scrupulous insistence on eating only pure foods and her faithfulness to prayer are just ritual practices that will vanish by themselves over time. In truth, Judith’s faithfulness to the shared gestures of her people saves her from being distanced from God. Yes, there is a way of being faithful to shared gestures and signs that simultaneously reveal and reinforce the communion between believers. After celebrating the Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus himself will say to them: "Do this in memory of me." Holofernes is waiting for the moment when he will be able to sleep with Judith. The three days have now passed, and the time within which Uzziah had asked God to intervene is almost over. On the fourth day, Holofernes has a dinner in honour of Judith. He says to his friends: "For it would be a disgrace if we let such a woman go without having intercourse with her" (12:12). The sacred author seems to enjoy describing the preparations for the banquet: Judith who puts on her most beautiful clothing, the maid who spreads the lambskins on the ground so that she can lie down before Holofernes and eat with him. It is a difficult moment for Judith, but she knows that the Lord will not abandon her. Her only concern is the salvation of Israel, which, in some ways, she represents entirely. The battle is not just between her and Holofernes, but also between the people of God and the prince of evil and his followers. Judith does not let herself be seduced. And she speaks with words that can be misunderstood by Holofernes: "I will gladly drink, my lord, because today is the greatest day in my whole life" (12:18). For Holofernes, these are words of surrender, but for Judith they express her victory over the approaching evil. Just when Holofernes thinks he has achieved his goal, God reveals his power and brings the machinations of power to nothing. The banquet, which seemed to Holofernes to be the beginning of his victory, is seen instead to be the beginning of his defeat. Sure of his conquest, Holofernes gives himself over to drunkenness to celebrate his victory, but the daze of his pride brings him to his incumbent death.

Memory of the Poor

Calendar of the week
Sunday, 15 October
Liturgy of the Sunday
Monday, 16 October
Prayer for peace
Tuesday, 17 October
Memory of the Mother of the Lord
Wednesday, 18 October
Memory of the Apostles
Thursday, 19 October
Memory of the Church
Friday, 20 October
Memory of Jesus crucified
Saturday, 21 October
Sunday Vigil
Sunday, 22 October
Liturgy of the Sunday