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Friday, June 12, 2020

Francesco del Cairo: Judith with the Head of Holofernes

Francesco del Cairo: Judith with the Head of Holofernes

Judith 12:16Holofernes’ Banquet

As we continue our series of reflections on the nature of schemers and their plots, how to avoid them and how to rebuke those who lie on couches to conspire, we return to the story of Judith.

Holofernes is a man accustomed to using power and he also knows how to bide his time, lay traps, and bring others into his schemes.  What he has never encountered in his powerful life is a woman who is as beautiful, God-centered, and determined as Judith. And Holofernes’ lust is no match for Judith’s constant, prayerful attendance on God.  This story is worth reading from beginning to end but if there is time for only one verse, it is 12:16 for it teaches us how to deal with schemers, seducers and plot-builders.

“The story of Judith is full of unexpected turns.  The first and most obvious . . . was that a woman – and not a man – saved Judah in its time of severe distress.  Judith is more faithful and resourceful than any of the men of BethuliaShe is more eloquent than the king and more courageous than any of the leading citizens of the city, yet Judith is a very unlikely heroine”.  (Senior RG 213)

The story of Judith is full of the detail which we might overlook if we rush through the reading; and it is the kind of detail that a good writer uses to describe the depth of one’s personality, the reason for one’s perversion, the cause of one’s sociopathy.  It is the kind of writing which brings us up sharply when we experience the shuddering reality that human beings often spend more time trying to lure others into a personal agenda than they do honestly working at the task God assigned to them.  The image of this man “burning with desire . . . yet biding his time” is one that haunts me.  I cannot shake it.  And it returns in the written word on a day like most others  . . . packed with activity . . . with so little time for reflection about what is real and not real.

This story tells of how God delivers the faithful through a crushing crisis . . . and how God does this through a woman.  The Reader’s Guide of the CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE tells us that Judith destroys the enemy not through might but by “her beguiling charm and disarming beauty.  The Bible sometimes portrays a woman’s beauty negatively as a snare, but here it is the means of deliverance”.  (Senior RG 213)

And so we hear this story which has been retold so many times through history and in so many ways.  It is a story that teaches us how to combat the lavish allure of the banquets staged by those who plot against innocents and of a woman who answers God’s call with the only tools left to her.  It is a story rife with irony and inversion.  It is a story of how God moves in our lives if we but allow God to enter.

May we all take a lesson from Judith.


To see and study more paintings of  Judith and Holofernes, visit: https://www.dailyartmagazine.com/best-judith-head-holofernes-paintings/

To read more Noontimes reflections on Judith, enter her name in the blog search bar, seek . . . and find.

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.RG 213. Print.   

Image from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Judith_with_the_Head_of_Holofernes,_by_Francesco_del_Cairo,_c._1633-1637,_oil_on_canvas_-_John_and_Mable_Ringling_Museum_of_Art_-_Sarasota,_FL_-_DSC00631.jpg

A Favorite from October 3, 2007. 

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Monday, May 18, 2020

Sandys: Judith

Frederick Sandys: Judith

Judith 16

Praise in Celebration

During the shelter-in-place practiced in much of the world during the Covid 19 pandemic, we know that domestic abuse, and abuse against women in particular, will rise sharply. Let us remember that although we “turn the other cheek” to offense, we never promote the idea that anyone remain with an abuser. Wherever we are, whenever we find violence in the home, we look for help for ourselves or others. A helpful resource and hotline in the U.S. can be found at https://www.thehotline.org/help/ 

Imagine the consternation that would stir in hard hearts if instead of subjugating women we celebrated them as this canticle does: The Lord Almighty thwarted them, by the hand of a female!

Imagine the change that might take place in the world if we allowed our love of God to shine from our eyes and go forth from our mouths: Judith, the daughter of Merari, by the beauty of her face brought him down.

Imagine the world as a place where we helped those who have few or no resources rather than took advantage of the vulnerable: When my lowly ones shouted, and my weak ones cried out the enemy was terrified, screamed and took to flight.

Imagine the impact our lives might make on the world if this could be sung about each of us when we have died: During the lifetime of Judith and for a long time after her death, no one ever again spread terror among the Israelites.

The Canticle of Judith holds dreadful, vengeful, Old Testament imagery that celebrates retaliation against our enemies.  It also reveals the coming of the New Testament when Christ tells us that a new Way has come to dwell in us.  We are to turn the other cheek and pray for those who brutalize others; we are to heal the wounded with soft words and gentle gestures; we must take risks with Christ and trust in the guidance of the Spirit; and we are called to witness to the coming of this newness. We are called to be one of the powerless, one of the vulnerable, one of the abused disciples of this New Way.  And we are called to witness and celebrate God’s gift of discipleship to us.

Judith 16 is a famous canticle of praise for the woman who dares to do God’s will against all advice, against all odds. Her tools are not power and influence that she has gleaned for herself; rather, they are her beauty and her fidelity to God, both gifts from her creator.

Let us pause today to thank God for all we are given.  Let us sing a canticle of praise, and let us imagine how the world would be if we all believed that we can do the impossible by following God’s voice . . . just as Judith does. And let us imagine the impact our lives might make on the world if this could be sung about each of us: During her lifetime, and for a long time after her death, no one ever again spread terror among the Israelites.

Tomorrow . . . a prayer in celebration . . . Pentecost . . .


Image from: http://preraphaelitepaintings.blogspot.com/2009/06/frederick-sandys-judith.html

A re-post from May 18, 2013.

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Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 17, 2020

Sandro Botticelli: Judith Leaving the Tent of Holofernes

Judith 15:9-15

A Celebration of Deliverance

Today we reflect on joyful celebration after deliverance from disaster, and we pause to consider the sudden and surprising gifts of discipleship.

The book of Judith is a wonderful story about a woman who puts aside her widow’s weeds to save her nation. Her ability is doubted by the elders of her own community, and her enemy underestimates her by a wide margin. Judith succeeds in accomplishing the impossible. We watch her follow a dangerously treacherous and narrow path, listening for and then obeying God’s voice.  We see her unfold in beautiful discipleship.  During this Eastertide we have re-discovered the gifts of discipleship that bloom in our lives when we see our vulnerability to God as privilege; and we watch Judith as she trusts in God alone to deliver her people and herself from a deadly enemy.

Judith’s meekness brings her humility . . . an ability to listen for God’s word and to heed it.

Judith’s brokenheartedness brings her vulnerability . . . an ability to petition God for help.

Judith’s constancy brings her fidelity . . . an ability to rely on God alone.

Judith’s honesty brings her truth . . . an ability to see reality as God sees it.

Judith’s willingness brings her integrity . . . an ability to perceive and respond to God’s call authentically.

Judith’s steadfastness brings her persistence . . . an ability to follow God without flagging.

These are the gifts of discipleship with which God graced Judith . . . and these are the same gifts of discipleship that God gives to each of us today.

As we near Pentecost, let us consider these gifts that God freely gives.  And let us celebrate our own deliverance.


Image from: https://www.wikiart.org/en/sandro-botticelli/judith-leaving-the-tent-of-holofernes-1500

For more reflections about this amazing woman, type the word Judith in the blog search bar and explore.

Adapted from a Noontime reflection written on April 10, 2007.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Cristofano Allori: Judith With the Head of Holofernes

Cristofano Allori: Judith With the Head of Holofernes

Judith 13: Slaying Holofernes

Judith teaches us about courage, fidelity, and divine providence.  She shows us clearly the strength of women, the power of faithfulness through duress, the results of steady, enduring, immutability . . . and the gift of God’s abiding presence.  Judith instructs us on the results of constancy and the privilege of discipleship.

In this particular chapter, we see Judith carry out the final stages of her plan . . . and I am always intrigued by the fact that none of Holofernes’ soldiers see anything suspicious about two women leaving the camp and the reason for this is that from the first night of her stay Judith makes it clear that she and her maid will go out to pray each evening.  For this reason their escape route is made through their accustomed daily commitment to God (12:5-9).

It is also clear that Holofernes’ principle error is seeing women as sexual objects.  The heart of Holofernes was in rapture over her, and his spirit was shaken.  He was burning with the desire to possess her, for he had been biding his time to seduce her from the day he saw her.  (12:16) Neither this man – nor anyone in his inner circle – sees the true significance of the presence of this quiet, beautiful, spiritual woman in their midst.  And they pay for this blindness with the loss of life and the loss of the campaign they have planned against the people of Bethulia.

What can we learn from this today?  How can we take this lesson into our own lives and honor it?  What is it about Judith’s conduct that speaks of her so well?

This story – when read from beginning to end – is full of unexpected twists.  And so is life.  This story – when we take the time to examine it more fully – can startle us and even repel us with its stark reality and violence.  And so can life.  This story – when reflected upon in the context of the coming of Christ – brings us the expectation of restoration, justice and joy.  And so does life.  This story brings us the gift of constancy, a gift we receive through our own discipleship.

Tower of David Museum, Jerusalem: Reconstruction Model of Ancient Jerusalem

Tower of David Museum, Jerusalem: Reconstruction Model of Ancient Jerusalem

What do we do against life’s twists and turns and ironies?  We remain constant, we abide with God, we fear less and we pray endlessly.  We empty ourselves of ego and pride . . . and we allow God to complete and fill us.  We act – just as Judith did – from a custom of constantly walking and praying with God.

Good, merciful and just Creator, we place ourselves in your hands each day at our rising.  We carry you with us throughout each day.  We return to you each evening just as we return to family, home and hearth.  Abide with us this day and all days, just as you accompanied Judith and her maid into the enemy’s camp.  Abide with us each evening as we walk out to the ravine to pray with you, just as Judith and her maid were accustomed to doing.  We seek you, just as Judith sought you.  We bring to you our worries and fears, just as these women did.  May we too remain constant to you in our prayers and in our actions.  May we too know the triumph and the peace which comes from abiding with you.  We ask this in Jesus’ name.  Amen. 


If you have time to read more about Judith’s story and reflect on her importance in our lives today, enter her name in the search box on this blog and spend time with her.  Or open your Bible to this book and begin her story in Judith 8.  For background, and to better understand the context, begin reading from Chapter 1.   For an online commentary, click on the model of ancient Jerusalem above.

Images from: https://thenoontimes.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/220px-cristofano_allori_0021.jpg and https://thenoontimes.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/reconstruction_model_of_ancient_jerusalem_in_museum_of_david_castle1.jpg

First written on July 27, 2008.  Re-written and posted today as a Favorite.

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Monday, April 27, 2020

faithful[1]1 Thessalonians 2: Constancy

During this Eastertide we have spent time reflecting on the hard work of discipleship and how we recognize it in ourselves and others.  We have focused on the qualities of meekness and broken-heartedness and how they bring us strength despite our fear that they might sap our enthusiasm and energy.  Today we begin to examine the quality of constancy, how we see it, where we find it, and why it is so important.

Constancy is more than fidelity; it is steadfastness under duress.  Constancy is more than accuracy and exactness; it is a steady, changeless immutability.  Constancy is not capricious, it is not fickle.  It is stable, consistent and predictable.

Today’s Noontime is a lesson on being constant in our mission here on earth no matter how pleasant or how dire the circumstances.  These verses describe God’s

We look at Paul’s words and phrases and we examine how constant we are in our relationship with God . . .

We drew courage through our God  . . .

Not as trying to please human beings, but rather God, who judges our hearts.

Nor did we seek praise from human beings . . .

We were able to impose our weight as apostles of Christ  . . .

We were gentle among you . . .

We are determined . . .

We proclaimed to you the Gospel of God . . .

You are witnesses and so is God . . .

We too give thanks to God unceasingly . . .

We were all the more eager . . .

For you are our glory and our joy.

In his letters to the people of Thessalonica, Paul addresses the problems that arise when diverse people come together in community, and although these words were written so long ago, we might still use them as a daily guide as we struggle to live a common life from uncommon directions.  How do we remain constant when all we know is taken from us?  How do we maintain steadfast under the duress of betrayal by one who avowed their love?  How do we move on steadily through tumultuous days and dark nights when we have lost our way and see no hope for recovery?

When we read Paul’s epistle to the people of Thessalonica, we discover new wisdom for old problems.  When we offer our suffering with others who have also struggled with loss and fear, we find new courage in old circumstances.  And when we raise our voices with Paul’s closing words in a chorus of gratitude we come upon new strength against old enemies.

So we intone Paul’s words and offer them to heaven in our evening prayer:

Brethren, pray for us.  Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss.  I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read to all the holy brethren.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.  Amen.  (1 Thessalonians 5:25-28)


Image from: http://dailyexplorationgodis.blogspot.com/

First written on October 13, 2008.  Revised and posted today.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Hosea 9: A Prayer of Return to God

lovehands[1]We have spent time with this prophet for much of the week and we have allowed ourselves to be open to a flood of emotions. When we consider the story of Hosea and Gomer we experience the depth and breadth of God’s patience, fidelity and love.  On this third Sunday in Lent we are invited to be frank about when and how we play Gomer to God’s Hosea.  We are also invited to consider the depth and breadth of Christ’s sacrifice; we are called to sink into the profundity and intensity of the Spirit’s consolation.  With God there is always an opportunity to return.

Israel becomes the harlot when she wanders from the covenant she had entered into with Yahweh. She oppresses the poor and adores idols; the mechanical offering of holocausts by her priests has become a false worship.  Israel’s prophets warn her of the consequences of her infidelity, but she continues to ignore these admonitions.  She leaves behind the gift of Exodus when Yahweh brought her out of captivity to a world of freedom.  She scoffs at the notion that a future exile will again enslave her.  And the longer she remains away from Yahweh, the more difficult – and useless – she sees the road of return.  And in her headlong desire to do precisely as she likes, she sends herself into her own loveless and dreadful exile.  If only she might return . . .

While Israel flirts with cataclysm and ignores all signs of warning, Yahweh abides and calls.  Yahweh hopes and prepares.  Yahweh waits and loves.

While Gomer gives herself to any who would have her in order to feel the quick rush of easy pleasure, Hosea abides and calls.  Hosea hopes and prepares. Hosea waits and loves.

Hosea sees this parallel and so must we.   And while Hosea aches for his lost love and yearns for Israel to return to her true role as Yahweh’s spouse, Yahweh waits for Israel to return.  And so does God call and wait on us today.

Picture1And so we pray . . .

Good and patient God, we see ourselves in Gomer when we forget to visit with you each day.  Renew in us a desire to be faithful to you. 

Good and constant God, we see ourselves in Gomer when we are easily lured away from you.  Renew in us a willingness to put aside the quick charms of a self-centered life. 

Good and tender God, we see ourselves in Gomer when we refuse to see the depths of your love.  Renew in us our understanding of your mercy, a willingness to persist through our doubt, and an eagerness to put everything aside for you. 

Good and ever-present God, we see ourselves in Gomer when we fail to return to you. Renew our strength, renew our courage, renew our faith, renew our hope, renew our love, and renew our all . . . so that we might return to you.

Amen.    


Image from: http://architectsofanewdawn.ning.com/group/returntolovepostshowdiscussion      

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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Deuteronomy 3: Teaching the Children

parent-child[1]Whether we ourselves have children or not, it is beneficial to universal society for those of us who have survived cataclysm to teach those who follow us how to endure well rather than to endure at all costs.  If we hope to improve both collectively and individually we must be willing to take an honest look at how we operate, what we value, and how we enact our values.  This is what Moses calls us to today.  We are not asked to pass along stories of how others have carried on through crisis; we are asked to be earnestly on our guard not to forget the things which our own eyes have seen, not let them slip from our memory as long as we live, but teach them to our children and to our children’s children.  This is a noble vocation: to pass along a manual for how to persist through pain, fear and antagonism.

Keeping in mind that each time we read or hear the phrase “fear” in reference to the Lord in the New Testament that we might replace it with the word “love,” we can see how the arrival of Jesus is the completion of all God’s promises to the people.  God, with his expression of concern and empathy embodied in Jesus, tells us how much he loves us and wants to be with us.  God warns us often about the dangers of idolatry and encourages us to consider the advantages of fidelity.  God’s own fidelity with us is guaranteed.  God’s love proved repeatedly through the stories we can tell about his power to save and restore.   God’s hope for us and in us is spelled out clearly as he establishes – here through Moses – cities of refuge in which his people might find a second opportunity for recovery.  God never gives up on us.

Deuteronomy, perhaps more than any other book of the Bible, asks its readers to remember and to pass along our own story of how the goodness of the Lord has changed us forever.  It asks that we consider God’s goodness, and that we pass along the story of how we came through a wilderness with no road map other than our fidelity to a God who loves us so much he cannot bear to be apart from us for even the smallest of moments.  We are loved by a God who does not ever want to be without us.

And so we pray . . .

Father Creator, Jesus Saver, Holy Spirit Abider and Comforter, we see by your actions that you will never forsake the work of your own hands.  We realize that the only firm ground on which we stand is the rock of your own steadfastness in your commitment to us.  We know that you are incapable of deception, trickery or betrayal.  Give us the fortitude and courage to follow you, even when we are fearful, even when we are in pain.  We rely on your patience and mercy as always.  And we await our own restoration and peace that comes with the joy of knowing and serving you.  We thank you for your bountiful love, and we hope to return that love to you always . . . even when we are fearful or in pain.

Help us to pass along to the children and to the children of those children not only the story of your love . . . but the essence of your love as well.  Guide us in loving our enemies, in praying for the impossible, and in remaining always with you.  We ask this in Jesus’ name.  Amen. 


Image from: http://veronicaplace.wordpress.com/2011/02/05/our-children-are-on-loan-to-us/

Written on August 11, 2009 and posted today as a Favorite.

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Thursday, January 9, 2020

Wisdom 9: Solomon’s Prayer

SolomonsPrayer[1]Solomon is a well-known figure in scripture.  At a fairly young age he is given a unified kingdom by his father, David.  When asked what he wishes to have in this world he asks for Wisdom.  We are told that he receives this and more . . . all the wealth, power and status he had not asked for.  He seems destined for greatness and so he is.

Rulers from all parts journey to visit him, to see the beautiful palace and temple he builds, and to experience at close range how this singular king loves and is loved by his singular God.  Even the remarkable Queen of Sheba requests and is granted a special visit.  Later in his story, we are told that he loved many foreign women and married several.  It is likely that in this way he meant to secure alliances with potential enemies; yet these enemies defeat him in a quiet and insidious way.  The writer of 1 Kings tells us: When Solomon was old his wives had turned his heart to strange gods, and his heart was not entirely with the Lord, his God, as the heart of his father David had been. (1 Kings 11:4) After this, the kingdom comes tumbling down.

Today we spend time with Solomon’s Prayer which can also read in 1 Kings 8 and we speculate what it was that drew him away from God into the world.  We picture what lured him to foreign gods and extravagant women.  We can imagine what and who convinced him that authority and influence were more important than fidelity to Yahweh.  When we reflect on Solomon’s Prayer, we might want to make it our own and pray it often . . . resisting the lure of self-deceit and warding off the siren song of the material world.  And so we pray to the God of Solomon, the Living God.

Give me Wisdom, the attendant at your throne . . . For alone I cannot manage my days and nights sensibly.

Reject me not from among your children . . . I will make mistakes and I know that you will pardon me.

You have bid me build a temple on your holy mountain, an altar in the city that is your dwelling place, a copy of the holy tabernacle you had established of old . . .  I will do my best to act as you ask, to answer as you call, to praise as you create.

Send forth Wisdom from your holy heavens that she may be with me and work with me . . .  I really cannot do this without your voice in my ear.

For who knows God’s counsel, who can conceive what the Lord intends?  I cannot conceive of that you see, all that you know, all that you do. I only understand that your are goodness and therefore do only good.

Piero della Francesca: Legend of the Cross - The Queen of Sheba Meeting with Solomon

Piero della Francesca: Legend of the Cross – The Queen of Sheba Meeting with Solomon

Thus were the paths of those on earth made straight, and we learned what was your pleasure, and were saved by Wisdom.  So abide with me that you might bring goodness out of any action I take may harm another.  Remain with me that I might remain in you.  Love me always that I might always love others.

Amen.


A re-post from January 9, 2013.

Read more about Solomon in 1 Kings and in 1 Chronicles. www.Biblegateway.com

To read more about Solomon’s Prayer, click on the image above or go to: http://www.hedua.com/blog/solomons-prayer/

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1 Maccabees 12:19-38: In the Face of Great Odds

Friday, December 20, 2019

Jonathan Maccabeus

We have looked at the verses that precede and follow today’s citation, reflecting on friendship and betrayal, on constancy and convolution.  Today we see Jonathan Maccabeus experiencing success as he follows the call of God.  He is later betrayed, but his betrayer suffers a sad end.  We might learn about the kind of patience needed for fidelity when we ponder this story; and we may better understand the need for fortitude and hope when we follow God’s call.  Jonathan’s victory in today’s Noontime comes from his faith in a God who does not abandon his creatures.  Jonathan’s true triumph is not the battles the battles he wins . . . but his commitment to the promise he has made to God.  His true reward is not the fame of the battle won . . . but the serenity of knowing that all is best and all is well when our work is placed in God’s hands.

From today’s Evening Prayer in MAGNIFICAT:

Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet you believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.  1 Peter 1:8

Whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ.  It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ.  Philippians 3: 7, 12

Although Jonathan did not see God, he loved God and followed his calling . . . even to death.

Whatever gain or loss Jonathan had, he had in God.

May we too, be as constant and as hope-filled as Jonathan . . . even in the face of the greatest odds.


Cameron, Peter John. “Prayer for the Evening.” MAGNIFICAT. 16.11 (2010). Print.  

Written on November 16, 2010 and posted today as a Favorite.

Image from: http://all-generals.ru/index.php?id=1193

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