Papal Address at General Audience

«The Real Enemy … Infidelity to the Lord»

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VATICAN CITY, AUG. 29, 2001 ( Here is a translation of John Paul II´s address at today´s general audience.

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1. The song of praise we have just recited (Judith 16:1-17) is attributed to Judith, a heroine who became the pride of all the women of Israel, because it was given to her to express the liberating power of God at a dramatic moment in the life of his people. The Liturgy of Lauds has us recite only some verses from her song. They invite to celebration, to singing in loud voices, and playing the tambourines and cymbals, in praise of the Lord «who crushes wars» (verse 2).

This last expression, which describes the true countenance of God, who loves peace, introduces us to the context in which the hymn was conceived. It is about a victory achieved by the Israelites in a totally amazing way, a work of God who intervenes to save them from the prospect of imminent and total defeat.

2. The sacred author reconstructs this event two centuries later to offer his brothers and sisters in faith, tempted to discouragement in a difficult situation, an example that can help to comfort them. Thus, he refers to what happened to Israel when Nebuchadnezzar, irritated by the opposition of these people to his expansionist views and idolatrous pretensions, sent General Holofernes with the specific task of subjugating and annihilating them. No one could dare to resist him, who claimed the honors of a god. And his general, who shared his presumption, derided the admonition he was given not to attack Israel, because it would be tantamount to attacking God himself.

In reality, the sacred author wishes to emphasize this very principle, to confirm believers of his time in loyalty to the God of the covenant: to have confidence in God. The real enemy that Israel must fear, are not the powerful of this earth, but infidelity to the Lord. This is what deprives them of God´s protection and makes them vulnerable. Instead, when they are faithful, the people can count on the strength of God himself, «wonderful in strength, invincible» (verse 13).

3. This principle is splendidly illustrated by the whole story of Judith. The scene is that of the land of Israel now invaded by enemies. The drama of this moment emerges from the song: «The Assyrians came down from the mountains of the north; he came with myriads of his warriors; their multitude blocked up the valleys, their cavalry covered the hills» (verse 4). The ephemeral arrogance of the enemy is underlined with sarcasm: «He boasted that he would burn up the territory, and kill my young men with the sword, and dash my infants to the ground and seize my children as prey, and take my virgins as booty» (verse 5).

The situation described in Judith´s words is similar to others experienced by Israel, in which salvation arrived when there seemed to be no way out. Was not the salvation in Exodus, the prodigious crossing of the Red Sea, also like this? Now, too, the siege of a numerous and powerful army removed all hope. However, all this does but manifest the power of God, who shows himself as the invincible protector of his people.

4. God´s work emerges all the more luminous, inasmuch as he does not turn to a warrior or an army. As happened before, at the time of Deborah, he eliminated Sisera, the general of Canaan, through Jael, a woman (see Judges 4:17-21), now he makes use again of an unarmed woman to come to the aid of the people in difficulty. Fortified by her faith, Judith enters the enemy camp, charms the commander with her beauty, and kills him in a humiliating way. The song strongly emphasizes this fact: «But the Lord Almighty has foiled them by the hand of a woman. For their mighty one did not fall by the hands of the young men, nor did the sons of the Titans smite him, nor did tall giants set upon him; but Judith the daughter of Merar´i undid him with the beauty of her countenance» (Judith 16:6-7).

The figure of Judith then became the archetype that would permit not only the Jewish but also the Christian tradition to emphasize God´s preference for that which is considered fragile and weak, but, precisely because of this, is chosen to manifest divine power. She is also an exemplary figure who expresses the vocation and mission of woman, called like man, according to her specific characteristics, to play a significant role in God´s plan. Some of the expressions in the Book of Judith pass, more or less integrally, to the Christian tradition, which sees in the Hebrew heroine a prefiguration of Mary. Do we not hear an echo of Judith when Mary sings in the «Magnificat»: «He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree» (Luke 1:52)? Therefore, it is understandable how the liturgical tradition, familiar to Christians of both East and West, likes to attribute to Jesus´ Mother expressions referred to Judith, such as the following: «You are the exaltation of Jerusalem, you are the great glory of Israel, you are the great pride of our nation!» (Judith 15:9).

5. Beginning with the experience of victory, the song of Judith ends with an invitation to raise a new song to God, acknowledging him as «great and glorious.» At the same time, all creatures are admonished to remain subject to him who with his word has made everything and with his spirit has shaped it all. Who can resist the voice of God? Judith reminds us with great emphasis: before the Creator and Lord of history, the mountains shall be shaken to their foundations, the rocks shall melt like wax (see Judith 16:15). These are effective metaphors to remind us that everything is as «nothing» before the power of God. Yet this song of victory does not intend to terrify but to console. In fact, God offers his invincible power to sustain those who are faithful: «but to those who fear thee thou wilt continue to show mercy» (Ibid.).

[Translation by ZENIT]

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