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GENERAL AUDIENCE: On Judith: The Courage of a Woman Gives Courage to a People

«This woman, a widow, risks looking bad before the others! She is courageous! She goes ahead! This is my opinion: women are more courageous than men’

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Here is a ZENIT working translation of Pope Francis’ address during this morning’s General Audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall:
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
Outstanding among the figures of women that the Old Testament presents to us, is that of a great heroine of the people: Judith. The biblical Book that bears her name talks about the imposing military campaign of King Nebuchadnezzar who, reigning in Nineveh, extended the borders of the empire, defeating and enslaving all the surrounding peoples. The reader understands he is before a great, invincible enemy, which is sowing death and destruction and which arrives at the Promised Land, putting in danger the life of the children of Israel.
In fact, Nebuchadnezzar’s army, under the leadership of General Holofernes, besieges Bethulia, cutting the water supply and thus sapping the population’s resistance.
The situation became dramatic, to the point that the inhabitants of the city turned to the elders asking them to surrender to their enemies. Theirs were desperate words: «There is no one to help us now! God has sold us into their hands by laying us prostrate before them in thirst and utter exhaustion. So now, summon them and deliver the whole city as plunder to the troops of Holofernes and to all his forces»
For now we have no one to help us; God has sold us into their hands, to strew us on the ground before them with thirst and utter destruction. Now call them in and surrender the whole city to the army of Holofernes and to all his forces, to be plundered” (Judith 7:25-26). The end seemed ineluctable; the capacity to trust God was exhausted. And how many times we come to the limit of situations, where we do not even feel the capacity to have trust in the Lord. It is an awful temptation! And, paradoxically, it seems that, to flee from death, they had to hand themselves over to the hands of those that kill. They know that these soldiers will enter to plunder the city, to take the women as slaves and then kill all the others.
And in face of such despair, the head of the people attempts to propose a pretext for hope: to hold out for five more days, awaiting God’s saving intervention. But it is a weak hope, which makes him conclude: “But if these days pass by, and no help comes to us, I will do what you say” (7:31). Poor soul: he was without a way out. God is granted five days — and here is the sin– five days are granted to God to intervene; five days of waiting, but now with the prospect of the end. They grant God five days to save them, but they know they do not have confidence, they expect the worst. In reality, no one among the people is still capable of hoping anymore. They were desperate.
It is in this situation that Judith appears on the scene. A widow, a woman of great beauty and wisdom, she speaks to the people with the language of faith. Courageous, she reproves the people to their face (saying): “You are putting the Almighty to the test, […]. No, my brethren, do not provoke the Lord our God to anger. For if He does not choose to help us within these five days, He has power to protect us within any time He pleases, or even to destroy us in the presence of our enemies. […] Therefore, while we wait for His deliverance, let us call upon Him to help us, and He will hear our voice, if it pleases Him” (8:13.14-15.17). It is the language of hope. We knock at the doors of God’s heart, He is Father, He can save us. This woman, a widow, risks looking bad before the others! But she is courageous! She goes ahead! This is my opinion: women are more courageous than men (Applause in the Hall).
And with the strength of a prophet, Judith recalls the men of her people to lead them back to trust in God; with the look of a prophet, she sees beyond the narrow horizon proposed by the heads and which fear renders even more limited. God will certainly act — she affirms –, whereas the proposal of five days of waiting is a way to tempt Him and to withdraw from His will. The Lord is God of salvation, — and she believes it — whatever form it takes. It is salvation to be liberated from enemies and to make one live but, in His impenetrable plans, it can also be salvation to be delivered to death. She, woman of faith, knows it. Then we learn the end, how the story ended: God saves <them>.
Dear brothers and sisters let us never put conditions to God and, instead, let hope conquer our fears. To trust God means to enter in His designs without pretending anything, accepting also that His salvation and His help may reach us in a different way from our expectations. We ask the Lord for life, health, affections, happiness, and it is right to do so, but in the awareness that God is able to draw life also from death, that peace can be experienced also in sickness, and that there can be serenity also in solitude and blessedness also in weeping. It is not we who can teach God what He must do, what we are in need of. He knows it better than us, and we must trust Him, because His ways and His thoughts are different from ours.
The way that Judith indicates to us is that of trust, of waiting in peace, of prayer and of obedience. It is the way of hope, without easy resignations, doing everything that is in our possibilities, but always remaining in the furrow of the Lord’s will, because – we know it –. she prayed so much, she spoke so much to the people and then, courageous, she left, she sought a way to approach the head of the army and she succeeded in cutting off his head, in slaughtering him. She is courageous in faith and in works. And she always seeks the Lord! Judith, in fact, has her plan, she implements it with success and leads the people to victory, but always in the attitude of faith of one who accepts everything from God’s hand, certain of His goodness.
Thus, a woman full of faith and courage gives back strength to her people in mortal danger and leads them on the ways of hope. And we, if we exercise our memory a bit, how many times have we heard wise courageous words from humble persons, from humble women that one thinks — without scorning them — are ignorant … but they are words of the wisdom of God! — the words of grandparents … How many times grandparents are able to say the right word. The word of hope, because they have the experience of life, they have suffered so much, they have entrusted themselves to God and the Lord gives us this gift of the counsel of hope. And, going on those ways, it will be joy and paschal light to entrust oneself to the Lord with Jesus’ words: “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). And this is the prayer of wisdom, of trust and of hope.
[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT] In Italian
A warm welcome goes to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. In particular, I greet the Religious Families present here, especially the Provincial Superiors of the Minor Friars. I greet the Association of the State Police of Caserta and the Saint Stephen Confraternity of Rieti. I encourage all to be faithful to Christ, so that the joy of the Gospel can shine in society.
A special thought goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Today we celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. Dear young people, may Paul’s figure be for all of you a model of missionary discipleship. Dear sick, offer your sufferings for the cause of unity of the Church of Christ. And you, dear newlyweds, be inspired by the example of the Apostle to the Gentiles, acknowledging the primacy of God and His love in your family life.
[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]

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