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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

General Audience about a Christian heroine

This morning's General Audience began at 9:45 in the Paul VI Hall where the Holy Father, Pope Francis met with groups of pilgrims and faithful from Italy and from every corner of the world.

During his speech, the Pope continued the new cycle of catecheses on the theme of Christian hope, adding a meditation on the theme: Judith: the courage of a woman gives hope to the people.

After having summarized His catechesis in various languages, the Holy Father addressed particular greetings to each group of the faithful in attendance.

The General Audience concluded with the chanting of the Pater Noster and the Apostolic blessing.

Catechesis of His Holiness, Pope Francis
for the General Audience

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

Among the figures of women presented in the Old Testament, one stands out at as a great heroine of the people: Judith.  The biblical book that bears her name narrates the massive military campaign mounted by King Nebuchadnezzar who, while reigning in Nineveh, enlarged his empire by defeating and enslaving all the people in surrounding lands.  The reader understands that he finds himself before a great, invincible enemy who is sowing death and destruction and this practice continues even to the Promised Land, endangering also the lives of the children of Israel.

In fact, Nebuchadnezzar's army, under the leadership of General Holofemes, lays siege to a city in Judea called Betulia, cutting off the water supply and therefore sapping the people's resistance.

The situation is dramatic, to the point that the inhabitants of the city turn to the elderly, begging them to surrender to the enemy.  Their words are desperate: There is no one else who can help us, because God has sold us into their hands to be cut down before them with thirst and terrible evil.  They came and said to us: God has sold us, there was great desperation among these people.  Now call them and deliver the entire city to Holofemes' people and his army for they are his prize (Judith 7:25-26).  The end now seems inevitable, the ability to trust in God is exhausted.  The ability to trust in God is exhausted.  And how many times do we find ourselves in such situations, where we no longer feel even the ability to trust the Lord?  This is a terrible temptation!  And, paradoxically, its seems that, in order to escape death, there is nothing left for them than to resign themselves into the hands of their killer.  They know that these soldiers have come to loot the city, take the women as slaves and then kill everyone else.  This is truly the limit.

And faced with such despair, the leader of the people tries to propose a reason for hope: resist for five more days, let us wait for the saving intervention of God.  But this is a source of weak hope; he eventually concludes: And if these days should pass, and no help should arrive, I will do as you have said to me (Judith 7:31).  Poor man: he had no out.  He grants God five days - and this is a sin - five days are granted for God to intervene; five days of waiting, but already with the prospect of the end in sight.  They grant five days for God to save them, but they know that they do not trust, already they are expecting the worst.  In reality, no one among the people was still able to hope.  They were all desperate.

In this situation, Judith appears on the scene.  She is a widow; a woman of great beauty and wisdom, she speaks to the people with the language of faith.  She is courageous: she scolds the people face to face, saying to them: You wanted to put the all-powerful Lord to the test ... No, brothers, do not provoke the wrath of the Lord, our God.  If he does not help us during these five days, he has full power to defend us in the days he chooses or even to make us destroy our enemies ... Therefore, let us wait in trust for the salvation that is coming from him, let us implore him, that he might come to our help and hear our cry, if it should please him (Judith 8:13, 14-15, 17).  This is the language of hope.  Let us knock at the door of God's heart, He is our Father, he can save us.  This woman, a widow, was willing to risk making a bad impression in front of the others!  But she was courageous!  Keep going!  This is my opinion: women are more courageous than men. (Applause in the hall)

And with the strength of a prophet, Judith reminds the men among her people, helping them to re-establish trust in God; with the eye of a prophet, she sees beyond the strict horizon proposed by the leaders, one that is all the more limited by the people's fear.  God will surely act - she affirms - while the prospect of five days of waiting is a way to tempt him and to attempt to escape his will.  The Lord is the God of salvation - and she believes in this truth - whatever form his will should take.  Salvation frees us from our enemies and brings us life but, according to God's impenetrable plans, can salvation also condemn us to death?  A woman of faith, she knows.  And we know the end of the story, how it ends: God saves.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us never put conditions on God; instead, let us allow hope to be victorious against our fears.  Trusting in God means entering into his plans without any pretense, even accepting that his salvation and his help will always be granted us, even if they are different from our expectations.  We ask the Lord for life, health, help and happiness; and it is good to do so, but with the awareness that God is able to bring life even out of death, and that we can be calm even in solitude and bliss while there are tears.  It is not we who can teach God what he should do, or what we need.  He knows these things better than we do, and we should trust him, because his ways and his thoughts are different from ours.

The journey that Judith points out to us is that of faith, of waiting in peace, of prayer and obedience.  It is the journey of hope.  This is not an easy resignation - to do everything we can while remaining docile to the will of the Lord, because - as we know - Judith prayed a lot, she spoke often to the people and then, courageously, she went, seeking the best way to get close to the leader of the army and succeeded in cutting off his head, cutting his throat.  She was courageous both in faith and in works.  She constantly sought the Lord!  In fact, Judith had her own plan, she acted on it successfully and brought her people to victory, but always with an attitude of faith, of one who accepts everything from the hand of God, confident in his goodness.

So it is that a woman full of faith and courage gave strength to her people who were in mortal peril and led them along the path of hope; she points out this path of hope also to us.  And if we look back in our memories, how often have we heard wise words, courageous words spoken by humble people, by humble women who we think - without despising them - that they were ignorant ... But these are words of God's wisdom!  Words spoken by grandmothers ... How often does it happen that grandmothers know how to speak the right words, words of hope, because they have life experience, they have suffered so much, they have relied on God and the Lord has given them the gift of wisdom and hope.  And, following along this path, the path of Easter joy and light, they rely on the Lord with the words of Jesus: Father, if it is your will, take this cup from me ... but nonetheless, not my will but yours be done (Lk 22:42).  And this is the prayer of wisdom, of trust and of hope.

The above catechesis was then summarized in various languages and the Holy Father offered greetings to each group of pilgrims in attendance.  To English-speaking pilgrims, he said:

I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, particularly the groups from the United States of America. During this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity I offer a special greeting to the group from the Bossey Ecumenical Institute and to the choir of Westminster Abbey, whom I thank for their praise of God in song. Upon all of you, and your families, I cordially invoke an abundance of joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ. God bless you!

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