Memory of the Saints and the Prophets

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Reading of the Word of God

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

You are a chosen race,
a royal priesthood, a holy nation,
a people acquired by God
to proclaim his marvellous works.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Judith 5,5-24

Achior, leader of all the Ammonites, replied, 'May my lord be pleased to listen to what your servant is going to say. I shall give you the facts about these mountain folk whose home lies close to you. You will hear no lie from the mouth of your servant.

These people are descended from the Chaldaeans.

They once came to live in Mesopotamia, because they did not want to follow the gods of their ancestors who lived in Chaldaea.

They abandoned the way of their ancestors to worship the God of heaven, the God they learnt to acknowledge. Banished from the presence of their own gods, they fled to Mesopotamia where they lived for a long time.

When God told them to leave their home and set out for Canaan, they settled there and accumulated gold and silver and great herds of cattle.

Next, famine having overwhelmed the land of Canaan, they went down to Egypt where they stayed till they were well nourished. There they became a great multitude, a race beyond counting.

But the king of Egypt turned against them and exploited them by forcing them to make bricks; he degraded them, reducing them to slavery.

They cried to their God, who struck the entire land of Egypt with incurable plagues, and the Egyptians expelled them.

God dried up the Red Sea before them

and led them forward by way of Sinai and Kadesh-Barnea. Having driven off all the inhabitants of the desert,

they settled in the land of the Amorites and in their strength exterminated the entire population of Heshbon. Then, having crossed the Jordan, they took possession of all the hill-country,

driving out the Canaanites before them and the Perizzites, Jebusites, Shechemites and all the Girgashites, and lived there for many years.

All the while they did not sin before their God, prosperity was theirs, for they have a God who hates wickedness.

But when they turned from the path he had marked out for them some were exterminated in a series of battles, others were taken captive to a foreign land. The Temple of their God was rased to the ground and their towns were seized by their enemies.

Then having turned once again to their God, they came back from the places to which they had been dispersed and scattered, regained possession of Jerusalem, where they have their Temple, and reoccupied the hill-country which had been left deserted.

So, now, master and lord, if this people has committed any fault, if they have sinned against their God, let us first be sure that they really have this reason to fail, then advance and attack them.

But if their nation is guiltless, my lord would do better to abstain, for fear that their Lord and God should protect them. We should then become the laughing-stock of the whole world.'

When Achior had ended this speech, all the people crowding round the tent began protesting. Holofernes' own senior officers, as well as all the coastal peoples and the Moabites, threatened to tear him limb from limb.

'Why should we be afraid of the Israelites? They are a weak and powerless people, quite unable to stand a stiff attack.

Forward! Advance! Your army, Holofernes our master, will swallow them in one mouthful!'


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

You will be holy,
because I am holy, thus says the Lord.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Holofernes asks himself who this small people is which dares to resist him. Achior, "the leader of all the Ammonites" (5:5), who were not friends of Israel, knows well the story of Israel, not just because he has heard it, but through his people’s concrete experience. Yet, what he says is unacceptable to Holofernes (and those like him), who takes it as coming from one who is on the side of the Israelites. We can say that Achior is on the wrong side because he is among the wicked who despise the Lord; and yet, even though he is a pagan and fights against Israel, he is not wicked, because he acknowledges the greatness of the Lord. In short, there is also a different way of being a pagan and, consequently, there is a different way that Israel can relate to them. Achior will actually be received by Israel. Because Achior is then able to witness first hand how the Lord God has become a shield for his people through means as fragile as a woman’s hand, he cannot but come to full faith. Of Achior it shall be said: "He believed firmly in God," and notwithstanding the Deuteronomic prohibition, he "joined the house of Israel, remaining so to this day" (14:10). The ways of the Lord are different than those of men and women, and so also are the paths of faith. We can even ask ourselves if, before Judith’s undertaking, Achior the pagan didn’t know the Lord better than Uzziah the Hebrew. Physical belonging and attending rituals is not enough to call oneself a believer. The Spirit of the Lord works in a mysterious way in the human heart. What saves is our readiness to receive the love which is given from on High. Achior explains to Holofernes that not even Nebuchadnezzar with all his might will be able to defeat the kingdom of Judah if God is with his people. The God of Israel -Achior explains- is not like the gods of the other nations. And he tells Holofernes the story of the relationship between God and Israel. But -unlike the Genesis account- it is not just Abraham who leaves the land. For, all the Fathers obeyed the God of heaven, and thus broke with the polytheistic tradition of the Chaldeans. Achior omits the monarchic period and condenses the history of Israel into liberation from Egypt and the people’s infidelity with the deportation which resulted. Achior explains to Holofernes that he must discern if this people has been faithful to God or not. If they have been unfaithful, they can be defeated; otherwise, if they have remained faithful it would not be wise to battle them. The God of heaven will protect them and Holofernes will be defeated. Achior’s words express a faith in the God of the Hebrews who is greater than Nebuchadnezzar. But it is precisely this declaration which makes Achior fall into disgrace in Holofernes’ eyes. It is peculiar that it is the lips of an Ammonite that express the highest and most solemn profession concerning the omnipotence of the God of Israel. In Achior’s words, the clash - not between two armies, but between evil which wants humans to think they can take God’s place and God who wants to defend his people- becomes clear. In truth, in this struggle is manifested the struggle which is thread throughout the whole of human history; that is, the struggle between the prince of evil and the Lord God. In such a context, God’s army has prayer as its only weapon. This is why, if there is faith in God, one woman is enough to defeat the greatest army ever seen on earth.