Wednesday, June 26, 2013

We Need A Woman Like Judith Today

We have come to the moment in our nation's history when we need women to rise up and valiantly regain lost ground. It is time for us to be the Judith-of-today. Standing on the solid ground of our Faith, let us raise the standard for life, liberty, and love of Christ. -Denise Bossert, Catholic by Grace

I was a typical evangelical preacher’s kid.  I loved God very much, but I was also a bit spiritually condescending, even as a child.

I don’t remember this incident, but I’m told that my Sunday school teacher had finally had it with me and sought out my mother for an informal conference.  “Every Sunday when I introduce the Bible story, your daughter rolls her eyes and begins complaining that she already knows that one.  And can’t I come up with any new stories?”

While I don’t remember doing this, I do remember loving Bible stories and hungering to hear more of them.  This particular desire has been completely sated now that I’m Catholic.  There seems to be no end of inspirational and edifying stories of the Saints.  In addition, I recovered a few Protestant omissions from the Old Testament canon when I bought my first Catholic Bible.  (See, I knew there were more stories out there and my Protestant Sunday school teachers were holding out.)

Okay, so I’m kidding about that, but I really do wish that the Protestant Reformers had retained all canonized Sacred Scripture.  How much we missed without even realizing it!  If you haven’t settled the question on who is right about the canon of Sacred Scripture, I suggest you read a book by Gary Michuta entitled Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger.  Then I urge you to read the book of Judith.

Now she was one amazing woman!

After I converted to the Catholic Church, I sat down and read what I’d been missing.  About the third book into my search, I discovered Judith.  We see a widow in mourning.  Her beloved husband is gone, and she has wrapped herself in the clothing of grief.  She does not despair.  She bows her will to the Father’s will, and accepts the loss in the manner and custom of the People of God. Sackcloth and fasting.

She is content to live like this for as long as God wills it, even if the season of mourning should last the rest of her life.  But then King Nebuchadnezzar goes on a rampage.  He’s mad at the whole world.  There are scores to settle.  One by one, Holofernes, Nebuchadnezzar’s general of military forces, descends on his king’s enemies and destroys them.  One nation panics and tries a new approach.  They receive Holofernes with garlands and tambourines.  Basically, they decide to kiss up to him.  Without batting an eye, Holofernes cuts them down.  Now, he turns his attention to the House of Israel.  The military general decides to shut off their water supply. Israel’s strength wanes, and women and children grow faint. Everyone despairs except Judith. 

Judith scolds Israel. What’s wrong with you? Have you forgotten that Our Lord has always been faithful to us? Rise up and be People of God. We are not yet dead.  God is putting you to the test, my beloved brothers and sisters. Yes, this is a test. But do not despair, because God only tests His Beloved.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Now give us some water.  Well, that isn’t what they say, but it might as well be.  Sounds like Moses and the Israelites, doesn’t it?  Only Judith doesn’t strike a rock and command it to bring forth water.  She simply prays, “O God, my God, hear me also, a widow.”  She goes on to pray, “Crush their pride by the hand of a woman. Your strength is not in numbers, nor does your power depend upon stalwart men.”

Very humbly, Judith puts aside her garments of mourning, and she dresses in festive clothing.  Anklets, bracelets, rings, earrings and other jewelry and perfume.  Talk about a radical make-over.  My Bible tells me that the men who saw her that day were very much astounded at her beauty.  What did this woman of beauty do next?  She didn’t look at herself in a mirror or parade herself before the Israelites. 

She bowed down to God.

She had her maid pack a satchel, and they headed off for enemy territory.  The guards were so smitten with her beauty that every closed door was thrown open for her, and she was admitted into the inner chamber of the enemy himself.  Holfernes is completely besotted, and he’s about to be outwitted.

Now, I must point out one thing.  Judith never sees this as her personal victory.  There is a marked difference between praying for personal wealth and prosperity as a sign of God’s blessing (a modern heresy we hear televangelists propagating) and praying for God to triumph over His enemies.  Judith was not there for her own personal victory.  She was there to do God’s will.

Sounds a little like David and Goliath, doesn’t it? An absurd imbalance of power – unless you factor in Almighty God?

At this point in the story, I was actually a bit angry that I had been deprived of such a profound ancient witness.  The story has all the marks of an Old Testament woman of valor.  Queen Esther.  Ruth and Naomi.  Hannah.  Deborah. 

Now, Judith.

She walked right into the enemy’s inner chamber.  And when it was all said and done, the enemy was slain.  She handed his head to her maidservant, who put it in a satchel. The two women walked out of the enemy’s lair without a guard’s second glance.  They returned to the House of Israel and pulled the decapitated head from the bag.

Judith did not gloat.  She took everything in stride.  She had not done anything spectacular.  But God had.  She had simply refused to bow to defeat.

Of course, Israel celebrated.  Judith did not return to a season of mourning.  God had reset the seasons.  It was no longer a time to mourn; it was a time to dance.

Many men wanted her hand in marriage after that.  With the grace and peace of a woman of God, with the serenity of a woman who knows who she is in the eyes of God, she graciously declined the offers.

After the story ended and I put down my Bible, I realized that this woman of ancient times was so like the other women of the Old Testament.  She, too, is a prefigurement of Our Lady.

Judith and Mary were both preceded in death by their husbands.  Our Lady buried a husband, and then faced the greatest battle of all.  She would stand in the gap for her people, let her own heart be pierced, and watch her Son die, while His disciples scattered in fear.

Her resolve to be God’s handmaid would not falter even then.  She would embrace this ultimate battle for the enemy’s territory.  Satan would soon lose his stranglehold on the human race.  Victory belonged to Our Lord.

While Judith decapitated the enemy’s head, Mary was about to crush it with her heel.

It kind of makes you want to rise up and take our world by storm, doesn’t it?  What a legacy!  The battle belongs to Our God, and He seems to enlist the help of women when things get really tough.


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