The past couple of years I worked through Job and Amos. This Lent I’m going to look at the Book of Esther. Esther is one of the Five Scrolls or Megillah it is in the third section of the Hebrew Bible the Ketuvim or the Writings. In the Christian church it is one of the Historical books. This book is interesting as it deals with a woman Esther who becomes Queen of Persia and wife of Xerxes the great, perhaps. In Esther we hear about the events that are celebrated during the feast of Purim. This book is unique since it does not explicitly mention God.
There is an interesting thing about the book is that there are additional chapters of the book that are in the Greek Septuagint. In the Vulgate these are placed at the end of the book and depending on your translation these might be indicated by letters or as numbers. To make it more confusing some Bible translations put these within the text of the book so you get a like chapter A or 11 before the first chapter of Esther.
On Monday the season of Great Lent begin in the Eastern Church and two days later on Ash Wednesday Lent begins for the Western churches. Great Lent begins on Clean Monday which refers to the leaving behind of sinful attitudes and non-fasting foods, some individuals call it Ash Monday. Although the season liturgically begins at Vespers on Sunday night where the church is all decked out in Lenten colors and at the end of vespers there is a ceremony of mutual forgiveness, where everyone asks for forgiveness from one another. During Great Lent just like in Lent prayer, fasting and abstinence and almsgiving play a role, although in the Eastern church it is a abstinence from meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, wine, and oil. There are some caveats on this but in general it is no meat or dairy until Easter. In the West the rules get confusing sure there is the abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent, but There are other difference as in the West the alleluia disappears but in the East it actually increases since as the Bible says in Matthew that Christians should be joyous when fasting and the general since sense of unworthiness must always be tempered with hope in God’s forgiveness. Lenten Joy comes thorough where in the West there is only one week the pink Sunday and the fourth week of Lent.
In many ways they are similar and in several way the observance is different. This year both the Eastern and Western churches will celebrate the great feast of Pascha or Easter on 16 April. I hope that we all can use this Lenten season to grow deeper in our faith.
The fifth and final Luminous Mystery is the Institution of the Eucharist. This happened at the Last Supper so it’s perfect timing with Lent starting next Wednesday. If we remember that the word eucharist comes from the Greek and means thanksgiving or grateful. This is where we need to come from as we live our lives sure the world seems to suck but if we can go out there being thankful for another day and grateful to be alive. Let us remember the words of Jesus “Do this in memory of me” now this wasn’t just the sharing of the bread and wine but it points toward the general idea of giving of oneself for others just like Jesus does. The Eucharist and therefore the sacrifice of Jesus is the core of the Christian faith. This should be our focus during Lent to be more grateful and willing to sacrifice for others.
On this day I want to do something that my high school Principal did every year on Valentine’s Day and that was to wish everyone a Happy Valentine’s Day and told us all that he loved us. So here it goes I love you. Sure, it’s a bit corny but for all those who aren’t in relationships on this day it sort of is just a regular day. Perhaps you’ll get some candy or a card, my sister has been know to send Congenital Heart Defects Awareness Day cards, but it isn’t that different than yesterday or tomorrow. Yes it is a holiday that celebrates love and that’s what the world needs now more than ever. If you have some time and want a laugh watch the Teen Girl Squad’s Valentime’s Special because “Valentimes is serious times”, or if you want something longer I’m sure there is some romantic movie or perhaps a musical on television/streaming that is bound to entertain and remind you about love.
As we turn to the fourth luminous mystery, we reflect upon the Transfiguration. This is an event that seems like it would be interesting to actually be there, with Jesus, Moses and Elijah all coming together and talking to one another. It show that Jesus didn’t come to replace the Law or the Prophets but to add to them. All to often we like to think of Christianity as something completely different from the Jewish faith and in turn the Islamic faith as well. These other religions are our siblings so we should try to understand them at least a little bit better than most of us currently do. I’m sure many of us would be like Peter and would want to experience to last forever but it can’t while we are alive. We get brief mountaintop experience in our lives but we can’t stay there forever as if we did nothing gets done. Let us all think of our spiritual lives as a mountain that we are climbing sure some people we are all at different levels of our journey sure some climb faster and higher but we are all trying to get higher each year. Let us all take some time before Lent to look at our spiritual lives and see where we are and how we can improve.
We have made it to the third luminous mystery. This is a difficult one since it isn’t a single event that we can point to as “The Proclamation” Jesus does this in various ways notably in the parables. There are a bunch of parables just focusing on the Kingdom of God, the sower, the mustard seed, the pearl of great price, the hidden treasure, the leaven, and the growing seed are all great examples. In most of these the focus is on some small object a seed or yeast or some great treasure that although is small the individual takes all that they have to get the treasure or grows into something much larger. At the Easter Vigil we see this as the Pascal Candle is lit and from that single fire every candle in the church is lit as we pass on the fire up the rows of pews. Sure we all are hoping for the Kingdom to come but perhaps it is here in our small action (works of mercy) that we need to pass on to one another. Let us all keep this in mind as we begin our Lenten journey in about a month.
As we continue our way through John Paul II’s additional mysteries to the Rosary. The second Luminous Mystery we hear about the first miracle and the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus. Here we have Mary and Jesus at some wedding, and they have run out of wine, which is a small problem. As the story goes Mary informs Jesus that the wine is running out he snaps back with “What concern is that to me, my time has not yet come.” Then Mary tells the servants to do as Jesus tells them. Jesus tells them to fill the empty purification jars with water and take it to the chief steward. The remarkable thing here is that Jesus doesn’t touch the water or really do anything to it yet it turns into the finest wine of the evening.
Now, Pope Benedict offers a unique observation of this miracle in his book, Jesus of Nazareth, saying that the miracle of producing a lot of wine for a wedding can be seen as a sign of the greatness of the love we find at the core of salvation history: “God lavishly spends himself for the lowly creature, man. (…) The superabundance of Cana is therefore a sign that God’s feast with humanity, his self-giving for man, has begun”. This in a way points toward the heavenly banquet where all are welcome. We also have an interesting role for Mary as it is where she always is pointing us towards Jesus. She is our signpost in life on our path toward heaven. I hope that we all can take Mary’s advice and do whatever he (Jesus) says.
We begin once again looking at the decades of the Rosary and before we move on to the Sorrowful ones during Lent. We look at the newest one, given to up by Pope John Paul II. A couple of weeks ago we hear that John was baptizing in the Jordan and crowds were coming to be baptized. Jesus himself comes and after the water was poured over his head there was a dove and a voice syaing “This is my beloved son, listen to him”. When we were baptized whenever that was we shared in this event, God is pleased with us, for many though we were baptized as infants and have no idea what all happened.Let us all go out into the world showing the Holy Spirit to the world so that it can help transform the world to a better place. With so much negativity around the world let us take the high road and show that we are the children of God who he is pleased with.
Last week we looked at the important role Mary plays in the Anglican Church now we turn from Christian religions and explore how Mary is looked at in the Muslim world.
In the Islamic world Mary or Maryam is considered one of the most righteous and greatest women as she is the only woman mentioned in the Quran. In fact she has a larger role in the Quran than in the New Testament and even has an entire surah (chapter) named for her. We are treated to the life of Mary from her birth to the birth of Isa (Jesus). According to the Quran, Mary’s parents, Hannah and Imran, were old and childless yet one day as Hannah saw a bird tending its young her desire for a child grew. Hannah prayed to God to grant her desire for a child and if so the child would be dedicated to God’s service. Hannah eventually conceived and bore a daughter and according to tradition she was born without the touch of Satan. Mary was raised by her uncle Zechariah at the temple. Mary grew up and an angel appeared to her, this story unfolds similar to that in the Gospel of Luke. The birth of Jesus is a bit different as from the birth it is said he was talking from the cradle, but we will get to that at a later time.
So Mary is an important figure in the Islamic world as well, and we all should keep her as an example of how to be faithful to God. Therefore we aren’t all that different from one another as Rumi points out “All religions, all this singing, one song. The differences are just illusion and vanity. Sunlight looks a little different on this wall than it does on that wall and a lot different on this other one, but it is still one light.”
In the Anglican Church the Lady chapel is a chapel which is to the east of the main altar in Cathedrals or the side altar in smaller church which is dedicated to Mary. Mary plays a unique role in the Anglican Church. Since England was a stronghold of Marian devotion before the reformation. It is here where the feast of the Assumption was first celebrated in 1060. The Carmelite Simon Stock is said to have received the brown scapular from Mary at Cambridge, England also is home to Richard of Chichester, Edmund of Canterbury, Thomas Becket as well as the great Anselm of Canterbury who all were devotees of Mary. Anselm wrote books and prayers about “the spotless Ever-Virgin Mother of Christ.” England itself since the middle ages, roughly 1350 or so, has been called Mary’s Dowry and even Pope Leo XIII noted this while he was addressing a group of pilgrims in 1893.
At the time of the English Reformation, devotion to Mary was still big although Mary was no longer a mediatrix with Jesus and overt devotion to Mary ended. However there were still five Marian feast (Conception of Mary, Nativity of Mary, Annunciation, Visitation, Purification/Presentation) on the calendar of the Church of England. In the 16th century the Magnificat was apart of Evening Prayer and lady chapels started appearing. As the 17th century came the writers took a look at the Catholic and Orthodox devotion of Mary and this sort of inspired the Oxford Movement, which saw the Anglican Church as a branch of the Catholic church with the other branches being the Roman Church and the Greek. One of the leaders of this movement was John Henry Newman. This movement lead to the revival of interest into pre-Reformation ideas like that of Our Lady of Walsingham, which has become quite the pilgrimage site for Anglicans, Catholics and Orthodox faithful. Currently, Mary holds a new prominent place as she is now name in the liturgy and even August 15 has become a feast day for Mary herself. Even some Marian devotions have crept back like the Rosary, Angelus and Regina Coeli.