Lenten Reflections: Book of Esther

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.

The Magnificat

As we near the end of Advent I though we would take a look at the Canticle of Mary. This is one of the eight oldest hymns and perhaps the oldest one about Mary. The words are taken from the Gospel of Luke (1:46-52) at the Visitation Elizabeth greets Mary with the first half of the Hail Mary and Mary’s response is the Canticle or Song of Mary it is also known as the Magnificat (from My Soul magnifies the Lord) and in the Eastern Church it is simply the Ode of the Theotokos. It is typically prayed during Vespers or Evening Prayer in the Western Churches (Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican) Protestants sing it during Advent and in the East it is sung during Sunday Matins. A version of the Canticle in English is as follows.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.

In the Eastern Church after the Canticle itself they add ‘You who are more to be honoured than the Cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim, you who, uncorrupted, gave birth to God the Word, in reality the God-bearer, we exalt you.’ or “More honourable than the Cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim, without corruption thou gavest birth to God the Word: true Theotokos, we magnify thee.”

 

Verbum Domini

Verbum Domini is a Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation from Pope Benedict XVI on  how the Church should approach the Bible, it is like a synthesis of the thoughts from Dei Verbum. It looks at what Dei Verbum said from Vatican II and how we have implemented it in our lives. If you want a real quick overview take a look at the “Table of Contents” before the exhortation begins.

The exhortation itself is broken down into three main parts with an introduction and conclusion. The introduction says that this come from the 12th Ordinary General Synod of Bishops, which focused on The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. Benedict uses the Prologue of the Gospel of John (1:1-18) as a guide. The Word was with God in the beginning and took on flesh to become one of us so that we all might live. This is as Benedict XVI says “a synthesis of the entire Christian faith.”

The first part is titled Verbum Dei, The Word of God. It begins with an analysis of the prologue of John’s Gospel ” In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…” This idea goes into the Incarnation (The Word become flesh) where Jesus is the condensation of God. Since the Incarnation took place within time and space it happened at one point and the writings are “The word of God is thus expressed in human words thanks to the working of the Holy Spirit”  but reflect both the human and divine. Once again Mary is offered as a model for us. This next part we shift our focus on the book itself. Here Benedict gets into hermeneutics and how to exegete scripture.  Benedict directs our attention to opening up the Bible and reading it however he notes that we enter it with a faith-filled approach as this way has been, “practiced from antiquity within Tradition, seeks saving truth for the life of the individual Christian and for the Church. It recognizes the historical value of the biblical tradition. Precisely because of the tradition’s value as an historical witness, this reading seeks to discover the living meaning of the sacred Scriptures for the lives of believers today”, while not ignoring the human mediation of the inspired text and its literary genres. Scriptures can be used as an Ecumenical building block as well, like with bible study, we can get into the nuts and bolts of religion through discussion of common scripture.  We can look at the lives of the Saints as they have lived truly lived the Word of God.

The second part is entitled Verbum in Ecclesia, The Word in Church. It begins by calling us back to the beginning of John’s Gospel as Augustine puts it “you were created through the word, but now through the word you must be recreated.” How are we recreated? Through the scripture notably by the sacraments and the liturgy. Significance is put on the Liturgy as for many people this is the only place they will hear from the Bible. Benedict notes that Lectors need to be trained since they need to understand what they are reading before they can read it to the congregation. Then the focus turns to the Homily. The quality of homilies need to improve as the faithful need to be able to understand what the priest is talking about and understand that Christ is at the center of it.  We move on to the Sacraments of Healing saying that Scripture is a major aspect of both Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick. Next we are given The Liturgy of the Hours, the prayer of the Church as a way for us to get closer to the Scripture. Once again Benedict urges us all to read the Bible using Lectio Divina or even just praying the Rosary.

The third part is Verbum Mundo, The Word to the World. This section begins talk of Evangelization and mission. We are called to be not only hearers of the Word but heralds of the world, at the end of Mass we are told to go out into the world and bring what we have heard out into the world. This is has been our mission since baptism, bearing witness to the Gospel in our daily lives. We need to not only evangelize the world but re evangelize it. Next the focus is turned to special interest and how the youth, the migrants, the suffering, the poor and creation are all integral parts that need to be protected and nurtured by all of us but they are also a part of the evangelization. Even within the secular world the Bible is still a source of inspiration as so much of the world can follow the code of rules. We can also learn about the Bible through secular institutions as long as they are properly educated, the Bible can be used as inspiration for artists of all types and we should use all methods available to spread the word of God even this Internet thingy.

At the end Pope Benedict urges us all to read the Bible. One of the great lines in the Conclusion “Let us be silent in order to hear the Lord’s word and to meditate upon it, so that by the working of the Holy Spirit it may remain in our hearts and speak to us all the days of our lives.” As for many of us listening is something that is difficult for us to do.  Let us find quiet moments in our lives where we can listen and explore the word of the Lord.

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

This week the readings come from Malachi 3:19-20, Psalm 98, Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians 3:7-12 and Luke’s gospel 21:5-19.

Once again we are looking to the end time but today we have the idea of salvation added to it. Malachi warns us that “Lo, the Day is coming” when all of this will end, the Lord will come and Justice will happen the proud and evil doers will be set on fire and those who fear the Lord will arise. Paul touches on this in a way by saying that when they brought the message to Thessalonica they hoped to be models for imitation in how to act and all that jazz. Their message is that the end is coming but we don’t know when, so go about your lives like normal work but try and model our behavior. In Luke we get Jesus echoing the message of Malachi and Paul, the Day is coming and the Lord will come. Sure it won’t be nice nation will rise against nation and you will be persecuted not for who you are but for what you believe in.

This is a great message for this week as it seems about half the United States isn’t pleased with the result of the Election, but we all can deal with it. As we need to be models for the world as Tertullian observed the pagans say “See how those Christians love one another” we need to continue to show this love to more than just those in our parishes but out in the community we should care about how are communities function. Sure there may be those who we don’t care for in the world but we need to be able to show them the same love that we show to our own family and friends. By bringing love out into the world we are working to building the kingdom here on earth.

Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

This week the readings come from the second Book of Maccabees 7:1-2,9-14; Psalm 17; Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians 2:16-3:5; and Luke’s Gospel 20:27-38.

The readings this week all talk about death. We begin in Maccabees with a reflection on Martyrdom all seven brothers face death not with fear but with hope as we all are promised resurrection through Christ Jesus on the last day. This idea continues in the second reading where Paul speaks of this hope with the Lord being our strength and consolation during our lifetime. The Gospel takes the idea of hope and flips it the Sadducees ask Jesus about seven brothers who all married to the same woman after the previous one died and who would be the husband in heaven. Yet Jesus tells them it doesn’t matter “children of this age marry and remarry” but in heaven it won’t matter for as long as the individual believes in God they will not die for we are forever alive in the Lord. This mean that marriage is a contract between people and not between God and the people if you remember it is the husband and wife who are the individuals who preform this sacrament as opposed to all the others. Let us remember this hope that exist in our life knowing that we are all called to another age, like how the ring bearers in Lord of the Rings went to the Undying lands.

We could also take the classic John 3:16 to pull this idea out “For God so love the World that he gave his only Son for whom so ever believes in him will have eternal life” or something to that effect. The Hope that we have in our lives is Eternal life and sure we hope that we will meet the people we knew in this life who have pass before us especially our family and friends but we often forget that they are still alive in our lives through our memories and other individuals. It is a simple idea and I hope that we can reflect upon this during this upcoming week.

Twenty Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

This week the readings come from the prophet Amos 6:1,4-7; Psalm 146; Paul’s first letter to Timothy 6:11-16; and Luke’s Gospel 16:19-31.

We begin with a strange passage where Amos says that the Lord berates Zion for its complacency. This message could be the exact same today as most people only care about themselves and how they can make things best for them we still are lacking this compassion thing and it is an important thing to have.  Paul reminds us that we should be living a virtuous life. In the Gospel we have another parable the Rich man and Lazarus. Now, this isn’t the same Lazarus with Mary and Martha as sisters but a beggar named Lazarus. Lazarus sat covered with sores outside the gate of the rich man’s house, the rich man ate to his heart content and wore the best purple money could buy while Lazarus sat outside hoping for table scraps from the rich man while dogs licked his sores. They both died Lazarus was taken to the bosom of Abraham while the rich man went to the netherworld. The rich man pleads to Father Abraham for help but since the rich man gave no help to Lazarus in life, the same would be done for him. The man then asks if someone could go and tell his brothers about this. Abraham say “They have Moses and the Prophets. Let them listen to them.”

This is important we have the Bible the Books of Moses and the Prophets along with a bunch of stuff written by saints from all ages to guide our way through life. This relates back to the first reading we need to care about more then just ourselves but for the whole human family. I mean just look at the state of things currently we have people complaining about immigrants and refugees as well as the general inequality between people of color and white people along with men and women. We need to all work together to make things better and it shouldn’t take someone to rise from the dead to tell us this.  This is the focus of the Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis, this is still going on right now. Let us all try and act with compassion and justice to everyone that we meet in our lives over the rest of this Jubilee Year.

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

This week the reading come from the book of Wisdom 9:13-18b; Psalm 90; Paul’s letter to Philemon 9-10,12-7; and Luke’s Gospel 14:25-33.

The focus this week is the cost of discipleship. We hear in Wisdom that the only wisdom to be found in the world in through knowing the Lord sure there are philosophers in the world but they can only give a fraction of the knowledge that the Lord has. As we turn to the Lord we should remember that we are all brothers and sisters, no one can own someone else for we are all one in the Lord. This is followed by a call in Luke’s Gospel to take up our cross and hate everything, although not technically hate but just have Christ as the supreme portion in our live. We have a wonderful example of this in the newest Saint, Mother Teresa, she gave up everything to serve the poorest of the poor and she has said “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.” This is what we hear from Luke we need to be more devoted to Jesus and less concerned about the trivial things in the world that we make such a big deal about, just look around we hear about this celebrity and that celebrity doing what not and how this politician is going to be so much better and save the world, or Apple will be releasing a new device which is thinner than the last one and a football player isn’t being “patriotic” and\or is getting arrested. We shouldn’t care more about these things compared to our neighbors who are just scraping by, struggling to find work or as the Missionaries of Charity mission sets forth all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared in society, as well as people are a burden to the society.

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

This week we hear from the books of Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10; Psalm 40; the letter to the Hebrews 12:1-4; and Luke’s Gospel 12:49-53.

The readings this week are a bit different from other weeks as we hear Jesus says “I have come to set the world on fire and how I wish it was already ablaze.” and that he has come not to establish peace on Earth but bring about division. This seems like the opposite of what we expect where all will be one in the Lord. We need more people like Jeremiah in the world people who see and say what is right, sure we’ve got tons of people who spout off whatever they want to say offending most people, but we need people to speak out against these individuals. Those offended by the words of Jeremiah tell the King that he should be placed in a cistern and place Jeremiah in one. then a man goes to the King and says that these men have acted wickedly and that Jeremiah should be saved. It seems like the world is full of the wicked people who have divided the world up into sections that certain people cannot access. There are more divisions in the world today then we can possibly imagine and many of them are caused by sin.  As the King realizes that Jeremiah wasn’t doing anything wrong in fact he was helping those left in the city arguably get out to safety. In Luke Jesus asks a couple of verses later “why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” I see this as a call for all of us to be prophets. Let us all use the spark that is our faith and pass it on and set the world on fire.

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

This week the readings come from Genesis 18:20-32, Psalm 138,Paul’s letter to the Colossians 2:12-14, and Luke’s Gospel 11:1-13.

We hear several times in these reading about being persistent. In Genesis we hear of Abraham who pleads with the Lord to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if there are but fifty innocent people in the city and works his way down to ten. The Lord then says if he can find ten innocent people he will spare the cities. Haggling with the Lord to save the lives of many, this is something lost in the prayers of many of us as we tend to see it as a one way conversation. This idea continues in the Gospel where the friend goes asking for bread at midnight and if the one in bed doesn’t get up at first it is only due to the persistence of the friend knocking on the door. So to is it with the Lord all we have to do is knock and it will be open, ask and we shall receive, seek and we will find.  We need to be persistent in our prayers, as  we hear Paul tell us we need to pray without ceasing.  Sort of like the Jesus Prayer in the Orthodox Church where it’s a simple mantra “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” and the mantra becomes a part of your life. Prayer needs to become a part of our lives more than the hour on Sunday at Mass.