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Thursday, first week of Lent

March 5, 2009

Blessed Thursday!

Father, without You we can do nothing.
By Your Spirit help us to know what is right
and to be eager in doing Your will.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen. (Opening prayer from Mass)

Esther C 12, 14-16, 23-25 (Esther’s prayer for help)
Psalm 138: 1-8 “Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me”
+Matthew 7:7-12 (God gives good gifts to those who ask)

She was in mortal anguish.

Her entire race was under the sentence of mass execution. The man who was like a father to her (a cousin who had raised this orphan as his own daughter), was the target of special hatred because of his refusal to pander to a mere mortal. She alone was in a position to petition the king for deliverance; but even the queen put her life in danger by approaching the king unsummoned…and he had not called for her. His power could either be turned against her or her enemy. Queen Esther had no guarantee which way it would go. So she went above him. With fasting and prayer, sackcloth and ashes, she and her maids and the whole Jewish community pleaded with God Most High for deliverance, declaring their dependence on His power. “Put in my mouth persuasive words in the presence of the lion, and turn his heart to hatred for our enemy, so that he and those who are in league with him may perish” (Esther C:24). Then she put her faith into action, invited the “lion” to a banquet, and won salvation.

We, like the Jews of Esther’s day, need help. Our enemy, our “lion” is just as real and even more deadly–we and our loved ones risk the eternal loss of our souls, not just the temporary separation of physical death. “Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (I Peter 5:8). We, too, stand in dire need of an intercessor with the king.

Fortunately for us, our queen, the Blessed Virgin Mary, has already brought our needs to the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5). “They have no wine,” she said (at yet another banquet, John 2:3), so He poured out His Most Precious Blood for our salvation–enough to fill every chalice at every Mass until the end of time–while she stood in mortal anguish beneath the cross. Now she turns to us. “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5).

The Jews of Esther’s day had an active role to play in their own deliverance. The king ordered them to gather themselves together, to stand for their lives, and to destroy all their enemies along with their wives, children and houses. They had to “do whatever he tells you” in order to be saved. So do we. So what does our King say?

“Ask, and it shall be given you, seek and you shall find, knock, and it shall be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). It is through prayer (asking), fasting (seeking) and almsgiving (knocking) that we gather together, stand for our lives, and destroy our enemies (sins) and all that goes with them. Even if our requests are misguided, even if we beg for such counterfeits as bread-shaped rocks or fish-shaped snakes, our heavenly Father will give us good gifts. He gives us the Bread of Life, His Presence in the Eucharist, to warm and soften our hearts of stone. He gives us Christ and the saving waters of Baptism, both symbolized by fish, to rescue us from the treachery of the ancient serpent, the devil. When we forfeit His salvation through sin He restores our Baptismal innocence by washing us in His Most Precious Blood in the sacrament of Confession.

We, like Esther, must use these good gifts to benefit others. Esther didn’t just beg for her own life, or for the life of her foster-father. Even after she had the king’s assurance of protection, she worked hard to set in motion a plan that not only benefited the entire Jewish race, but which brought salvation to neighboring Persians as well. “And many of the peoples of the land embraced Judaism, for they were seized with a fear of the Jews” (Esther 8:17). Pagans entered into the covenant with Almighty God!

May our Lenten prayer, fasting and almsgiving, our asking, seeking and knocking, bring the grace of conversion to the whole world.

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