This article was originally published as part of Ad Cenam Agni, a 2023 virtual Lenten Retreat hosted by the Abbot's Circle.
Artwork: Esther Denouncing Haman (1888) by Ernest Normand
[Lectio: Esther 11, 7-8]
Many Christians long to learn how to meditate; not knowing where to begin, some even turn to neo-pagan theories of “mindfulness”. As Norbertine Canons Regular, our tradition at St. Michael’s Abbey is to follow the example of the saints. These masters of contemplation tell us to begin with the inspired Word of God, dwelling on each phrase, each word, repeating a choice verse again and again until it becomes a habitual thought even outside our normal prayer time. This practice of Christian contemplation can eventually permeate our every moment, readying us for the life of heaven.
The anagogical sense of Sacred Scripture reveals those future mysteries. Whereas the allegorical sense shows us Scripture’s fulfillment in the earthly life of Christ, and the moral sense shows us its implication for our life now, this third meaning points us toward the last things and eternal life to come. Of course, the Church is the final arbiter of which interpretations are correct. So, without taking myself too seriously, here’s an example of how one might explore the anagogical meaning within the historical origin of Purim (which modern Jews celebrated this week). NB, I’m using the RSV: Catholic Edition, which follows the “story order”. Don’t be troubled by the mixed-up chapters; oddities in the biblical texts are like the glorious wounds still visible on our Risen Savior: what at first seems a flaw is really a revelation of the greatest mysteries of God’s mercy!
Meditate on the life of Esther. Mordecai was a righteous man who chastely cared for Esther, then gave her to King Ahasuerus Artaxerxes; Esther then begged the king to spare her people from the schemes of Haman. Allegorically, King Ahasuerus is Christ, pure Esther is Mary, wicked Haman is Satan, and dreaming Mordecai is Joseph. Morally, purifying oneself by fasting and penance renders our petitions pleasing to God. But anagogically, the Church will in the last days seem on the brink of destruction, with Christ (the king) seemingly absent (in the garden) and the devil (Haman) violating even the sanctuary (the queen’s couch). But because of the intercession of Mary (Esther) Christ will return with the Archangel Michael (Harbona) and make right all things, revealing St. Joseph (Mordecai) as head of his household. To prepare for that glorious return, let us make his holy Word a regular part of our lives! Blessed be God who shows himself wonderful in his saints, now and forever. Amen.