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The Everyday Prayer

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Icon of the Holy Face
Church of Sant'Egidio, Rome

Memory of the stigmata of St. Francis. He became like the Lord and received the signs of Jesus’ wounds on Mount Verna. The Jews celebrate Yom Kippur (day of expiation).

Reading of the Word of God

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

This is the Gospel of the poor,
liberation for the imprisoned,
sight for the blind,
freedom for the oppressed.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Esther 1,4-19; 2,2-8.17

Thus he displayed the riches and splendour of his empire and the pomp and glory of his majesty; the festivities went on for a long time, a hundred and eighty days.

When this period was over, for seven days the king gave a banquet for all the people living in the citadel of Susa, to high and low alike, on the esplanade in the gardens of the royal palace.

There were white and violet hangings fastened with cords of fine linen and purple thread to silver rings on marble columns, couches of gold and silver on a pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and precious stones.

For drinking there were golden cups of various design and plenty of wine provided by the king with royal liberality.

The royal edict did not, however, make drinking obligatory, the king having instructed the officials of his household to treat each guest according to the guest's own wishes.

Queen Vashti, for her part, gave a banquet for the women in the royal palace of King Ahasuerus.

On the seventh day, when the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas, the seven officers in attendance on the person of King Ahasuerus,

to bring Queen Vashti before the king, crowned with her royal diadem, in order to display her beauty to the people and the officers-of-state, since she was very beautiful.

But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king's command delivered by the officers. The king was very angry at this and his rage grew hot.

Addressing himself to the wise men who were versed in the law -- it being the practice to refer matters affecting the king to expert lawyers and jurists-

he summoned Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena and Memucan, seven Persian and Median officers-of-state who had privileged access to the royal presence and occupied the leading positions in the kingdom.

'According to law,' he said, 'what is to be done to Queen Vashti for not obeying the command of King Ahasuerus delivered by the officers?'

In the presence of the king and the officers-of-state, Memucan replied, 'Queen Vashti has wronged not only the king but also all the officers-of-state and all the peoples inhabiting the provinces of King Ahasuerus.

The queen's conduct will soon become known to all the women, who will adopt a contemptuous attitude towards their own husbands. They will say, "King Ahasuerus himself commanded Queen Vashti to appear before him and she did not come."

Before the day is out, the wives of the Persian and Median officers-of-state will be telling every one of the king's officers-of-state what they have heard about the queen's behaviour; and that will mean contempt and anger all round.

If it is the king's pleasure, let him issue a royal edict, to be irrevocably incorporated into the laws of the Persians and Medes, to the effect that Vashti is never to appear again before King Ahasuerus, and let the king confer her royal dignity on a worthier woman.

The king's gentlemen-in-waiting said, 'A search should be made on the king's behalf for beautiful young virgins,

and the king appoint commissioners throughout the provinces of his realm to bring all these beautiful young virgins to the citadel of Susa, to the harem under the authority of Hegai the king's eunuch, custodian of the women. Here he will give them whatever they need for enhancing their beauty,

and the girl who pleases the king can take Vashti's place as queen.' This advice pleased the king and he acted on it.

Now in the citadel of Susa there lived a Jew called Mordecai son of Jair, son of Shimei, son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin,

who had been deported from Jerusalem among the captives taken away with Jeconiah king of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,

and was now bringing up a certain Hadassah, otherwise called Esther, his uncle's daughter, who had lost both father and mother; the girl had a good figure and a beautiful face, and on the death of her parents Mordecai had adopted her as his daughter.

On the promulgation of the royal command and edict a great number of girls were brought to the citadel of Susa where they were entrusted to Hegai. Esther, too, was taken to the king's palace and entrusted to Hegai, the custodian of the women.

and the king liked Esther better than any of the other women; none of the other girls found so much favour and approval with him. So he set the royal diadem on her head and proclaimed her queen instead of Vashti.


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

The Son of Man came to serve,
whoever wants to be great
should become servant of all.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

We begin today the reading of the book of Esther with selected passages. The sacred author opens the book with a description of the grandiosity of Ahasuerus’ reign, manifested by two extraordinary banquets: the first offered to other powerful kings, the second for all the people of Susa. However, such ostentation of power is subsequently humbled by Queen Vashti’s refusal of the king’s invitation to show herself scantily dressed before the invitees, now drunk, at the end of the banquet. All the guests join the king in his anger for such a refusal and advise him to reject Vashti by demoting her from queenly rank. Vashti is certainly to be admired for refusing to appear as a woman who is merely an object of diversion, a custom that unfortunately continues even today. We are pleasantly surprised by the queen’s courage in opposing this foolish practice, which can even cost her the king’s rejection. Ahasuerus, in effect, deposes her immediately and asks that other young women be brought to him so that he can choose the new queen. Esther was among the many young women gathered; she, too, "was taken and put in the custody" (2:8). Esther is a young Hebrew woman orphaned, whom Mordecai (a Jew deported from Jerusalem who held a modest court position) had taken under his care. Mordecai does not oppose the king’s request, but he orders Esther to say nothing about her Jewish origin. The beauty of the youth fascinates the king. It was not solely an exterior beauty; she, in fact, "was admired by all who saw her" (2:15). When her turn came up: "The king - the author says - loved Esther more than all the other women; of all the virgins she won his favour and devotion" (2:17). And thus she became queen. A great banquet publicly sealed the king’s choice, and he additionally granted a rest and perhaps a remission of taxes for all for the occasion. This event, which can resemble so many others, in truth, is guided by the Lord’s hand, he who watches and works to save his people. The king wants to use the "beauty" of the queen for his purposes of power and pleasure; however, the "true" beauty of Esther is deeper than that which is apparent to the king: it is the beauty of the mission that God has given to her, which is to free his people from the evil schemes which were being woven in the court. If the Lord indeed is never mentioned in the book, His hand appears clearly guiding history. The presence of the Lord is a sort of red thread, which unites the whole narration. And it is the Lord’s hand that guides both Vashti’s refusal and Esther’s work. Vashti unmasks the "weakness" of the one who is "drunk" with himself and his pleasures, and Esther shows God’s power, which watches over his people so that it is not destroyed by the snares of evil.

Memory of Jesus crucified