The Spiritual Work of Counsel
This Saturday evening the Jewish Community begins the feast of Purim, which celebrates how Queen Esther and her uncle Mordecai reverse the plans of Haman who intends to have Mordecai killed and then turn his hatred against all the Jewish people. We hear the fear in Esther’s heart, since to provoke the king could lead to her death. We hear that she feels alone, and she stands alone in faith before God. Still she is intertwined with her people; as she prays for herself her prayer is also a prayer for her people and a prayer of trust in God.
Something subtle is expressed in the telling of the story of Esther. When she shares her fear with her uncle, he offers her profound counsel, “who knows but that it was for a time like this that you became queen”? In this frightful time of hopelessness, when more is asked of you than you can bear, could God not be placing you here, to be the one who can do what no one else can?
In Lent we think often of the Corporal Works of Mercy, but alongside of them are the Spiritual Works of Mercy. One of the Spiritual works of Mercy is Counsel. Esther receives guidance and courage through her uncle, Mordecai; Jesus tells us to ask and we will receive, seek and we will find. We listen to the voices through which God speaks to us so we know how to hope, what to ask for.
We sometimes are in the role of giving counsel, at other times we may seek counsel, knocking at the door of wisdom and asking the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
We ought not forget that the story of Esther like many stories of heroes and heroines is played out among us often. I heard the story of a young military nurse in her 20’s who was transferred from a comfortable assignment in the States to a battlefield hospital in the Mekong Delta during the height of the Vietnam war. She was almost immobilized with fear when she received a new assignment. Upon arriving she spoke with a priest of her fear before beginning her work. Only a week later an attack destroyed the hospital and everyone in it, save one soldier, who was found alive. Protectively covering his body was that of the young nurse who was caring for him. The words of counsel from Esther’s uncle may well fit the sacrifice of that nurse, ‘who knows that it was just for this time that you were meant to be here’. She went to save lives and she fulfilled that in the most profound way. The blood that flowed from her gave life to the unknown man that she was working to save.
When we feel alone we can trust in God who hears our prayer. We must seek, knock and ask. Where do we begin? When our requests are surrounded by fear and uncertainty what do we do? Counsel is important for heroes and heroines and for you and I as we take up our cross and follow Christ. This Lenten day we may consider the Spiritual work of offering Counsel that gives support and helps to clarify what God is asking someone. Also to open our hearts to the Counsel that God is offering us through the many voices through which God speaks to us.
Fr. William Murphy, CP is the pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Jamaica, New York.