Saturday, March 30, 2013

Mary at Bethany

In reading the book, Divine Love Made Flesh: The Holy Eucharist as the Sacrament of Charity by Raymond Cardinal Burke, I came across a passage where Cardinal Burke made a beautiful observation about the anointing of Jesus' feet by Mary at Bethany:

Mary, the sister of Lazarus whom Christ had raised from the dead, anointed Jesus with the most precious oil shortly before His passion and Death. Some disciples, most notably Judas Iscariot, the betrayer, objected strongly to her gesture of great reverence and love. Judas and others saw it as a waste of resources which could have been used to car for the poor. 
Our Lord responds to their reaction in what may be for some a surprising way. He teaches that the anointing by Mary is an act fo profound reverence for His body, the instrument by which he has carried out our Redemption.

This thoughtful observation, which is originally attributed to Pope John Paul II, illuminated a beautiful truth to me about the inviolable nature of the Holy Eucharist, where Jesus is present body, blood, soul, and divinity.

First, the sacredness of the Lord's body is clearly demonstrated in Mary's care to bring the most valuable of oils to anoint His feet with. In my days as a Protestant, I always had an inclination to not care much for the "physical" and had a tendency to over spiritualize Christ. This observation shows the truth, perhaps often forgotten, that the Son of God has a body made of flesh and bones. As such, there is a certain sacredness attached to this reality that those with the faith to believe in Him undeniably realize.

For Mary, her actions spoke louder than words. While others, as with Peter, would declare Jesus Christ as the Son of God, Mary spoke the same truth, but with her actions. If Jesus was indeed God in the flesh, would is not be fitting to anoint His feet with the finest of oils?

But those who were blind to the truth about Christ ridiculed her for her actions, saying that it was a waste of resources. But as Cardinal Burke points out, Jesus did not rebuke her but instead welcomes her actions. His body is sacred for it is Divine Love made flesh, God in human form.

It is for this reason that we both revere and adore Jesus present in the Holy Eucharist, who chose to be always present with us in the humble form of bread and wine.

Secondly, the words of Judas and the others who ridiculed Mary reveals the spirit behind the old accusation that the Church spends too much on lavish churches, religious objects, sacred art, and so on. The common cry that all of this wealth "should be given to the poor" echoes that of Judas' words to Mary at Bethany.

Because Mary believed that Jesus was the Son of God, she purchased what surely cost her a great deal of money so that she could anoint Jesus' feet with the precious oil. Jesus did not rebuke her because of the truth she revealed in her actions, namely that Jesus is the Son of God. We can perhaps assume that Judas did not believe this, for if he did he would not have betrayed our Lord, and thus rebuked Mary because he himself did not truly believe that Christ was the Son of God.

In the same way those who tell us that the Church should sell what they have to give to the poor, because they deem it unnecessary, operate from a lack of belief in the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God. If they believed this truth then they would see that our reverence for His body justifies our use of fine linens, religious objects and art, and materials to build our churches, which house and surround the very place where Jesus becomes present body, blood, soul, and divinity.

Our respect for the Lords body in the Holy Eucharist always stems from our internal belief about this mystery. There are those who might bow before the Blessed Sacrament as a manner of ritual, but who do not truly consider the reality of what they're about to face. In other words, they do not "discern the body" and therefore eat of the Blessed Sacrament "unworthily" (1 Corinthians 11:28-29).

When we eat the bread and drink the wine, we partake of the Lords body and blood (1 Corinthians 10:16) and therefore must express our belief in this truth with our mind, body, and souls. In approaching the altar, where Jesus' once-and-for-all sacrifice is recapitulated and offered up to God, we must also assent to the truth that Jesus is the Christ and the son of the living God. When His body, blood, soul, and divinity enter into union with our body and souls through the Holy Eucharist, we must also revere this truth with our actions before and after partaking of the blessed bread and cup. We should see Mary's actions as a model for revering the Lords body, realizing that we daily chose to anoint the Lords feet with either the precious oil of our fully devoted love in action or with the left-over time, money, and energy we have to dedicate to Jesus.

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