Yesterday we celebrated Passion Sunday, and in the liturgy and at Mass we journeyed with Jesus into Jerusalem, beginning Holy Week; the final stretch of one of the hardest weeks of His life, and yet a week that led to the greatest act of love EVER – in human history. Not only for those who accepted the Lord then and there, but for everyone who ever would come to accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Jesus’ Sacrifice will culminate on the Cross and we will celebrate and mourn Him there on Good Friday.
Throughout this week, we who know the journey of Christ and commemorate it in what we call “Holy Week”, we know what this entry into Jerusalem meant and means for our Lord Jesus. In today’s Gospel Lazarus’ sister Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with costly perfume. Judas rebukes her, suggesting instead that the money could have been spent on feeding the poor.
It would be easy to villainize Judas for being the one who betrayed our Lord in Jerusalem but should we do that before we stop and think about how our faith and faith in general is lived out in the world today? Christians must love and care for the poor; of that there is absolutely no doubt at all. We must have a social conscience; the manner in which we give alms is important & the time we give to those in need; those who in any way are less fortunate than ourselves is absolutely important.
But that said, it is not the only way we are called to give generously in our faith. If we are going to give generously to those in need (especially to exercise the Corporal Works of Mercy in this Jubilee Year of Mercy), we must accept generously the fullness of the gift of faith including the sacrifice offered (which we can never repay) and to joyfully accept the sacrifices we are called upon to offer in our Christian lives.
Mary’s action of anointing the feet of Jesus is a sign that she truly understands who Jesus is, and her action speaks of a heart open to acceptance of the Gift of the Cross. She can never repay our Lord, nothing she does (or any of us do) can repay the gift of our salvation, but her action of praise & worship, of gratitude – it’s appreciated and the Lord knows that Mary will be one who spends her life in gratitude for what she has received.
That is why the small sacrifices we make during Lent are more than ‘token’ sacrifices; they prepare us for the greater sacrifices we will make and help us to see these sacrifices as faith-building and not damaging or lessening our faith. When we struggle with illness, disease or even impending death; have we built up strength through sacrifice, allowed ourselves to be grateful in the midst of sorrow? Have we begun to accept the Gift of the Cross? Do we anoint the moments when we face challenges to our faith, trusting that the Lord journeys with us in those moments?
That He is close to us, because like us, He knows suffering intimately and personally?
Or do we turn to other things, other thoughts; thoughts of asking why? Thoughts which don’t provide us with satisfactory answers or answers that help deepen our faith at all. One of the most challenging experiences we undergo in our faith is to embrace the Cross of Christ however that looks for each one of us. Whatever cross we bear is a piece of the Cross of Christ. One of the greatest challenges we face with our crosses is distraction and being drawn to want other things.
Judas’ focus is on what should be instead of this anointing with perfume is a reminder to us of not wishing or wanting for different things even in the challenges we face in our lives. We carry the Cross we are given. We even help others carry their crosses if we can; as Simon of Cyrene does for Jesus went His Cross seems too much for Him to bear.
I have learned a lot in these powerful moments of my life. Not at first, I struggle with just as we all do. It’s in the clarity of the moment, when I reflect upon those things I bear and endure.
As a priest, I have heard many bedside confessions and anointed many people close to death. I have had people very close to me suffer and die and I held their hands too, bearing their cross (if even a little) with them. In my own reflections later on, I came to discover the Gift of the Cross, in these moments, as they brought me a deeper faith through the whole lived experience. My brothers and sisters in Christ, as we join Jesus on His final week on earth, may each of us be granted the Gift of the Cross especially in the challenges we experience in our lives. May God bless you.