Sunday, August 12, 2012

Make a Stink

I can almost smell you from here...

   Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time   B 

There was a couple at the 4:00pm Mass yesterday—
they were there last Saturday, too—
that I only see at this time of year.
(They belong to another nearby parish.)
Even if I didn’t already know them personally,
even if they weren’t wearing
their bright red “Eat at Joe-Joe’s” T-shirts,
I would still have known that they were at Mass
while on break from working at a food stand
down at the Franklin County Fair.
How would I have known?
Because I could smell it!
The distinct aroma of fair food—
from sausage to cotton candy to fried dough—
just tends to cling to you.

Saint Paul writes to the Ephesians:
Christ loved us and handed himself over for us
as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.

Part of the great beauty of Catholic worship—
the divine wisdom of the Church’s sacramental system—
is that it takes into account the whole person.
The liturgy is not merely an intellectual pursuit:
a matter of absorbing words and concepts,
and then turning them over in our minds.
No, as we sang in the psalm:
we’re here to “taste and see” the Lord’s goodness—
to partake of a feast for all the senses.
Oh, our communion with God is spiritual, to be sure,
but it comes to us in the form of bodily food:
the taste of wheat as we eat the Bread of Life.
Sight comes into play as we see
the flicker of candles, the color and fold of vestments,
images in statue and stained glass.
We also hear words and music and silence.
We touch the hands of our neighbors in peace,
and even daringly reach out to touch the very Body of Christ.
But smell?  That’s a sense we don’t often take into account…
…and yet even our noses come into play liturgically.

When Saint Paul writes
of the “fragrant aroma” of Christ’s sacrifice,
he’s probably calling to mind 
the huge amounts of incense
used in the Jerusalem temple.
(In the temple, 
the priests burned incense by the shovelful;
I get complaints when I use just a teaspoon!)
Christ’s self-offering in love 
to God on our behalf
should be understood to rise to the Father
like a billowing cloud 
of sweet-smelling smoke.
We aren’t simply to keep burning incense;
we are to imitate 
the pure and pleasing sacrifice it signifies.

The liturgy also gets smelly when we use Sacred Chrism—
one of the Church’s three holy oils,
consecrated by the Bishop and perfumed with balsam.
The Church uses Chrism
in some of its most sacred ceremonies
when someone or something is permanently set aside
to be an image of Christ:
at Baptism; at Confirmation;
in the dedication of a Church or an altar;
twelve years ago today,
my hands were anointed with Sacred Chrism
as I was ordained a priest.

Did you ever have a great aunt who wore too much perfume?
You knew she’d been around, even if you didn’t see her,
simply by sniffing the air.
Or if she gave you a hug, 
the scent would cling to you for hours.
That’s how Chrism is supposed to work!
We Christians—called to be other Christs—
should have an “odor of sanctity” about us:
should be so holy that others can—well—smell it.
That doesn’t mean we are to make a big show
of living our faith in the world.
But if we do as Saint Paul encourages us—
if we remove bitterness, anger, and malice from our midst;
if we are kind, compassionate, and mutually forgiving—
then others will sense—will smell
that there’s something different about us.
And God will smell it, too,
rising up to heaven as a fragrant aroma.

As a priest—as your priest—
my hands have been set aside in a particular way
to carry on the ministry of Christ:
to make of his people, with his people, and for his people
a living sacrifice pleasing to the Father.
Please pray for me that all I lift up in offering with these hands
will be acceptable in the sight of God.

While fair food has a distinct and alluring aroma,
most folks will say that the smell of fresh-baked bread
is one of the most irresistible of all.
It was bread delivered by angels
which strengthened Elijah to overcome his discouragement
and continue on his journey.
It is Jesus—the living bread come down from heaven—
that fortifies us not only to cross the deserts of this passing life,
but to attain to that life which lasts forever.
The Father draws us here—draws us to his Son—
by the smell of this heaven-sent bread.
May the holy aroma of the Eucharist cling to each of us
in a way that stimulates the senses of those around us—
above all, in a way that pleases the very heart of God.


1 comment:

Director of Young Adult Ministry said...

Your words carried me back when I was doing the Atkins diet, NO BREAD!! and I would wake up in the middle of the night, for sure that someone had broke into my home and was downstairs baking bread, the aroma literally woke me up! How I hope to have that same longing for Jesus in my life. I never had related the experience to my relationship with God, thanks for giving me something to meditate on.