Fr. Nathaniel Dreyer, IVE
Monday of Holy Week
There’s a great deal that could be said about today’s Gospel, but one thing that calls our attention immediately is the great difference between Mary and Judas.
Mary gives Jesus a very generous gift; we know that the oil is valued at 300 days’ wages. If we think about it, we know that she must have saved up for a long time to buy it, since obviously she had to eat and buy some things in order to obtain it; even if she went without eating every other day, it would’ve taken her at least two years to save up that amount. We can think of all of the sacrifices, all of the work and all of the love that went into that gift. What’s the result? John the Evangelist tells us “The house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.” Her good deed spread throughout the entire building; her actions benefited, not only Jesus, but everyone else in the house as well, who were able to partake of her good deed.
Not so with Judas: he begins by criticizing Mary’s generosity. Oscar Wilde said that a cynic is someone who knows the cost of everything, but the value of nothing. Judas knew the exact cost of the perfume, which is rather odd, when we think about it; he must have been a man deeply enmeshed in worldly affairs. To him, everything had a price tag, and it shows how far into sin he has fallen when he raises a fuss over 300 days’ wages, but will sell Christ for 30 pieces of silver.
There is a clear message for our lives: our interior lives cannot remain hidden forever. At some point, the truth is always revealed. In Mary’s case, her generosity and love was expressed through her gift and, from that good deed, all those around her benefited. Likewise, interiorly Judas had given himself over to greed, and that, too, was manifested in his deeds, and particularly in his words that would have brought confusion and sadness to the rest. In our lives, too, we reap what we sow interiorly.
Today’s Gospel should also be a great consolation for us who are religious, and have given our lives to servicing Christ and the Church. In Vita Consecrata (published on March 25th, 1996, so almost exactly 22 years ago), Pope Saint John Paul II make a beautiful comparison between Mary and her sacrifice, and the religious. He writes: “Many people today are puzzled and ask: What is the point of the consecrated life? Why embrace this kind of life, when there are so many urgent needs in the areas of charity and of evangelization itself, to which one can respond even without assuming the particular commitments of the consecrated life? Is the consecrated life not a kind of ‘waste’ of human energies which might be used more efficiently for a greater good, for the benefit of humanity and the Church?
These questions are asked more frequently in our day, as a consequence of a utilitarian and technocratic culture which is inclined to assess the importance of things and even of people in relation to their immediate ‘usefulness.’ But such questions have always existed, as is eloquently demonstrated by the Gospel episode of the anointing at Bethany: ‘Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment’ (Jn 12:3). When Judas, using the needs of the poor as an excuse, complained about such waste, Jesus replied: ‘Let her alone!’ (Jn 12:7). This is the perennially valid response to the question which many people, even in good faith, are asking about the relevance of the consecrated life: Could one not invest one’s life in a more efficient and reasonable way for the betterment of society? This is how Jesus replies: ‘Let her alone!’
Those who have been given the priceless gift of following the Lord Jesus more closely consider it obvious that he can and must be loved with an undivided heart, that one can devote to him one’s whole life, and not merely certain actions or occasional moments or activities. The precious ointment poured out as a pure act of love, and thus transcending all ‘utilitarian’ considerations, is a sign of unbounded generosity, as expressed in a life spent in loving and serving the Lord, in order to devote oneself to his person and his Mystical Body. From such a life ‘poured out’ without reserve there spreads a fragrance which fills the whole house. The house of God, the Church, today no less than in the past, is adorned and enriched by the presence of the consecrated life. What in people’s eyes can seem a waste is, for the individuals captivated in the depths of their heart by the beauty and goodness of the Lord, an obvious response of love, a joyful expression of gratitude for having been admitted in a unique way to the knowledge of the Son and to a sharing in his divine mission in the world.”
Let us, therefore, through the intercession of Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, ask for the grace to carefully examine ourselves this Holy Week, and see those areas in our lives that need improvement as we await the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord.
Priests of the Institute of the Incarnate Word