Deacon Thomas Sullivan offered the following homily at Mass this morning. I share it as a fine meditation at the beginning of this, the holiest of all weeks.
Shortly, in the prayer after communion, Father will ask the Lord “with ever-watchful love” to “look upon the hearts dedicated to [him] by means of these sacred mysteries.” If these sacred mysteries are the means by which our hearts are dedicated to Christ, then our hearts must resemble the reality of these mysteries, made present on this altar. That reality is a self-emptying love that holds nothing back. The Eternal Son condescends to take on our lowly human nature and enter into the messiness of human affairs. What’s more, the Just One willingly suffers at the hands of unjust men, accepting a criminal’s death, so that the guilty might avoid eternal death. And so that we might continue to unite ourselves to that reality, he further condescends to come to us daily under the appearance of mere bread and wine. He does all this for men and women who so often respond with ingratitude, indifference, or presumption. But in his great love, he humbles himself for our sake anyway.
Who could possibly comprehend these actions, and persevere in imitating them, except the one who truly knows Christ? And who could truly know Christ except those people Christ befriends? In today’s Gospel, his friend Mary understands… and her actions anticipate Christ’s self-offering. Mary gives extravagantly; she uses oil to anoint the Lord’s feet and dry them with her very hair! By week’s end, Christ himself will wash and dry the feet of his Apostles – giving them an example of the humble service they are called to render to others. The perfumed oil Mary uses cost a tremendous sum, but she didn’t keep it for herself, she poured it out for Christ so that the fragrance filled the whole house. In a few short days, Christ will pour out his own Precious Blood to the last drop, and the fragrance of redemption will fill the whole world.
What Mary anticipates, we must now embody if we are to call ourselves the friends of Christ. We can hold nothing back in our love for God. Every power of body and soul must be spent in his service. God has given us everything, and everything must be offered back to him. But there will always be the voice of the Traitor, attempting to dissuade us, tempting us to hold something back. And he does it by presenting the friend of Christ with false choices. He does it in today’s Gospel, pitting beauty in worship against care for the poor. “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?” The Traitor would have activism trump adoration; he would have the false humility of ugliness and banality intrude on our worship of that Beauty ever ancient, ever new.
The Traitor’s voice calls out again and again. He opposes truth to love, muting the Gospel message for the sake of what he calls pastoral charity, but which is really only a desire for human respect. It’s the same voice that gives the false choice between goodness and happiness, promising a fulfillment in the satisfaction of our lower appetites that the practice of virtue could never supply… or so he says. But beauty and poverty, truth and charity, goodness and happiness cannot be separated, because they all meet in the person of Jesus Christ. For the friend of Christ there is no charity without truth, there is no happiness apart from goodness, and there is no solidarity with the poor when we starve them of an encounter with the transcendent God in beautiful worship.
So let the Traitor hang from his tree; and let us cling to the tree of salvation with our whole being, with our hearts dedicated to Christ by means of these sacred mysteries – these sacred mysteries we commemorate this week of all weeks, with the very best we have to offer.