Thursday, March 31, 2016

Perfume and Tears

Dear Daughters of St. Philip Neri,

Jose Guadalupe Trevino, in the following reflection, masterfully guides us deep into the origins of Eucharistic Adoration and the consolation that adorers bring to the Heart of Christ.  In the outpouring of tears and perfumed oil, Magdalen is the exemplar of eucharistic love and veneration.  "Before that sacred body was wrapped in the sacramental shroud, and before it was laid in the 'new sepulcher' of our tabernacles, her affectionate heart had shed upon it a costly perfume, symbol of the love that would always envelop the adorable Eucharist."  And "If the fragrance of Magdalen's perfume not only filled Simon's house at Bethany, but also permeated the immortal pages of the Gospels and is perceived throughout the centuries, her tears, veritable perfume of the heart, filled with their delightful aroma something more immortal and divine: the Heart of Jesus."

Such is the love that you are called to imitate.  And as the prodigality of Magdalen's sign of love was misunderstood, scorned and rebuked, so often will the offering of yourself and your prayer before the Blessed Sacrament be seen as wasteful or lacking in value. Yet, be assured that your loving adoration is the most precious of all gifts to the Lord.  To console Jesus: in this consists essentially the noble mission of eucharistic souls.  Yours, indeed, is "the best part."

It pleases me to consider Mary Magdalen, the divinely enamored of the Gospels, as the precursor of eucharistic souls who are daily increasing in number and become more and more select and inflamed with love.  Did not Magdalen, in utter disregard of scorn and criticism, feel and follow a special attraction to honor the body of Christ, the same body we venerate under the sacramental species?

It happened the first time in Galilee, on the day of her conversion, at the dining hall of a wealthy Pharisee, amid the noise and merriment of a banquet.  Wrapped in the folds of a luxurious cloak, she made her way through the guests to the feet of Jesus, who was "reclining at table."  Kneeling down, she embraced and kissed those sacred feet, and wipe them with the mass of her loosened hair.  To express her profound contrition and obtain forgiveness, her lips utter not a word: she spoke only with the silent language of the heart, so well understood by my beloved Christ, namely, by her tears.

More than two years later it happened again, this time at Bethany, a village then situated on the eastern slopes of Mount Olivet and less than two miles east of Jerusalem.

Six days before His last farewell, Jesus went to that little town, which He loved so much, and stopped at the house of His three devoted friends, Lazarus, Martha, and Mary.  More than one before, in the course of His public ministry, He had been welcome and always expected guest in that house.  From the Gospels of Matthew and Mark we gather the, during this last week of His earthly life, every evening, after spending most to the daytime in the Temple of Jerusalem, facing the envy, hatred, and carvings of His embittered enemies, He sought solitude and a comparative security in the groves of Mount Olivet, or continued His way to Bethany and the home of His three friends.  On such occasions, now as before, the contemplative Mary would choose her place at the feet of the divine Friend and Master, and remain there listening in rapt attention to His enlightening and consoling confidences.

Did Jesus, in those intimate confidences, disclose to her His approaching passion and death?  Above all, did He perhaps reveal to her the approaching institution of His Eucharist, the living memorial of His passion and death?  Everything inclines us to assume that He did so.

Without taking up this appealing inference, let us consider what happened on one of those lasting evenings at Bethany.

Jesus had been invited with His apostles to a formal dinner at the house of a certain Simon, who was bound to Lazarus and his sisters by the ties of close friendship.  He had accepted.  It was His last public assistance at a banquet.  Lazarus, whom Jesus had recently called back to life, was on of the guests.  Martha served and seems to have acted as mistress of the house.  Mary was also there, though it would seem that she came after the banquet had already started.

A very natural association of images must have awakened in Christ and Mary the remembrance of that first banquet, in the course of which she had received forgiveness of her sins, and the thought of that other banquet during which He would inaugurate the perennial and heavenly Agape, the Holy Eucharist.

With the solicitous foresight of those who love, Mary had secured "a pound of ointment, genuine nard of great value," contained in a vase of artistically molded alabaster.  Carrying the vase in her hands, she enters the dining room.  The crowd of guests is hushed by the sudden appearance of one so unexpected.  Mary advances toward Jesus.  Will she open her alabaster jar with great care, so as not to destroy it?  Will she sparsely pour out its precious content?  No, such are not the ways of love.  Love knows the science of absolute and total, perfect and irrevocable surrender.  In the hushed room a sound is heard.  Mary has broken her artistic vase!  On the head and feet of Jesus she empties its precious content, even to the last drop.

Admirable are the intuitions of love.  Did Mary, by one of these intuitions, realize the whole meaning of her action and penetrate its profound symbolism?  Whatever the answer, Jesus certainly had this intuition, and, with tender emotion, must have contemplated, in the broken vase and its poured out perfume, a touching symbol of His Eucharist.  His heart was indeed a precious vessel, formed by the hands of God, and overflowing with the richest perfume heaven has ever known: a sublime mixture of the majesty of divine love and the tenderness of human affection.

Carrying this precious vase within His breast, He had lived among men.  But on the eve of His death, He, the divine Model of total, perfect, and irrevocable self-surrender, poured forth in the Eucharist the fragrance of all the love contained in that vase, and the following day broke the vase itself on the cross.  "And the house was filled with the odor of the ointment."  Yes, all mankind, all the centuries, and the whole universe have been filled with the sweet odor of this divine perfume.

But, oh, the wretchedness and folly of men!  Even the symbol of the Eucharist scandalizes them, "and they grumbled" at Mary.  They saw in her action an excessive prodigality, and indignantly censured what their covetous hearts were not able to understand.  But Jesus came to her defense.  "She has done me a good turn," He said.  "She has anointed my body for burial."

Will it be a temerarious inference if we assume that by these words Jesus, in a veiled manner, made known to this loving soul that He had understood the eucharistic meaning of her "good turn," of her action inspired by love?  Anticipation is one of love's characteristics.  In the name of all the believing generations to come, Mary had shown to Christ's body the first tokens of eucharistic love and veneration.  Before that sacred body was wrapped in the sacramental shroud, and before it was laid in the "new sepulcher" of our tabernacles, her affectionate heart had shed upon it a costly perfume, symbol of the love that would always envelop the adorable Eucharist.  "She anointed my body for burial."

Only thus do I fully understand why Jesus attached such importance to her gift, as to declare with all the solemnity of an oath that "wherever in the world this Gospel is preached, this also that she has done shall be told in memory of her."  It shall be known and praised; and, as long as the Gospel will be announced to me and the Eucharist venerated, its remembrance shall not perish.

A few days later came the cruel reality: Jesus is dying on the cross; and, by the cross, at her favorite place, we see Magdalen, clinging to the bleeding and rigid feet of her divine Beloved.

When, finally, the lifeless body was taken from the cross, a spotless Virgin, Mary Immaculate, and a repentant sinner, Mary Magdalen - innocent love and rehabilitated love - received it in their arms in behalf of mankind, and embalmed it with the myrrh and aloes of Nicodemus.  Still better than with these precious ointments, those two souls, who had loved Christ more than anyone else had loved Him, embalmed His mangled body with the incomparable perfume of their tears.

Oh, tears of Mary!  Oh, tears of Magdalen!  You were mankind's supreme homage to the lifeless body of Christ.

At the break of dawn on Easter Day, a group of women advanced cautiously through the shadows.  Mary, their leader, carried in her hands her customary perfumes - such is the fascinating sameness of love.  Finding the grave empty, her companions traced their steps back to the Holy City.  She alone remained, weeping, by the open sepulcher.  Her perseverance received its reward; and when the word "Mary," coming from the lips of Jesus, made her recognize the risen Savior, her soul was filled with transports of joy.  At once she fell down on her knees, eager to embrace and kiss His feet and bathe them with her tears.  Oh, the truly fascinating monotony of love!  Its theme is always the same: perfume and tears.

If the fragrance of Magdalen's perfume not only filled Simon's house at Bethany, but also permeated the immortal pages of the Gospels and is perceived throughout the centuries, her tears, veritable perfume of the heart, filled with their delightful aroma something more immortal and divine: the Heart of Jesus.

When I come to Thy tabernacle and have no precious perfumes to offer Thee, my Beloved Christ, when I have nothing else to offer Thee than silently flowing tears, oh, how it consoles me to think that the first offering Thy Holy Eucharist received were the tears of a repentant sinner!  Thou wilt not despise my tears, although they be, as they are, the tears of a poor and miserable sinner.

My heart has no other desire than to love Thee.  And, when death will come to break it like Magdalen's alabaster, may its last drop of blood be Thine, and its last pulsation an act of consuming love of Thee.

Magdalen did not only honor the Body of Christ; what is more, she also consoled His suffering heart. In the first role she may be regarded as the forerunner of the exterior cult of the Holy Eucharist; in the second we discover the intimate spirit of that cult.

Mary, the Immaculate Mother of Jesus, had been, above all, His consoler in the intimacy of Nazareth.  But, during the years of His public ministry, this mission of hers was strikingly interrupted, or at least covered with a veil of humble reserve.  Jesus, truly human as He was, felt the need and the love ambitions of His followers filled His heart to overflowing with sadness and disappointment, and the rebellion and ingratitude of the others left it deeply wounded.  At such times He would take the road to Bethany and the quiet home of His friend Lazarus.  There, as we have seen already, He would unburden His sadness to Magdalen's sympathetic and understanding soul, and find the comfort we derive from an intimate conversation with a trusted friend, a comfort so necessary to the heart and yet so rarely attainable.

What was the subject of those heart-to-heart talks between Jesus and Magdalen?  What mysterious designs of divine love prompted them?  The only thing we know with certainty this regard is the Master's meaningful word: "Mary has chosen the best part."

For my part, I feel inclined to think that Jesus did not avail Himself of those conversations for merely doctrinal statements.  On such occasions I like to see in Jesus the Friend rather than the Master.  His main object was not to teach, but to pour out into a loving and understanding should the bitterness that filled His heart to overflowing.

How delicate and exquisite, ardent and pure must have been Magdalen's heart to be capable of consoling the heart of a God-man!  And yet, it was the heart of a sinner.

He would speak to her, I imagine, of the ingratitude of men, which so deeply wounds all noble and sensitive hearts.  He would share with her the pain caused to His loving heart by the perfidy and obstinacy of His enemies.  He would go still further because, confidences once started, the heart feels urged on to new confidences.  He would lift the veil of the future: His Church, His priests, the persecutions, and, soon, His death - above all, His Eucharist.

O my God, who could describe the sweetness of those moments?  Jesus, speaking with accents of tenderness - Magdalen, the mystic beloved, sitting at His feet, her favorite place, and listening with rapt attention, her eyes fixed on His eyes, her soul flowing out into His soul.  Jesus, feeling Himself understood and immensely loved - Magdalen, experiencing the inebriating happiness of knowing that in her heart, in her love, the divine Beloved was find rest and solace.  These are mysteries which escape our understanding here on earth.

Time passed on.  In its course, other chosen souls, continuing before the tabernacle the mission initiated by Magdalen at Bethany, have offered Jesus rest and consolation.  Men, nowadays, are no less rude, ungrateful, or egoistic than they were nineteen hundred years ago, and the sensitive and exquisite heart of Christ yearns for consolers.  To console Jesus: in this consists essentially the noble mission of eucharistic souls.  Theirs, indeed, is "the best part."

Truly hours in heaven are the hours those souls spend before the tabernacle.  They do not speak; they listen; nor does Jesus merely instruct them.  They are hours of intimate communion.  As their eyes are fixed on the eucharistic Lord, their hearts are united to His heart and their souls submerged into His soul.  Like Magdalen, they derive unutterable happiness from an intimate conviction that to Jesus they are balm and consolation.

Once more, how encouraging is the thought that, after the immaculate heart of Mary, it was the heart of a sinner purified by divine love that Jesus chose for His most intimate confidences.  How well we thereby understand that, in truth, this beloved Shepherd came not to seek the sheep within the fold, but those gone astray; not the just, but sinners; not the healthy, but souls afflicted by spiritual disease.

Magdalen was truly the forerunner of eucharistic souls, when she poured perfume and tears upon Christ's body, and into His afflicted heart shed the balm of consolation and the fragrance of love.

Jose Guadalupe Trevino
The Holy Eucharist

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