Meditation No. 3.
Br Martin Browne OSB
St John's Cathedral, Limerick
April 4th 2012
Even when we are at our most hard-hearted – cold, stubborn, closed, hard-necked – our skin remains porous. The call throughout Lent has been that we harden not our hearts. For the call to conversion we make during Lent is about resisting the ever-present temptation to harden our hearts. But we can’t harden our skin… Not all of it, at least.
We might get cracked heels or blisters on our feet, and we may get callouses or welts on our hands from hard physical work, but by and large, our skin is porous. We sweat. (Though I’m told by some that only horses sweat… Men perspire, and ladies ‘glow’, but you get the idea.) And we absorb through our skin too. If you chop garlic today and it gets on your fingers, not matter how much washing and scrubbing you do, chances are that you will still be able to smell it off your hands tomorrow. We absorb through our skin.
But I don’t want to spend the rest of the evening talking about unpleasant odours like sweat and foul-smelling garlic…. If we go back to that aromatherapist I mentioned earlier, when he or she makes up the mix for the massage, putting drops of various essential oils into the base oil – just like in Exodus – the result is a mix that will soak into the skin, leaving it soft and fragrant. Likewise with the endless varieties of balms, lotions and moisturisers which people use to take care of their skin these days.
There’s something of this in anointing too. When someone is anointed, the oil passes from the skin to the body. The oil warms the muscles, making them malleable and agile. Just like an athlete rubs liniments like Ralgex or Wintergreen Oil into the body, sacramental anointing is a form of Deep Heat… Deep Spiritual Heat….
The athlete uses ointments to condition the body before some task or challenge. To limber it up and get it ready for the efforts that are to follow. Likewise, the Church uses the Oil of the Catechumens to strengthen those preparing for Baptism on their journey of conversion. And the Church uses the Holy Chrism, to strengthen the baptised and the ordained for the mission they have in the Church. The athlete uses ointments and liniments to help the body recover after vigorous activitytoo – to loosen up what has become stiff or sore, to heal what has become worn or tired. And likewise, the Church anoints the sick and the aged, as well as those who are on the point of death, to soothe and console them and bring them Christ’s healing and peace.
Sacramental anointing carries with it the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit. And so, even when we are hard-hearted, God’s Holy Spirit can penetrate our soft skin, enriching us with his blessing, his power and his strength. When we are anointed, the Spirit helps us to put ourselves in the hand of God and to obedient to the wishes of Christ and his Father.
Our last Scripture reading is a well-known one. It is from the Prophet Isaiah, but Jesus himself read the text in his home synagogue in Nazareth, and boldly told the assembly that this Scripture was being fulfilled in their hearing. It sounded scandalous to their ears.
Well, it may sound even more scandalous to say this… but I will… This Scripture is being fulfilled in our hearing now this evening too!
Because, each of us, in our way, have been anointed , and sent… Sent ‘to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; and to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour’. We are all responsible – in different ways, but responsible nonetheless – for the mission of the Church. We have highlighted a few times this evening the fact that the Church of Limerick is without a Bishop. It may currently lack a Successor of the Apostles at its head, but it is still apostolic, and its mission is the task of everyone.
Many of us will be a bit ambivalent about such a responsibility. A lot of us have mixed feelings about the institution, born of painful experience, and being told that we responsible for its mission may not sit easily. I came across a text the other day from an Italian spiritual writer named Carlo Carretto. It was written a long time ago. He died nearly 25 years ago. It sums up beautifully that love-hate relationship of mixed feelings towards the Church which many of us have.
How much I must criticize you, my church, and yet how much I love you! You have made me suffer more than anyone and yet I owe more to you than to anyone. I should like to see you destroyed and yet I need your presence. You have given me much scandal and yet you alone have made me understand holiness.
Never in this world have I seen anything more compromised, more false, yet never have I touched anything more pure, more generous or more beautiful.
Countless times I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face -- and yet, every night, I have prayed that I might die in your sure arms! No, I cannot be free of you, for I am one with you, even if not completely.
Be conscious, O Christian, of your dignity! You have been made partaker of the divine nature… Remember whose Body it is of which you are a member, and who is its Head. Remember that it is he who has delivered you from the power of darkness and has transferred you into God’s light and God’s kingdom. By the sacrament of baptism you have become a temple of the Holy Spirit. Do not cast away this great Guest by evil living and become again a servant of the devil. For your freedom was bought by Christ’s own blood.
And if I were asked by a faithful simple Christian who is confused by all this talk of anointing and mission how on earth he/she is supposed to fulfil the vocation of being priest, prophet and king in his/her own small corner of the world, I’d answer with a single sentence – using one of the new dismissals at the end of Mass from the new Missal…
Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.