19th Sunday Ordinary Time
Year B

A gift of Pleasant Fragrance

The bible often refers to our good deeds as a perfume pleasing to God. In the Book of Sirach, Wisdom personified is quoted as saying, "Like cinnamon or fragrant balm, or precious myrrh, I give forth perfume." We can appreciate that. Don't incense and the scents of flowers charm us with moments of contentment?

Among God's miracles are the sweet odors which he has time again caused to come forth from the bodies of saintly people. Sometimes it occurs after their death, as it did in the case of St. Martin DePorres. Sometimes it occurs while they are alive. When a priest-friend of St. Theresa of Avila first noticed a fragrance surrounding St. Teresa of Avila, he thought she had been wearing perfume!

One of the holy people gifted recently with this miraculous gift was the Capuchin priest, Padre Pio Forgione (1887-1968). He had the stigmata, or wounds of Christ's crucifixion in his hands and feet, and these often gave off a sweet scent. Even more marvelously, he seemed to be able to "broadcast" perfumes of one sort or another, to indicate to people far away that they were in his thoughts and prayers.

On February 15, 1950, for instance, an Italian physician was visiting with the Bertolo family, who knew Padre Pio well and had often experienced this perfume phenomenon. That day another caller at the Bertolo's had just returned from a visit to the friar at his monastery in San Giovanni Rotondo. He was describing the great humility of the Padre despite his fame, when suddenly the physician recalled "an intense perfume of violets enveloped us all, lasting about a half hour, although the doors and windows were wide open." Another physician who was there, Dr. Edoardo Bianco, signed an affidavit about the same waft of violet perfume. He said that on other similar occasions he had smelt the perfume of roses and carnations; and he declared there was no scientific explanation for what had happened.

Today St. Paul tells us that Christ's offering of himself to God was "a gift of pleasing fragrance." By his "perfume miracles" is not God reminding us that no incense we offer Him is sweeter than the total gift of ourselves? (Ephesians, 5:2. Today's second reading.)

-Father Robert F. McNamara

Q384: What does it mean when the First Reading (Eph 4:30-5:2) says we were "sealed with the Holy Spirit"?

First let's look at one (of many) examples of what a seal "does." If you "seal" a bottle of wine with cork (or with screwcap to avoid cork taint), it is designed to preserve the contents against corruption from premature oxidation. Note that in this example, corruption can only be caused internally because of inattention to proper sealing. Usually this wine bottle seal will authenticate its true source, identifying the contents with the winery label.

Now listen to St. Paul in the Second Reading: "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God with which you were sealed for the day of redemption." Immediately in the next line, we hear the kind of behavior - originating from within - that causes the "Sealer" to grieve: bitterness, anger, shouting, reviling, and malice. To prevent that inner corruption of our soul from taking place, we live out the virtues that St. Paul also names today: kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and love.

Note that the corruption of the soul can only take place from within! The seal of the Holy Spirit always remains intact, but the free will of the soul is also intact. Certainly there are external temptations, but we still have our free will. We can choose to live a life of rebellion that acts as a corruptive force in opposition to the will of God; but we alone make that choice, no one else. We can choose to give in to the temptations around us to abuse God's gifts. And paramount among these temptations is rejecting authority - ignoring the teachings of the Church (or at least choosing to deprive ourselves of a fully informed conscience).

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The Holy Spirit marked us with the seal of the Lord at our Baptism, and we are called to "keep the seal" until the end of our earthly life (CCC #1274). This seal is indelible and cannot be erased, but sin can prevent Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation (CCC #1272). Confession cleanses us of this corruption, and Eucharist nourishes us so that we can be transformed daily into the image of Christ (CCC #1275): are we making regular use of both?

Q540: How could the bread that Elijah consumed sustain him for a forty-day trip?

There are a lot of folks who have a relationship with Jesus and his Church that leaves much to be desired. It has been called by many pastors the “sprinkling” kind. They get sprinkled at their baptism, sprinkled at their wedding, and sprinkled at their funeral. You might never see them in Church in between those occasions; or if they are there, the dispositions they display indicate a reluctant participation and a desire to be elsewhere. They are missing the special strengthening provided by God to those who “listen” and “seek” with an open heart.

So what does that have to do with our Readings today? Well, the message is clear: for our journey through life, we need nourishment – spiritual nourishment. An angel, a messenger from heaven, told the prophet Elijah [1 Kgs 19:4-8] more than once to eat the food provided by God. If he did not, then his journey through life would be too difficult and too long for him. (“Forty days and nights” is a literary or storytelling convention that simply means, “a very long time.”)

In the Gospel [Jn 6:41-51] Jesus makes it quite clear that much more is involved than physical food. If we do not take the nourishment that God offers to us, then we miss an important lesson taught by Jesus: “Whoever eats this bread shall live forever!” Our journey through life, to our own “Mt. Horeb,” does indeed have one ultimate goal: to live with our Lord “forever”!

We are fed spiritually by God at each Mass. First we are nourished by listening and pondering his inspired, sacred word – his love letter to us. Then he offers us his very being, under the form of bread and wine – but nevertheless the Real Presence. This is the form he himself chose when he instituted the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper, and commanded his Apostles to continue this transforming consecration. This is the Bread of Life!

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! In the Lord’s Prayer, the word for bread “daily” – epiousios – occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Taken literally, epi-ousios means “super-essential” and refers directly to the Bread of Life, the “medicine of immortality,” without which we have no life within us (CCC #2837). Lord, give us this day our daily bread!

Taste and See the Goodness of the Lord

The prophet Elijah was so depressed and exhausted that he prayed for death. Instead God sent an angel who gave him food and drink so that he could walk for forty days to the mountain of God's covenant. People asked Jesus for a sign like the manna Israel had been given in the desert. His answer was that he himself was the true bread from heaven, the food they need to follow in his way. His body is the bread of life, which satisfies not physical hunger but gives us the spiritual nourishment we need to sustain our spiritual life, to give of ourselves as Jesus gave himself for us.

Lord, may the Eucharist you give us bring us salvation and keep us faithful to the light of your truth. May it give us the power to avoid bitterness, anger, harsh words and slander and offer kindness and compassionate help to those in need.