THE SCENT OF MOUNTAIN PINES
READ: John 12:1-8
“While having dinner at the home of Mary, Lazarus, and Martha, Mary brought a jar of perfumed oil and began anointing the feet of Jesus. She would then dry his feet with her hair. The house became filled with the fragrance of that perfumed oil. Then Judas Iscariot, the disciple who was about to betray Jesus, complained, ‘What a waste this is! We could have sold this oil for a great deal of money and the money then given to the poor. [Judas said this, not because he cared for the poor, but because it was later proven he was a thief stealing funds from the disciples’ common fund.]’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Let her be! She has prepared me for my burial. You will always have the poor to care for, but you will not always have me.” -John 12:2-8
The occasion was a high and holy Mass celebrated at the nearby Cathedral. The archbishop and the priests were decked out in their finest ecclesiastical regalia. I was in attendance with a number of the Brothers from Greyfriars’ Abbey, here to teach a confirmation class about monks and monasteries. The service was all quite spectacular, almost foreign to the residents and oblates of Greyfriars’, for our monastic services are so simple and plain, almost rural Midwest Methodist in their way. I was seated next to an elderly lady.. She was wearing one of those classic black lace kerchiefs on her head, clutching her well-used rosary in her frail hands, a crucifix of olive wood and onyx draped about her neck. As the priest came by waving the censer, an ornate golden brass vessel suspended from handheld chains, the air about us filled with exotically fragrant smoke. I nearly coughed an irreverent cough, but my devotion saw me through with only a quiet gasping for air. The devout lady beside me leaned over and whispered to me, “The incense always tells me that the Presence of God is in this place.” Her commentary grabbed the attention of this once Methodist revival preacher … for in years gone by, often the revival-goers who filled the tent, either in the fervor of the altar call or in the shoutin’ of the hymns, they would declare ,,,”You can surely feel the Presence of God in this place.” Two settings so starkly different, an incense-filled Roman Catholic cathedral and a sawdust-scented Holiness-Methodist revival tent, yet both having enthused souls testifying that … “the Presence Lord is surely in this place.”
The writer of the Gospel of John has always caught my attention with the “details” he chooses to include in his telling of the Great Story, as in this account of Mary anointing the feet of Jesus. John feels the need to accentuate the scene with the observation …”and the house became filled with the fragrance of that perfumed oil.” I can picture when that night was ending, as he and the other disciples were about to leave the house, John pausing … closing his eyes and taking one more whiff of that fragrant perfumed oil. And I suspect … that in the years to come … as they say is the nature of olfactory memories … he could bring that loving fragrance to his mind once more. Yet …
…yet … John could also bring to mind the inauthentic protest of Judas Iscariot. He could bring to mind the bitterness in the words of the man, the sarcastic edge that unconsciously confessed his treachery and most likely also his anxiety and guilt. While Mary’s act of love … impulsive and impractical as it might have been …. left a memory of something beautiful … Judas’ bitter words left only a sour aftertaste, a memory of something ugly.
Mary’s act of love brings to our minds the Presence of God in that quiet place; Judas’ words of criticism bring to mind the evil that can lurk within our seemingly clever human schemes. Mary’s act of love has a lingering fragrance of innocence; Judas’ words of criticism has only a deadly stench of treachery.
There was a time in my life when I would go camping in the woods, private retreats I would take into the mountain pines, there to spend a couple of days dedicated to prayer, reflection, study, and to merely sit in the Presence of God. Once I did so while my wife was away visiting family. When she returned she took care of the laundry that I sadly had neglected to do in her absence. As she took my flannel shirts, the ones that I take on my camping retreats, she looked over to me and said, “I can smell the mountain pines on your shirt! How was your time with the Lord?”
My Loved Ones, I know people and I know places and I know moments … that when I have remember them … “I can still smell the mountain pines!”
Brother Anthony of the Cross