Extravagance of Love

“O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth!  For your love is better than wine, your anointing oils are fragrant, your name is oil poured out; therefore the maidens love you.  Draw me after you, let us make haste.  The king has brought me into his chambers.  We will exult and rejoice in you; we will extol your love more than wine; rightly do they love you.”  ~Song of Songs 1: 2-4

 When a woman encounters the Love of Jesus, and hears in her heart, “Follow Me,” she is compelled to respond with all of her love.  This Love of Christ is not calculated or measured; it is not sterile or cold.  His Love has captured her heart and burns within her heart like Divine Flames that consume all her fears.  This is the love that gives her the freedom and courage to leave all and follow Christ in the ways of Religious Life.  Her response of love cannot be contained to a private devotion, but she desires to profess it publicly allowing the fragrance of her love to fill the world. 

 A beautiful depiction of this is found in the Gospel of Mark 14:3-9.  There was a woman who encountered the Love of the Lord, journeyed with Him, and allowed her heart to be formed by His Sacred Heart.  This love matured as she spent time with Him, walked with Him, listened to Him, remained close to Him.  Then there came a point when He began to speak about His impending death and how much He would have to suffer, and she was compelled by this burning love within her own heart to respond with love for love.  She knew that this language of love supersedes the understanding of the world. 

 There was a time before the Passover where Jesus was atBethany, dining at Simon the leper’s house with His disciples and close friends.  Simon would have known the healing love of Christ, for Simon used to be a leper.  He experienced the touch of Christ, that healed him of his sickness and released him from the chains of isolation that came with having leprosy.  Perhaps this woman would have been thinking about her response to Jesus’ love in her heart, and she may have been pondering when, where and how, she would reveal this love for Jesus.  ‘Yes, Simon would understand this act of love, for he was healed by Jesus.  Yes, his disciples would understand this and be able to receive my love offering for Jesus, for they too have been with Jesus and they know Him.’

 She takes that which is most precious to her, the alabaster jar of costly ointment, customarily reserved for her spouse, and she brakes the alabaster jar and pours it over his head.  This wasn’t just any offering, but one that was worth more than 300 days wages, an impressive amount for a woman in that day.  This woman was upper class, had it all together, beautiful, talented and yet there was this Divine fire of love that could not be contained. 

 Now, what was the response of those who dined with Jesus?  “What a waste!”  So many times women who respond to the call of Jesus in Religious Life, hear these words, “What a waste!  You are so talented, you have a promising career, a great education, you are so beautiful…Don’t waste it!”  Sometimes these words fall from the lips of those who themselves know the love of Jesus and have been healed by Him and yet the extravagant love of those who have left all for Jesus is seen as a bit extreme.  The anointing at Bethany was only two days before Passover, when Jesus Himself, the alabaster jar of His body, would be smashed.  On Holy Saturday the Church sings this ancient hymn with these words describing the sacrifice of Jesus, “His body’s vessel smashed apart, His life and love now flood the world, and penetrating to its heart among all men whirl up and swirl.”  Jesus saw her extravagant love and He knew that she was prefiguring His own body- broken, bruised, beaten, crucified, and all His blood poured out for love of each one of us.  His love could not be contained. 

Her love too could not be contained and “the house was filled with the fragrance of her ointment.”  And so this woman who has heard the call of the Lord, this call of love, this fire of love that burns in her heart, cannot hide her love for Him who has revealed His love for her.  She responds with courage and faith, with love and freedom and she breaks the alabaster jar of her heart and pours her love upon Jesus.  This act of love fills her life, her family, the Church, the world, with the fragrance of this offering.  Sometimes it takes time for this fragrance to reach the hearts of those who only see through the eyes of usefulness, efficiency, and with the values of the world.  What is the response of Jesus to the woman who gives all of herself to Him?  The Lord promises the hundredfold in this life and eternal life.  The Religious offers everything to Him and He gives her His life.  She takes on His mind, His Sacred Heart, His hands, His feet.  His children become her children.  The “consecrated woman finds her Spouse, different and the same in each and every person.” (Blessed John Paul II  Mulieris Dignitatem #21)

It is the Holy Spirit that propels her to push forward amidst the reproaches of the world, even amidst her own doubts, her own fears.  The Body of Christ that was ‘smashed apart’ (as the Holy Saturday hymn describes) and His love and life poured out into the world, is now glorified!  What do we see in His resurrected Body?  That He still bears the marks of the Cross, He rose with His Wounds, so that all will remember the depths of His love.  In His glorious wounds, the Religious hides herself.  “The Religious lives in the open gaping wounds of Christ.” ~John Cardinal O’Connor.  It is in this love, purified and strengthened, tried and tested by the sufferings of the cross, that all fear is cast out.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit she is able to respond with Our Lady, ‘Be it done unto me according to your word.” Again and again, as she responds with the fiat of Our Lady, Christ becomes flesh again in the world.  Through the Religious, with the power of her Yes, the Yes of love, the Yes that sacrifices everything, Christ is glorified in the world.  Her extravagant love fills the world with the fragrance of love that proclaims to all the Love of Jesus crucified and risen for our salvation.