By Sister Maria Frassati, S.V.
“Why has there been this waste?”
The Passion Narrative that kicks off Holy Week begins with the account of the woman in Bethany with the alabaster jar of costly spikenard. To the utter shock of all those present, she breaks the alabaster jar loaded with nard over his head, letting it pour and anoint the head of our Lord. Some are filled with anger at the perceived waste. But Jesus responds, “Let her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me” (cf Mark 14:6). The Gospel account of this woman’s love for Jesus can become the lens through which we see the whole of Holy Week: the power of a total gift-of-self to Jesus, a gift which is never wasted, and is such a consolation to His heart.
Wait a minute– aren’t we supposed to be spending Holy Week contemplating the total self-gift of Jesus to us? Is this backwards? Both are important. God loved us first, as St. John tells us (cf. 1Jn 4:10). But when we come to know His crazy, reckless love in pouring out everything for us, as if it were for me alone, this realization inspires the response to the Divine initiative; a total self-gift in return. St. John Paul II repeatedly reminds us in his writings that “Man cannot find himself except through a sincere gift of self.” And still more, Jesus, in His total self-giving, reveals to us our deepest identity and calling (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22).
In giving myself, I come to discover who I really am. That’s a bold statement in a culture that revolves around self-fulfillment and gratification. And, when I unite my life to Jesus in this total gift, not only is nothing ever wasted, but I become more myself, more truly who God made me to be. Peter was no longer simply a charismatic fisherman, but a fisherman of souls who radically pierced the hearts of those who heard him with the power of God’s love. And Our Lady, through her constant yes throughout the life of Jesus as His earthly Mother, became a spiritual mother to all who believe in Jesus.
We can admit that this is hard. It often takes an act of faith to believe that my gift-of-self matters, that His grace is at work deeper in me than I can perceive. What do I do when it feels fruitless, meaningless?
First, we can only give ourselves in trust when we are grounded in His gift of love to us, a gift He renews each day through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. He tells us, you are worth everything. He would have given all for even just a single soul. Jesus once said to St. Julian of Norwich, “It is a joy, a bliss, and endless delight to me that I suffered my Passion for you; and if I could suffer more, I would suffer more.” Only when we know we are infinitely and unconditionally loved by the Father in Jesus, a truth we must steep ourselves in again and again, can we have the confidence to give ourselves to Him in total abandon. Secondly, whether we feel it or not, it is in the Mass that we are reminded that His total offering of self in love gives value to all our offerings of love.
Woman of Bethany: Our Gift of Love is Never Wasted.
In this, we also discovered another truth: He delights to receive our love, our company. It matters to Him when we are simply there, with Him. Do we have any idea how much our gifts to Him console His heart? Not because we add anything to God or make Him more, since He is all-perfect and in need of nothing. The woman in Bethany, before Christ’s Passion, reflects to Him her understanding of what He is about to do. And in this, she is with Him, demonstrating that she knows and supports the intentions of His heart. During the pandemic, we heard stories upon stories of elderly married couples who would stop at nothing to visit their spouses in nursing homes and hospitals, even if it meant only standing on the other side of a window. They knew they couldn’t help or heal or ‘fix the problem’; they knew they simply had to be there. Love desires to be with the one they love. And this is what matters most to Jesus, that we are simply with Him. In this, we can share the weight of His heart. St. Padre Pio once remarked that in the Garden of Gethsemane, even while Jesus was weighed down in agony by the sins of humanity, He was also consoled by the love of His future disciples who would give everything for Him. Even now, our efforts to be with Him and love Him console His heart more than we can ever know in this life.
As we enter the intensity of Holy Week, striving to contemplate His mysteries in the middle of our busy work, we can take comfort in the fact that spending time in prayer doesn’t need to be complicated. Just be with Him. And wherever you’re drawn in the mysteries of this week, give yourself permission to stay there. If we allow ourselves to simply sit in His presence, wherever we find ourselves —the garden, the pillar where He was scourged, His tomb on Holy Saturday—He will work to quietly transform us in His grace. And as He draws the mysteries of our lives into the mysteries of His own, nothing will ever be wasted; rather our lives will become more closely conformed to the mystery of His own, as we are brought to know the tender love of the Father through Him.