“He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist."
Saint Francis of Assisi
We embark upon Holy Week, 2013. Welcome! And Bon Voyage. Lent is pretty much over and perhaps you are salivating for that delicious chocolate bunny you have bought for the kiddos' Easter Basket. The death throes of a ripened mortification period are on the horizon. The end is near. But wait! The enemy desires to sift you. What? Oh yes. It is not over. We have merely arrived at the start/finish line. Lent was a preparation. Just like life is a preparation. There is something that awaits us beyond these seasons but before we get there, we must eventually confront our greatest ultimate issue this side of heaven. The puzzle of suffering, sifting and death.
What does it mean to sift? We can look to some common culinary practices to derive greater meaning here. To me, sifting means separating the necessary from the unnecessary; the big unwieldy chunks of stuff that don't do well in food from the yummy stuff that incorporates itself well into a mixture, making it uniform, consistent and integral. Sifting is a clarification process that employs a ghastly straining device - a sieve - in order to draw out the fine from the course particles. Good for the batter- not so much for the chunks. However you choose to examine it, it sounds like it could be painful if you happen to be a big, prideful particle trying to pass an audition for a Bechamel or Veloute.
So what was Christ talking about when he used the phrase: "Simon, Simon, Satan desires to sift you like wheat"? Perhaps if we look to some key figures of this Holy Week, we might find an identification with their particular sifting. I decided to take a closer look to my beloved patron, Saint Mary Magdalene.
In today's Gospel, we find her in what has been immortalized in Sacred Art, bathing Christ's feet with her tears and drying them with her hair. We make the theological assumption that this is the same Mary in Bethany as the one who earlier had narrowly avoided some trumped up "promiscuity charges" and a fatal stoning incident. In Bethany, her tears of gratitude were accompanied by that perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard, (Spikenard--it must have cost a fortune). Little did she know it at the time, she was preparing her Savior for his ultimate agony; she was anointing His precious body before His death. As she kneaded the oil deep into the skin of his feet she may have been remembering back to that day....nose in the dust....covered in her own tears of shame and filth...looking at those same feet. "Who has condemned you? No one sir. "Then neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more."
Turning her face up to the man, she would have noticed the familiar smile and knowing glance of someOne who understood her at curious depth. "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you...you are fearfully wonderully made." He saw in the Magdalene the true majestic beauty of her womanly soul and he saved her because she belonged to Him... to God. Do you think she sinned again like that day in the dirt? I don't know, but the anointing at Bethany seems to bespeak a gratitude of freedom from a bondage that has been clubbed to death. I believe Mary was sifted a few times....the worst of it was as she accompanied Jesus to Calvary. Remember that she journeyed with him to the foot of the cross. It was a torture beyond all telling to walk that long and dusty road knowing that it would end in certain death. How could it all end this way? Where were the rest of the Apostles? Where were all who were healed? cleansed? freed? unblinded? no longer lame? no longer mute? Look at His Mother. She is there with Him. She is my mother too. My heart aches. This is unjust. This is demonic. Now they lift him on the instrument of torture, once fashioned out of a tree. Here I am once again. At his feet. I kiss them with my lips and dry them once again with my hair. Sir? Who has condemned you? And for what?
Olives are curious things. They make wonderful oil. Somebody had to walk on them and grind out the liquid from the pulp order to extract that substance. Then perfumes and spices are added for aroma. When we find ourselves in the crucible of the sifting, may we strive to be like Mary in Bethany and extravagantly anoint the body of Christ rather than pound nails into His hands and feet. Let us be yielded today to the concept of the cross. The closer we get to it, the smaller we need to become.