Monday of Holy Week
"There are many people who can do big things, but there are very few people who will do the small things." ~Mother Teresa
Mary must have known! They all must have known! As the closest followers of the Master, the man they all called "Rabboni," they must have suspected this visit to their home in Bethany might well be his last. They knew he was on his way to Jerusalem- Jerusalem, the holy city, but also the city that "kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it." (cf. Mt.23:37) He told them time and time again that it would be there that "the Son of Man must undergo great suffering and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes and be killed…" (Cf. Mk 8:31) Surely his closest friends, the women who cared for him and the man he raised from the dead -surely they must have known the end was near.
It was into this atmosphere of unspoken sadness mixed with bewilderment that Mary chooses to show her love for her Master. One small act which would demonstrate to him her faithfulness, her devotion, her complete self dedication in the face of almost certain loss. She took the most precious possession they had – a small vial of costly perfumed oil and used it generously to wash the feet of her Teacher. Such a simple act which, although unknown to her at the time, would reverberate throughout the centuries as a sign of her selfless devotion.
The more pragmatic viewed this action with a certain amount of disdain. "Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?" Judas only spoke the words that were on the minds of everyone else. Yet Jesus pointed to the fact that Mary’s act was in itself prophetic. Unknowingly her simple act of devotion prepared the body of Jesus for his future burial. And besides Jesus stressed "you will always have the poor with you…"
Fast forward now to our current age, more precisely the day of January 12, 2010 – that Tuesday evening we received news of a disastrous earthquake in Haiti. Father Rick Frechette, Passionist priest and physician, was home in the U.S. tending to his dying mother. He wondered if St. Damian’s Hospital in Tabarre, Haiti’s only free children’s hospital he co-founded years ago, was still standing. He wondered how severe the causalities were. Did his friends, co-workers, children survive?
Immediately returning to Haiti Father Frechette had 18 funerals in one day. He spent the remainder of his time treating those severely wounded. He worried and prayed for this people who have suffered so much, yet lived with so much faith, with so much hope.
The more pragmatic among us might think a man like Father Frechette crazy. How could what little he was able to do matter in the face of such devastating loss and despair??? What could such simple acts of faith mean? How could such small gestures of compassion and solidarity matter to a people experiencing the overwhelming results of a natural disaster?
Yet to me, Father Frechette’s simple acts of love and devotion make perfect sense, particularly in the light of today’s gospel. His presence and actions among his people encompasses the Passionist spirit in its totality. Father Frechette saw in his sisters and brothers the suffering face of Jesus the Christ and because of his love for Christ in them he could do no less.
As we enter more deeply into this holiest of weeks, what simple act of love and compassion will you do? How will you demonstrate your devotion to Christ to those who are considered the least or the lost or the lacking?
Patrick Quinn ([email protected]) is the director of Planned Giving at the Passionist Development Office in Chicago.