Monday, March 27, 2006

The odor of sanctity

The odor of sanctity

“For we are the good odor of Christ unto God in them that are saved and in them that perish.” (2 Cor. 2:15, Douay-Rheims)

On Saturday our parish pastoral council was gathered in retreat in Rock Hill. We had the privilege of having the retired Bishop of Charlotte as our retreat master. His is a gentle and prayerful presence – soft-spoken, intense, and exuding an aura of kindliness that is warm and embracing. One is instantly at ease in his presence.

The Bishop gave us three talks, on prayer, the Eucharist and forgiveness, using passages from the Gospels of Luke and John as springboards for his thoughts. As some may know, the Bishop was one of Mother Teresa’s confessors, and a close friend. He had many stories and anecdotes – not just of Blessed Teresa, but of so many different situations from his pastoral ministry, periodically punctuated by verses from Scripture – the Word of God that brings light to all situations – all of which he wove together into a tapestry that spoke richly, evocatively, concretely of the grace of God that permeates all things and binds all things.

In the day-to-day busy-ness of life, in the “grind” as one is wont to call it, one so easily wearies. One loses sight of what is really, well, real. If there was one thing that struck me from the retreat, it was just how real the spiritual life really is. The material isn’t “ultimate reality.” The spiritual is. And by his witness, his stories, his presence, the Bishop was a visible, living, breathing reminder of the reality of the spiritual, the power of prayer, the deep joy of following the Lord, and the nearness of sanctity.

So many of his stories involved death and dying – patients he had given last rites to, victims of AIDS, cancer, people who had died unloved, estranged from family. And yet he shone. I saw again just how the Cross transforms death to life, how we are transformed from “glory to glory” as the Apostle puts it.

It was certainly uplifting. But also inspiring – sanctity is indeed near, right here, right now, in the muck and mess of it all. One can, in fact, gratia Dei, be holy. In fact, the Bishop is a witness of just how beautiful a holy life is, just how attractive and inviting.

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