To Be the Aroma of Christ

Monday Musing with St. Paul

In today’s Mass (Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter), we read about Barnabas and Paul preaching the Gospel, and the mixed reactions they received. In the first place–Iconium–some people received the Word of God with enthusiasm, but others resisted so strongly that they decided to stone Barnabas and Paul. The apostles fled to Lystra, and when they preached there, the inhabitants believed they were gods and wanted to offer sacrifice to them.

If St. Paul and St. Barnabas could be so misunderstood in their preaching, we need not be discouraged when we meet resistance, misunderstanding, or rejection. In 2 Corinthians 2, Saint Paul describes beautifully how our witness and communication of Christ flows from our very being:

Photo by Sr. Irene Wright, FSP

“For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2 Cor. 2:15).

An aroma is not something deliberate: it’s a physical characteristic inseparable from whatever carries it. If we have been grasped by the love of Christ and allow his love to fill our very being, then in our souls we, too, carry a definite “aroma” that can be sensed by others. Just as we are not always conscious of the smells and odors around us, but they still create an atmosphere, drawing us in or pushing us away, so the fragrance of Christ’s presence in our souls can provoke a reaction in others, even if they are not completely aware of it.

As a sister wearing a habit, I often experience this quite dramatically. When I’m out in public, my habit evokes smiles and greetings from some, stiff courtesy from others, a deliberate turning away of others, and ridicule, insults, and curses from others. A habit is intended to be an obvious witness to Christ, but much more important than what I wear are my lifestyle, intentions, words, and actions. I hope and pray that they are far more compelling, that in some small way I truly bring the aroma of Christ.

But I cannot control what others understand or take from my witness or words. This is a reality that Paul alludes to in this entire little passage (2 Cor. 2:15-17). And this is important to remember. As communicators, we want to radiate Christ’s light to all, but it is each individual who accepts the light or rejects it. And, above all, it is God who brings growth and new life through the light. What is amazing is that God wants us to share in spreading his saving message and love.

John Henry Newman has a beautiful prayer that reflects this passage from 2 Corinthians. It will guide me this week, and I will pray it for you, my readers, as well.

Dear Jesus, help me to spread Your fragrance everywhere I go.
Flood my soul with Your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly,
That my life may only be a radiance of Yours.

Shine through me, and be so in me
That every soul I come in contact with
May feel Your presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus!

Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as You shine,
So to shine as to be a light to others;
The light, O Jesus will be all from You; none of it will be mine;
It will be You, shining on others through me.

Let me thus praise You the way You love best, by shining on those around me.
Let me preach You without preaching, not by words but by my example,
By the catching force of the sympathetic influence of what I do,
The evident fullness of the love my heart bears to You.

Amen.

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