How often have you been the recipient of an anointing? An equally fair question would be – how often have you anointed other people? It would not be surprising were the questions to cause initial puzzlement and no ready response! Outside of religious circles ‘anointing’ is not a word in common usage in the secular world.
Yet anointing – understood as the willingness to bring a benefit to another as opposed to harm – is happening widely and continuously. Any one of our senses can be involved in anointing. For example, our sense of smell may detect the presence of a noxious substance that another cannot sense. Our eyes can radiate a greeting that helps bring calm. Our sense of touch can not only support but also reassure. These, and so many more frequent events, can be termed ‘anointing’ if we understand the word in its widest sense.
God’s Word for us this 4th Sunday of Lent has anointing as a common theme. The first Reading tells of God’s prophet Samuel being sent to anoint David as King of Israel (Samuel 16:1,6-7,10-13); St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (5:8-14) tells how the coming of Christ (The Anointed One) brought light to the darkness; and Jesus, in John’s Gospel (9:1-41) anoints a blind man with a mixture of saliva and dust.
For some people, the word anointing has religious overtones. But its multiple applications range from religion to the beauty and health industry. Anointing has a distinguished history. For example, the Hebrew people recognised anointing as God’s way of confirming his choice of a person. Aaron was anointed high priest. Both Saul and David were anointed as kings of Israel, at God’s prompting, by the prophet Samuel. The titles ‘Messiah’ and ‘The Christ’ in Hebrew and Greek translate as ‘The Anointed One’.
In ancient Israel, a host would have anointed the face of a guest on their arrival with perfumed oil to help their recovery from the sun and wind of the journey. Servants would have washed the guests’ feet from dust and sand. St. Luke (7:45-46) recalls Jesus publicly declaiming his host Simon’s lack of courtesy: “And turning to the woman, Jesus said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give Me water for My feet, but she wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not greet Me with a kiss, but she has not stopped kissing My feet since I arrived. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she has anointed My feet with perfume.…”.
For Christians, the Sacrament of Baptism introduces them to anointing as a sacred action with eternal consequences. Maybe this is the time to ask what keepsakes of your Baptism do you still have? More senior Christians may have photographs and possibly a garment. The more recently Baptised will likely have videos and photos of a family party. The more apposite question for a Baptised person of any age is – ‘What do you treasure in your heart concerning your first anointing by the Holy Spirit?’
If your Baptismal anointing occurred when you were a newborn then your memory will be dependent upon what your parents, Godparents and family told you. If there has been supportive nurturing of your relationship with Jesus at home and in school, you may have a rich vein of memories on which to call. An adult, coming to Baptism, has her or his own personal memory. Our Baptismal memory, should we have one, will influence our daily relationship with Jesus.
Practising Jews begin each day with a prayer from the Book of Deuteronomy (6:4-9). The Jew is to remember that he or she is God’s chosen. The same can be said for the Baptised woman or man.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God; the Lord is one.
And you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your means.
And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart.
And you shall teach them to your children and speak of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk on the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.”
The Deuteronomy text is grounded in family life. The parents are to ‘love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your means’. By the example of their own lifestyle they affirm their children’s spiritual heritage. God looks to them to be the first teachers of their children in the ways of faith: “you shall teach them (God’s words) to your children and speak of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk on the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.”
The Book of Deuteronomy dates back to 1400 BC (before the birth Christ). Its insistence on prayer and formation threading through the whole day is as valid for 21st century Christians as it was for the early Israelites.
The prevailing breakdown in the transmission of faith from generation to generation can be traced to the breakdown in the integrity of family life.
Spiritual or Sacred Anointing is more than the application of Chrism at Baptism, Confirmation and priestly and episcopal Ordination. God spiritually anoints all who choose to read or hear read His Word. Notice the emphasis - choose to read or hear. There’s no such thing as a haphazard encounter with God’s anointing Word. Whether we realise it or not there is deep within us a thirst that only God’s Word can satisfy. God proffers his Word constantly but never compels our attention.
Jesus as a child would have been continuously anointed, as it were, by the words of his mother and foster-father, Joseph. Their daily family prayer celebrated in Jesus’ hearing was an expression of their own relationship with God. The late Michael Paul Gallagher SJ wrote: “if faith is not an experience of encounter, we have little to reflect on except the words of others … and they will ring hollow unless touched by personal fire”. (‘Into Extra Time’ DLT)
Mary would have spoken to Jesus of the events surrounding his conception. We can imagine Mary telling Jesus of his visit, while still in her womb, to Elizabeth who was herself pregnant with John-the-Baptiser. Jesus would have been anointed daily with the communion of love that bonded Mary and Joseph. The prevailing current breakdown in the transmission of faith from generation to generation can be traced to the breakdown in the integrity of family life.
Are today’s parents aware of how their words and actions, especially within the home, are anointing their offspring, whatever their age? Equally, are the ‘children’ sufficiently aware of how their attitudes and behaviour are anointing their parents, especially in their old age?
Anointing is associated with consecration inferring a solemn dedication to a special religious service or purpose. British monarchs are anointed to be of service to their people. Catholic priests and bishops are anointed to be of service to the faithful and the wider community in the name of Jesus. As a matter of information, Deacons are not anointed at their Ordination. Persons, places or things can be anointed. A chalice, for example, is anointed for exclusive use in the Sacrifice of the Mass.
For Christians, the anointing of a person signifies their association with God, their consecration to God by which they become holy by being associated with the Sacredness of God.
On the occasion of being Baptised, a person is anointed ‘priest, prophet and king’. Each Baptised person shares in the priesthood of the laity – the ability to make an offering to God of their life, of prayer, of dedication as a parent, teacher, nurse, carer and so forth. Each Baptised shares the prophetic role of speaking truthfully about the present time in relation to God’s declared will. Each Baptised is called, through adoption, to share in the kingship of Christ – who came not be served but to serve and to give his life for others.
In English, the antonym for consecrate is desecrate. As Baptism is accepted as the consecration of a person to God, the deliberate non-fulfillment of Baptismal promises can be nothing other than a desecration.
Have I, this day, been sufficiently aware of how I have anointed the people with whom I have shared my life.