A Careful Look at the Anointing at Bethany

29 March 2021

John 12:1-11

One of the things I like to do with very familiar passages like this one is dive into the passage’s specifics. It can be easy to gloss over words like “nard” and “denarii”, but by looking more closely at them, we can find surprising meanings and connections. 

Let’s look at “nard.” Nard is an amber-colored essential oil taken from a plant in the honeysuckle family, which grows in the Himalayas. It probably would’ve been used sparingly, for special occasions, because of its high cost (it cost about $104  an ounce in today’s currency). But Mary pours out a pound of it. Imagine a pound of essential oil poured all over your feet! The fragrance must have been intense.  

Nard is also called spikenard, which, in Hispanic Catholic iconography, is used to represent St. Joseph. Pope Francis has a branch of spikenard on his papal coat of arms just for this reason. Both Mary of Bethany and St. Joseph poured out their lives to God continually, even when they didn’t understand what God was doing. Mary will stand at the foot of the cross. St. Joseph heard messages from angels. Did either of them fully know the whys and wherefores of God’s plan? Absolutely not. But they trusted that he had one and they poured out their lives in his service, even when it would have been easier to step away and hold back. 

Pope Francis’ coat of arms. The flower in the lower right is spikenard. 

Emily DeArdo


Are we pouring out the best of ourselves to God? Are we giving him our trust and love even when, like St. Joseph, we might not understand what he’s asking us to do? Or are we like Judas, hoarding the best of ourselves?  What do you care about?

Lent Devotional 2021
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Bible, Gospel, Lent, Lent, Mass Reflection

A Prayer for When you Feel Lukewarm

15 March 2021

John 4:43-54

It must have taken a certain amount of desperation for this royal official to seek Jesus out. A few biblical commentaries say that he was probably a pagan, so right away, he’s not initially going to be open to the idea of a Jewish Messiah. We don’t know how long his son was ill, but we do know that it had become so serious that he begged Jesus to come and heal him. 

How much of this is rooted in real belief, and how much of this is desperation? We don’t know, and I’m not sure if it really matters. Because in the end, we read that the man “believed the word that Jesus spoke to him.” (v. 50) This doesn’t sound like lukewarm sort-of-belief to me. It sounds like belief brought to fruition by desperation. 

Sometimes this is what it takes to throw ourselves into God’s arms. It’s the divorce, the diagnosis given over the phone, or a child’s life-threatening accident. In these moments of terror, we give ourselves over to the one who is always there for us, even if we haven’t realized it up until that moment. Sometimes a shock is needed to jolt faith awake. 

In this case, Jesus’ word is enough to save the beloved son. Just as his father created the entire cosmos with his word, Jesus–whom John calls the “Word of God”–heals with a simple word. 

Before we receive Communion at Mass, we pray, in part, “Only say the word and my soul shall be healed,” echoing the centurion. Jesus, the Word of God, is still acting today. He waits for you to say your words, words of faith, which will open the door to him so he can come into your life and act, healing your soul’s wounds. We just have to say the word. 

Emily DeArdo


Lord, I am not worth that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.

Lent Devotional 2021
Download A Time to Grow Lent Devotional as a free E-book here
Advent, Gospel, Mass Reflection, Saints

Authority of the Beloved. A Meditation Monday of the Third Week of Advent

Monday 14 December

Memorial of St. John of the Cross

Matthew 21: 23-27

When Jesus had come into the temple area, the chief priests and the elders of the people approached him as he was teaching and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority?” Jesus said to them in reply, “I shall ask you one question, and if you answer it for me, then I shall tell you by what authority I do these things. Where was John’s baptism from? Was it of heavenly or of human origin?” They discussed this among themselves and said, “If we say ‘Of heavenly origin,’ he will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we fear the crowd, for they all regard John as a prophet.” So they said to Jesus in reply, “We do not know.” He himself said to them, “Neither shall I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

Today’s gospel reading centers on the idea of authority. The Pharisees want to know where Jesus is doing all the things he’s doing (healing the sick, absolving people’s sins, etc.) While Jesus could have easily answered them by saying, “Well, I’m God, so…” He doesn’t. Instead he asks them a question about John the Baptist, which they don’t answer, and so Jesus doesn’t answer their question. 

The question of authority comes up a lot, at all ages. How many times have older siblings told younger siblings to do something because “I’m bigger than you are!”? We all like to have authority, but we definitely don’t like being told what to do. 

Who is Jesus? Why can he tell us what to do? 

Well, he’s God. So, since he made us, and we’re trying to live the way he wants us to, we should listen to him. Right? But let’s look at another dimension. 

St. John of the Cross, whose feast day is today, calls God the “beloved” in his famous poem, “The Dark Night of the Soul.” Do we love Jesus like this? Do we want to follow his commands and accept his authority because we love him? Or do we do it grudgingly, like a kid cleaning his room? 

That doesn’t mean it’s always easy to follow him. Sometimes we’re not in love with Jesus, and he’s not our Beloved. Or, maybe, we’ve never thought of him quite that way before. 

For the rest of Advent, try to imagine Jesus as your Beloved. We follow his commands because we love him. We want to make him happy, we want that intimacy with him. His authority isn’t that of a stern ruler, but of a lover who wants our perfect happiness. 


He comes because of love. Contemplate Jesus as your beloved.

Emily DeArdo

grayscale photography of cathedral

Monday of the Second Week of Advent

Monday 7 December

Memorial of St. Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Luke 5:17-26

One day as Jesus was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there, and the power of the Lord was with him for healing. And some men brought on a stretcher a man who was paralyzed; they were trying to bring him in and set him in his presence. But not finding a way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on the stretcher through the tiles into the middle in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, he said,
“As for you, your sins are forgiven.” Then the scribes and Pharisees began to ask themselves, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who but God alone can forgive sins?” Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them in reply, “What are you thinking in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”– he said to the one who was paralyzed, “I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” He stood up immediately before them, picked up what he had been lying on, and went home, glorifying God. Then astonishment seized them all and they glorified God, and, struck with awe, they said, “We have seen incredible things today.”

Today’s gospel reminds me of the Flannery O’Connor quote: “I think most people come to the Church by means the Church does not allow.” 

The “allowed” way of getting into someone’s house is the front door, not by tearing open the roof! But these friends were so desperate to have their friend healed that they did something radical, something “not allowed”–they tore open the roof and lowered their friend down into the midst of the crowd, so he could see Jesus and be healed. 

But Jesus doesn’t just heal the paralytic’s physical problem — he heals his spiritual problem as well. A twofer, if you will. He forgives his sins, and cures his paralysis. Jesus’ concern is always for both our bodies and our souls. We pray for our daily bread, but we also pray for God to deliver us from evil. 

When we pray for healing, do we pray for spiritual healing as well? The sacrament of the anointing of the sick gives us both–did you know that? I’ve received this sacrament many times in my life, and the sacrament’s prayers ask for physical healing — if that is the will of God — but also that the person’s sins be forgiven. 

Before my lung transplant, I received this sacrament. My confession was also heard by the wonderful hospital chaplain, and I received a tiny sip of the Precious Blood before I was taken down to the pre-op area. No matter what happened to me on the operating table — if I lived or died — I had also been healed spiritually. 

If there’s even been a year when we need physical and spiritual healing, it’s this year. During Advent, do your best to get to confession. I know that, depending on where you live, it might not be possible. But try to put as much effort into healing your soul this Advent as the paralytic’s friends sought to heal their friend’s body. 

Emily DeArdo

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