I thought about that riddle because next week here at Nativity of Mary our school children will be busy with their annual Marathon of Service and Rake-a-Thon. I expect to spend some time in a few backyards of Bloomington myself raking alongside those students and lending my helping hand.
There’s nothing like the smell of falling leaves in autumn – and that’s what made me think about that riddle. Most living objects give off a foul odor when they are dying, but dying leaves actually smell good.
There’s a great spiritual lesson we can learn from those wonderfully smelling dying leaves. We too can present a “pleasing aroma” to God whenever we are “dying to ourselves” and offering ourselves in love and service to others.
Our Catholic tradition actually has a formal word for that phenomenon – osmogenesia. It’s a term that arose in the Middle Ages and has been defined as “the odor of sanctity.” It is reported that for some of the great saints in our tradition, like St. Teresa of Avila and St. Maravillas of Jesus, a heavenly aroma was detected at the moment of their death. Many claim to have smelled a strong scent of roses that lingered for days after the death of St. Terese of Lisieux. When St. Polycarp was burned at the stake many reported experiencing a sweet smell of incense.
It reminds me of a quote from St. Augustine – “You lavished your fragrance, I gasped, and now I pant for you.”
We all have been chosen to emit the “odor of sanctity.” Consider how liberating it will be when we finally can be free from worrying about ourselves and less consumed by our own perceived wants and needs. That is the sort of living witness that will attract others to the joy and love of God.
So we urge the children on to greater love and service. You might notice a sweet fragrance in the air around Bloomington this week. Each one of us too must grow in the virtue of self-forgetfulness as we strive to serve those around us.
Thanks for your prayers and support of the parish and school. As God changes the season may He transform all of us too.