A Fragrance That Remains


by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, June 24, 2018

Have you ever remembered, seemingly from out of nowhere, a person or place of significance in your life that you might not have thought of in years? Sometimes scent can be the trigger for such dormant remembrances coming to consciousness.

Scent is evocative. What we inhale through our olfactory system has the power to bring strong images or unexpected feelings into our awareness, transporting us to another time, place, or memory. For me, talcum powder, Coty L’Aimant, and Old Spice are emotional triggers. I get a whiff of any of those and suddenly my grandmother, my mother, my father will appear before me.

Last week I was thinking of all that scent evokes as I strolled the Promenade in Sea Isle City, NJ during a retreat for a group of women religious. Within seconds of stepping onto the walkway on a June morning, I was enveloped by the scent of honeysuckle hanging heavily in the air.

It wasn’t much of a leap to make the connection between that delicate, pervasive scent and the witness of the women praying and reflecting during the retreat. Like the fragrance of honeysuckle, their lives given over in love and service lingered and filled our meeting space. I imagined the prayers of blessing sent out into the universe by all the holy ones. I imagined every life ever given over in love and compassion as a gracious anointing that carried healing and affirmation and tenderness, blessing people on the other side of the globe. That image lingers with me still and invites a deeper mining.

I wonder, what is the fragrance, the holy perfume, for which our beautiful yet wounded world longs? How might the fragrant witness of our lives fill not only this present moment but also envelop and bless an uncertain future? How might our very presence leave behind a familiar and comforting scent? How might we embody the meaning of the words,

“You are here.
That is good.
You are not here.
The fragrance remains.”

The fragrance that remains most certainly could describe the woman who anointed Jesus on the edge of his suffering and death. She is the one remembered not only in the pages of the Gospels but in the memorable scent left behind by her extravagant act. To two of the Gospel writers (Mark 14:3-9; Matthew 26:6-13), she is nameless. Only John names her as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (John 12:1-8). In telling her story, only John adds the phrase, “The house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.” Another translation describes the aftermath of her act by noting, “The sweet smell of the perfume filled the whole house.” Clearly, her act of anointing was not only fragrant but extravagant, generous, enduring, memorable.

This woman seems to be the only one of Jesus’ followers who truly heard his prediction of his coming death and was moved to comfort him. Like the rest of us, she discerned the place of need and did what she had the power to do. Perhaps she trembled. Perhaps she knew she would be judged and criticized. Perhaps she suspected her anointing  would be misunderstood. But the voices of love and compassion were louder than the voices of her fear. Love emboldened her. Compassion compelled her. And the sweet smell of her perfume filled the whole house, and lingered there.


What about us? What are we leaving behind? What anointings will be told in our memory? For what extravagant, loving acts will we be remembered?



Spend time in stillness before the Holy One.
Reflect on a person whose presence in your life has blessed you and whose memory lingers with you.
Hold that person in love and gratitude today.

Thank you for continuing to pray for all who will be part of the next summer retreat I’m leading: 

June 25 – July 1:     Directed Retreat at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth, Wernersville, PA. I will serve as one of the directors for this retreat. 

Also, I’d be grateful for your prayer as my IHM community enters into our annual Assembly and our Chapter and Elections beginning July 5.

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8 thoughts on “A Fragrance That Remains”

  1. Thank you for sharing your reflections I always find them meaningful and helpful in my own prayer.

  2. My sisters and I wait with anticipation to read your blog! If you ever get to the South, Mississippi in particular, we would be blessed to attend any retreat, etc.! Thank you for sharing your faith and reflections. Rosemary Yazoo City, MS

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. Dear Chris,

    As I read this reflection, I am also on retreat at St. MARY BY-THE-SEA. I wish you were here as well. Thank you for your sharing as I remember also other scents and people. There are the welcome smells of the ocean and blooming plants as you walk around. They differ from those at home. I rejoice to be here in this quiet time and place.


    MaryLouise (from DE)🌼🦋🎶🌅

    Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

  4. What a lovely post. You have reminded me in a very eloquent way that nothing at all worthwhile is ever lost and is always brought to life again through the memory/fragrance of good experiences and good people. Thank you.

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