When I prepare for a homily I often ask the Spirit to make one word or phrase jump off the page for me.

This week in the gospel of the raising of Lazarus the word was “stench”. Lazarus’ body was in the grave for four days and when Jesus asked for the tomb to be opened Martha said, “He’s been dead four days. There is a stench.”

Not only does death stink. Sin stinks. Sometimes we have to spend our time with people whose lives are locked in sin and depravity. Sometimes we meet those who wallow in sin and rebellion against God. It’s unpleasant to be with with such people. It’s like they have moral body odor or bad breath. They stink in their selfishness, rage, depravity and sin.

The mystics who have glimpsed hell report that hell stinks. It smells of sulfur–rotten eggs–death and decay. Furthermore, exorcists report that in encounters with demons there is often an unearthly and ungodly stench. Death stinks. Demons stink. The Devil Stinks. Sin stinks. Satan Stinks.

On the other hand, holiness is fragrant. A friend of mine told the story of her grandmother being present at the exhumation of St Therese of Lisieux. The huge crowd gasped as the coffin was open because of the wonderful fragrance of roses. I experienced the odor of sanctity once when I was before the relics of St Bernadette. You can read that story here.

This is why I love using incense in worship–because it reminds us that holiness is beautiful. It smells beautiful. Holiness is fragrant and lovely. The fragrance of holiness drives out the stench of Satan. The holiness of sanctity and fragrance of God wafts us into heaven and the smoke of God drives out the smoke of Satan in the church.