Why St. Josemaria Escriva nicknamed his tabernacle “Bethany”

Josemaria Escriva

His explanation reveals a profound spiritual truth we often overlook.

Most Catholics don’t have a nickname for the tabernacle in their parish church. If anything we might call it the “gold box” and even though it is the place where the Eucharistic Jesus dwells, other things within the church might catch our attention first.

However, many of the saints have something of a devotion to the tabernacle, due to the infinite Treasure it contains. For example, St. Josemaria Escriva called it “Bethany.” He is not referring to a woman’s first name, but to a location within the Bible.

Escriva explains in The Way, “It’s true that I always call our Tabernacle Bethany … Become a friend of the Master’s friends: Lazarus, Martha, Mary. And then you won’t ask me any more why I call our Tabernacle Bethany.”

Among the many villages Jesus visited during his short lifetime, Bethany is one that he returned to again and again. It is referred to in each of the four Gospels and is known mostly because it is the site of Martha, Mary and Lazarus’ home.

In Bethany, Jesus is anointed with oil by Mary, and it is also the location of Lazarus’ resurrection. Jesus stayed in Bethany for part of Holy Week, leading up to his sacrifice on the cross a few days later. Last of all, Jesus traveled to Bethany before ascending into Heaven, making it his last known location on earth.

With this in mind, it’s easier to understand why Escriva called his tabernacle “Bethany.” He saw the tabernacle as a place where intimate friends meet. It is a place of friendship with Jesus. The saint was recognizing his true and abiding presence in the Eucharistic host that is contained in the tabernacle.

By extension, Jesus desires each of us to become a “tabernacle,” a “Bethany,” when we receive him during Holy Communion. He wants to visit our hearts just as he frequently visited the home of his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

Jesus knocks on the door of our hearts, hoping that we will let him in, and set up a chair for him to sit on. After he is welcomed inside the home of our heart, he wants to engage in a friendly dialogue, entering into our daily lives.

The next time you see a tabernacle, think of Bethany and how Jesus desires our friendship, always looking forward to the time he can enter into our home. Let’s not deny him that access but welcome him in, making a place for him to abide within us.


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