Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter 

Today’s readings 

In our first reading this morning, we have from the Acts of the Apostles a rather defining moment for the early Church. Jesus hadn’t given them a precise rule book of how to make the Church develop: he simply sent them out to baptize. But he also told them to make disciples of all the nations, and that’s what’s at stake in today’s reading. Because the nations didn’t observe all the laws that the Jews did. And so admitting non-Jews to the Church meant deciding whether they had to be circumcised, and whether they had to observe all the other laws of the Old Testament.

Well, obviously, this little mini-council, swayed by the great stories of Paul and Barnabas, decided that the Spirit could call anyone to be disciples, and they shouldn’t get in the way. So they decide to impose very little upon them, outside of avoiding idol worship and unlawful marriage. And then the Psalmist’s prophecy, “Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations” came to pass. If it weren’t for this little council, we wouldn’t be Christians today. Praise God for the movement of the Spirit.
And now the command comes to us: we have to be the ones to proclaim God’s deeds to everyone, and not to make distinctions that marginalize other people. God’s will is not fulfilled until every heart has the opportunity to respond to his love.

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

Today’s readings

I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but to be Catholic means being on the move.  Many of the ancient churches were built in a shape that evoked a ship, which hearkened back to Noah’s ark, which was a foreshadowing of the Church.  Just as that ark was the means of salvation for a few people and a refuge against the storm, so the Church is the means of salvation for the world, and a refuge against everything that the world has raging around us.  We are always and forever a people on the move; we are not at home in this world, wherever we may be.  Our true home is in heaven and we are on our journey there.  Every moment of our lives has to be a choice to move closer to our heavenly homeland.

And that’s what today’s Gospel is all about.  Jesus, having died and risen from the dead, is now preparing his disciples for his immanent return to heaven, where he intends to prepare a place for us.  He promises that we can get there one day by following him: he who is the way, the truth and the life.  And we need him to be that way for us, because our sinfulness had cut us off from God, and it was only the death and resurrection of Christ that could ever restore us to the inheritance that God always wanted for us.  So today’s Scriptures, I think, give us the goal, the way to get to the goal, and the effects of achieving that goal.

We know, then, what our goal is.  The goal is that mansion that Jesus speaks of – the Father’s house in which there are many dwelling places.  It’s a mansion in which there is room for everyone, just as long as they find the way to get there.  This reminds us that as nice as our home may be here on earth, there is something better awaiting us.  It also serves as a reminder to those whose earthly home is difficult, or even non-existent, there is a place where they truly belong.  Whatever our current living situation, however entrenched we are in our earthly life, we are reminded today that we are not home yet, that ultimately there is a place where we can live that will make us feel truly at home for all eternity.

The way to get to that goal is made pretty clear in the Gospel too.  Jesus is very direct about saying, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  So if we want to get to our promised inheritance, there is just one way to get there, and that is through Jesus Christ whose sole mission was to pave the way for us to get back home.  Notice very carefully that Jesus does not say, “There are several ways, and I am just one of them; there are many possible truths, and you can hear one of them in me; you can live your life all sorts of ways, and my life is a nice one.”  No – he says “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  This is a statement that has all sorts of implications for the work of evangelization, because if we believe this, seriously believe it – and we should! – then we have to make sure that everyone comes to know the Lord.

Does this mean that those who do not ever come to know the Lord will never receive the heavenly inheritance?  Put another way, more directly perhaps, does this mean that non-Christians don’t go to heaven?  That’s a tough one.  Vatican II addressed that concern by stating that while the fullness of the means of redemption were present in the Catholic Church, still there are elements of redemption present outside the Church.  It says, “… some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, and visible elements too. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ.”  (Unitatis Redintegratio, 3)  Basically, we don’t have a monopoly on how Christ reveals himself to people, and we cannot know the depths of God’s mercy.  Still, helping people to come to know the Lord needs to be at the top of our to-do lists.

So the goal is heaven, and the way is Christ.  The readings today also give us the effects of achieving the goal.  Those effects include a community where relationships can overcome difficulties, a relationship with God the Father, and an ability to do amazing works in the name of Christ.

In the first reading, we see the early community addressing perhaps the first challenge they have had.  There is an inequity in the distribution of aid to the widows, and presumably, their children.  This is not unlike inequities that exist in parishes everywhere at one time or another.  But, being that they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and that they had chosen Christ as their way, truth and life, they were able to resolve the issue in a prayerful way.  They are able to appoint seven members of the community to take care of that, so that the Apostles can continue to preach the word.  There is an attention to the needs of the less fortunate, there is a sharing of authority, and an empowerment of the community.  These are all fruits of trusting Jesus to be our way.

The second effect of achieving our goal is a relationship with God the Father.  This is very directly what Jesus came to accomplish.  Jesus, the one who was completely united with the Father, came to our world so that we could have that same relationship.  That would not ever have been possible without Christ, because the only way to know the Father is to know him.  Because of their complete unity, when we see Christ, we see the Father.  As Jesus says to Philip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.  How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?  The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own.”  This also has implications for us believers.  Because people come to see Christ in us, they will come to see the Father in us as well.  This promise makes it all the more important that we make sure that we are not an obstacle to people coming to know the Lord.

And finally, the third effect of achieving our goal is that we can do great works in the name of Christ.  Some people say that Jesus never came to establish a Church, but today’s readings tell us that is patently false.  He certainly came to establish a Church, because after his death and resurrection, it was the actions of the Church that continued his saving work.  It was the Church that continued the healing, reaching out to the needy, preaching the Word, and all the rest.  And the Church continues this saving work in our own day.  We are empowered to do wonderful works: to preach, to heal, to serve and love in the name of Jesus Christ.  None of this happens on our own, or as a result of our own ambition.  It only happens by joining ourselves to the One who is the way, the truth and the life.

There’s a lot at stake in our Scriptures today.  There is a world that needs to know Jesus so that they too can know the Father and experience the joy of a real home.  There is a world that needs to know the touch of Jesus so that they can be healed and strengthened for life’s journey.  There is a world that needs to hear the Word of Jesus so that they can come to the way, the truth and the life.  It’s on us now, none of us can be passive observers or consumers only.  As St. Peter says today, we “are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that [we] may announce the praises’ of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  We are not home yet, but we can get there through our Jesus, our way, our truth, and our life, and we have to gather everyone we can, and take them with us!

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Today’s readings
#adventnd #christmasnd #advent #christmas

What has captured my imagination as I’ve prayed this Advent is how we have been given this wonderful gift. This gift eclipses anything we’ll ever be given, anything we will ever earn, anything that will ever cross our meandering path in life. Today, the readings call that gift Emmanuel – God with us. I think sometimes we forget how wonderful this is. That the infinite all-powerful awesome God, who is not in need of anything or anyone for His self-worth, that He would choose to come to earth and take the flesh of his creatures, this is a truth too wonderful to even imagine. But not only that, this God took on our imperfections so completely that he paid the price for our many sins, both individually and as a society. He died the death we deserve for our waywardness, and then he rose from the dead in the Resurrection that assures us access to eternal life, if we will but love and follow him. No gift on earth is like this one!

The most important thing that we can know about this Gift is that it isn’t just for us. It is for us, but never only for us. We are meant to share it. Because we have been loved by God who is Love itself, with a love so complete and sacrificial and permanent, then we have to be willing to love that way too. The people God puts in our lives: our family, our friends, our coworkers, our neighbors – all of them deserve to be loved in this same way too, and it’s up to us to be conduits of that love to others.

So we have to be on the lookout for ways to do that. Think about it: those of us who are here all the time could well, and often do, get our noses out of joint at this time of year. We put in all the effort to get here every week, so maybe the lack of parking and the packed seats inconvenience us to the point of irritation. But what if it didn’t?

What if, instead, we used this as an opportunity to put the discipleship we’ve been learning about all year long into practice? What if we chose to see Jesus in all of them, to be aware of Emmanuel – God with us – in such a way that we did everything we could to make their first time with us, or their first time in a long time, a memorable one? What if we as a parish decided that a loving relationship with our God was so glorious, so important, that we didn’t want anyone to go without one? What if, as a community, we decided there is nothing we won’t do to make those who visit us on Christmas irresistibly attracted to our community, so that when they’re here they think, “Those people at Notre Dame know something I don’t, and I have to find out what it is”? Well, that’s what I’d like us to try and do this Christmas.

I liken it to the whole way Jesus came into the world. We all know the story, don’t we? The whole world was on the move, headed to their native places to be counted for the census, and there wasn’t an inn anywhere that would take Mary and Joseph, and the coming Christ Child in. But one innkeeper made some room out back and gave the newborn King the best he could offer. We absolutely know that Christ is in our brothers and sisters, so how on earth can we turn them away? As Saint Benedict teaches his monks, “Let all guests be received as Christ.”

And so I’m going to make some suggestions for things that we can all do to make people feel welcome, to help them to know that there is a joy here in our community that has to be shared. First, make some room. I know we all want to get here first for a good parking spot. But if you can walk here, would you consider doing that, just to make a spot for a visitor? I can remember when my family would try to get to Mass as soon as possible to stake out a good seat, and I’d see so many people with coats over whole sections of a pew like they were lawn chairs on parking spaces in the city! We all want to have room, but if you can move in a little and let some other folks sit with you, would you consider being a bit uncomfortable so that someone can be welcome?

Lots of times people will come here and won’t know where they’re going. We all want to get to Mass on time, but if you see someone looking puzzled, would you consider taking a moment to ask if you could help them? If they’re looking for the bathroom, would you go out of your way just this once to walk them there so they don’t get lost in the crowds coming in on a busy day? Again, as intent as we are to get to our seats, if you notice someone coming in who needs some help walking, could you offer them your arm, or hold the door open?

We all like to see our friends and the people we know at Mass. It’s a comfort to us. So it might take a little concerted effort, but would you consider smiling at someone you’ve never seen before, perhaps introducing yourself and telling them what you like about Notre Dame? Because it just takes a tiny little gesture, or a little inconvenience for us, to make a huge difference. What if every person who walked through the door on Christmas Eve or Christmas had a life-changing experience because of the way that we treated them? We can do that, and I really think that we should. Would you all be willing to do a little something extra to make someone know God’s love in an awesome way? I’m counting on all of you to do that. If every Guest is received as Christ, then as Saint Benedict also said, we will all go together one day to eternal life!

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Today’s readings

Do you remember the best gift you ever got? What was it? Who gave it to you? How long did it last? Do you still have it? Every gift is a little different: some are big, some are small, some make a lasting impact, some are used up and soon forgotten. The best gifts are those that create a memory of good times; perhaps the best gifts are those that can be shared.

God gives us gifts too. And some are big, and some are small, but all of them are important to us and to others. In this season of giving, I’d like to take a moment to talk about God’s gifts, and how they are to be enjoyed, and there are four points I want to make.

First, God’s gifts are given to be used. They’re not supposed to be like an action figure that is to be kept in its package and preserved so it can be sold in ten years for a lot of money on eBay! It’s supposed to be used for our happiness and God’s glory. So if it’s a talent for sports, we ought to play. If it’s intelligence, we ought to study and research and invent. If it’s creativity, we ought to paint or act or sing. Keeping it in a box and denying it is an insult to the Giver.

Second, God’s gifts are never just for us. God gifts us in ways that we can build up our community and our world and help people to come to know God’s love for them. Always. Mary never could have kept Jesus to herself, and we’re not supposed to keep our gifts to ourselves either.

Third, we will never know how wonderful our gifts are until we share them with others. Our gifts are supposed to create memories and bring people together and help people to know God. When that happens, the full wonder of those gifts will be revealed to us, and we will enjoy them in ways we never could have before we shared them.

Finally, we don’t lose our gifts when we share them. They don’t get used up when we give them away. Just as Mary didn’t lose her Son when she gave him to the world, so we won’t lose what God has given us when we share it with others. That’s just how God’s gifts are.

In today’s Gospel, Mary received a gift. A little scary at first, yes, but a gift nonetheless. She received the gift of a Savior before anyone else did; her fiat meant that she received salvation before it was ever played out on earth. It was the best gift ever, and she got to watch it all unfold before her. Some of it was difficult and painful, but so much of it was amazing.

Because of Mary’s faith, God was able to send the best gift possible to be shared with all of us: the gift of his only-begotten Son. Jesus took on our flesh as a little baby, and grew to become a man like us in all things but sin. He walked among the people of his time and helped them to know of God’s kingdom. He eventually took on our sins and went to the cross for all of us, dying to pay the price for our sins, and canceling out the power that sin and death had to keep us from God. Because of Mary’s faith, we received the gift of salvation, if we would accept it.

And just like all our other gifts from God, those same four principles apply: we have to use, or live our salvation; we have to share the gift of salvation with others; salvation becomes more wonderful every time someone else is saved, and salvation is not something that ever gets used up – it’s meant for everyone.

So this is a bit of a “pep talk” for the coming feast of Christmas and how we are going to celebrate it as a parish family. We know the gift we’ve received. It’s wonderful and precious and amazing – the best gift we’ll ever get. But we can’t just put it on a shelf and look at it once in a while in wonder – we have to get it out there so everyone can come to salvation, everyone can get to heaven, everyone can know God’s love.

The most important thing that we can ever know about God is that he loves us. That’s why he created us, that’s why he came here to redeem us. So when a stranger comes here for Mass on Christmas and sits in your spot, maybe it’s someone who hasn’t heard that God loves them, at least not in any significant way. Maybe you moving over in the seat and welcoming them will help them to know that. Or in the parking lot, when someone is having difficulty or taking a little time, maybe your patience can help them to know that God is glad they are here. Perhaps rather than getting irritated about the vast crowds of people who never come here except for Christmas, you can say a prayer that the church would be full like this all the time. Every little thing you do can have a big impact on someone else, and if it brings them closer to our Savior, then you may have saved a soul.

And level two of this is offering the invitation. You know, like at the family party when someone is hurting and obviously needs to know the Lord. Or at the office party when someone wonders why you go to Church. We’re always supposed to be able to answer for our faith. So this year, we’ve given you two ways to do that. The first is the brochure What Does the Church Have to Offer ME? We mailed it out in the Advent/Christmas packets that went to your house, and we have some extras at the information desk. The intent is that you might save it and give it to someone who needs to know that the Church can be of help to them right now.

The second is the gift we’ll be giving at all the Christmas Masses. Last year we gave a book, this year, for the visual learners, we’re giving a DVD. It’s an episode of Father Bob Barron’s Catholicism series. What I want you to do is to watch it yourself, and then pass it on to someone. Either give it to someone who needs to know the Lord or has questions about the Church, or give it to a friend and ask them to do the same. What I don’t want you to do is to return it to the parish, like some of you did with the books last year. The intent is that they would be out there in the community, or even far from the community, so that the message would spread.

Our salvation, our relationship with God, is a gift, and it’s up to us to spread it around. It’s a shame if someone doesn’t know about God and his love for them. But if they don’t know because we didn’t use our gifts to tell them, then it’s a sin. This is the season for giving gifts. The very best gift you can give to anyone is a relationship with God. Whether it’s your children, or coworkers, or people in the neighborhood, your gift will do so much to make the world a better place. All we have to do is respond like Mary: “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word.”

The Fourth Sunday of Advent – Make Some Room!

What has captured my imagination as I’ve prayed this Advent is how we have been given this wonderful gift.  This gift eclipses anything we’ll ever be given, anything we will ever earn, anything that will ever cross our meandering path in life.  Today, the readings call that gift Emmanuel – God with us.  I think sometimes we forget how wonderful this is.  That the infinite all-powerful awesome God, who is not in need of anything or anyone for His self-worth, that He would choose to come to earth and take the flesh of his creatures, this is a truth too wonderful to even imagine.  But not only that, this God took on our imperfections so completely that he paid the price for our many sins, both individually and as a society.  He died the death we deserve for our waywardness, and then he rose from the dead in the Resurrection that assures us access to eternal life, if we will but love and follow him.  No gift on earth is like this one!

The most important thing that we can know about this Gift is that it isn’t for us.  Well, that’s not true: it is for us, but never only for us.  We are meant to share it.  Because we have been loved by God who is Love itself, with a love so complete and sacrificial and permanent, then we have to be willing to love that way too.  The people God puts in our lives, our family, our friends, our coworkers, our neighbors – all of them deserve to be loved in this same way too, and it’s up to us to be conduits of that love to others.

So we have to be on the lookout for ways to do that.  Last week, Father Steve preached at all the Masses and gave some very practical ways for each of us to gently invite our loved ones and friends to a relationship with Christ at our family gatherings and other Christmas events.  Every encounter with others should be a time for us to be ready to share God’s love with the people in our lives.

Today, I am talking at all the Masses to speak on another opportunity I believe that we have.  That opportunity is the one that we’ll have when we walk through the doors of this holy place on Tuesday or Wednesday.  God willing, our Masses on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day will be packed, as they usually are on those days.  These are days when we have more people come through our doors than any given Sunday.  We have lots of visitors, family members of our parishioners, people from the community who don’t regularly join us for worship, people who are seeking something in their lives, people who perhaps have a hard time believing in anything this time of year, maybe those who have been going through hard times or family strife, or any of a million different stressors.

Those of us who are here all the time could get our noses out of joint at this time of year.  We put in all the effort to get here every week, so maybe the lack of parking and the packed seats inconvenience us to the point of irritation.  But what if it didn’t?

What if, instead, we used this as an opportunity to put the discipleship we’ve been learning about all year long into practice?  What if we chose to see Jesus in all of them, to be aware of Emmanuel – God with us – in such a way that we did everything we could to make their first time with us, or their first time in a long time, a memorable one?  What if we as a parish decided that a loving relationship with our God was so glorious, so important, that we didn’t want anyone to go without one?  What if, as a community, we decided there is nothing we won’t do to make those who visit us on Christmas irresistibly attracted to our community, so that when they’re here they think, “Those people at Notre Dame know something I don’t, and I have to find out what it is”?  Well, that’s what I’d like us to try and do this Christmas.

I liken it to the whole way Jesus came into the world.  We all know the story, don’t we?  The whole world was on the move, headed to their native places to be counted for the census, and there wasn’t an inn anywhere that would take Mary and Joseph, and the coming Christ Child in.  But one innkeeper made some room out back and gave the newborn King the best he could offer.  We absolutely know that Christ is in our brothers and sisters, so how on earth can we turn them away?  As Saint Benedict teaches us, “Let all guests be received as Christ.”

And so I’m going to make some suggestions for things that we can all do to make people feel welcome, to help them to know that there is a joy here in our community that has to be shared.  First, make some room.  I know we all want to get here first for a good parking spot.  But if you can walk here, would you consider doing that, just to make a spot for a visitor?  I can remember when my family would try to get to Mass as soon as possible to stake out a good seat, and I’d see so many people with coats over whole sections of a pew like they were lawn chairs on parking spaces in the city!  We all want to have room, but if you can move in a little and let some other folks sit with you, would you consider being a bit uncomfortable so that someone can be welcome?

Lots of times people will come here and won’t know where they’re going.  We all want to get to Mass on time, but if you see someone looking puzzled, would you consider taking a moment to ask if you could help them?  If they’re looking for the bathroom, would you go out of your way just this once to walk them there so they don’t get lost in the crowds coming in on a busy day?  Again, as intent as we are to get to our seats, if you notice someone coming in who needs some help walking, could you offer them your arm, or hold the door open?

We all like to see our friends and the people we know at Mass.  It’s a comfort to us.  So it might take a little concerted effort, but would you consider smiling at someone you’ve never seen before, perhaps introducing yourself and telling them what you like about Notre Dame?  Because it just takes a tiny little gesture, or a little inconvenience for us, to make a huge difference.  What if every person who walked through the door on Christmas Eve or Christmas had a life-changing experience because of the way that we treated them?  We can do that, and I really think that we should.  Would you all be willing to do a little something extra to make someone know God’s love in an awesome way?  I’m counting on all of you to do that.  If every Guest is received as Christ, then as Saint Benedict also said, we will all go together one day to eternal life!

Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

“Athirst is my soul for the Living God.”

The Psalmist today sums up what is going on in the entire Liturgy of the Word.  In the book of Acts, we see that even the Gentiles seek salvation in Christ, and Peter learns that those God has called to holiness cannot be treated as unclean.  In the Gospel, we have the image of the Good Shepherd – a bit of a re-run from yesterday – whose voice the faithful hear in the depths of their hearts.

At the core of our creation, all of us – and not just the “us” who are here in this church, but all people – all of us yearn for the Living God.  This is not surprising, because God made us – all of us – for himself, in his own image.  This is an important point for us Christians to get: God made all of us, created us good, created us for himself.  And so, deep down inside, every person yearns for the Living God.

And it’s this realization that makes our lack of unity so very troublesome; it’s this realization that puts the work of evangelization on the front burner.  God created only one People and Christ established only one Church.  God made us to be one, and one with him, and it is sin that has driven us apart and kept us apart for so very, very long.

And so our goal as God’s people is to become one in him who made us, and one in him who redeemed us.  The work of evangelization is so important because God’s creation will not be complete until all of us are one.  And so we disciples have to make it our life’s vocation to see to it that everyone who knows us hears Christ in us, we have to open doors so that people can come to Christ and we have to tear down barriers of hostility or elitism.  The souls of every person cry out, “Athirst is my soul for the Living God.”  Who, then, are we to hinder God’s unifying work?

The Third Sunday of Lent [A]

Today’s readings

Winter is always rough on people, health-wise.  If it’s not the flu, then it’s some sort of virus making its way around.  That’s been true this winter for sure.  Staff members here at church and people in my family have been coming down with one form or another of seasonal illness, and I was glad I got my flu shot this fall.  But this week it was my turn: despite the flu shot, I had a fever, fatigue and some light-headedness that made me think it was a sinus thing cranked up a few notches.  It’s been hard to shake it.  One thing you learn when you have a fever or something like that is that you should drink a lot of water.  But eventually, that becomes tiresome: you get sick of drinking just plain water, no matter how good it may be for you.  So this week I supplemented it with tea, of course, and I even gave myself permission to do something I don’t do very often, and that was to drink some soda – 7up or ginger ale mostly. And those drinks tasted better than just plain water, for sure, but because they are sugary, sooner rather than later I’d be thirsty again, and the only thing that really helped was – water.  I drank a lot of water this week!

 

I thought about that experience as I was preparing today’s homily, because this set of readings are all about water.   When the Church talks about water, it sees something different than most of the world does.  Water is a striking image in the literature of our religion: when we hear of water, maybe we think about the waters swirling around before creation, or the waters of the great flood.  During Lent, we might think often about the waters of the Red Sea, through which the Israelites passed as they fled from slavery in Egypt.  We might think of the water that flowed from the Temple in Isaiah’s imagery, that gave life to all the world.  And of course, as we near Good Friday, we cannot help but remember the water and blood that flowed from the side of Christ, giving life to the Church.  And then we could think sacramentally, couldn’t we?  Whenever we see this much discussed about water in the Sunday readings, we should always think of a certain sacrament. Guess which one? Right, baptism. And so we’ll talk about that in just a minute, but before we go there, let’s take a minute to get at the subject of thirst. That, after all, is what gets us to water in the first place.

 

The Israelites were sure thirsty in today’s first reading. After all, they had been wandering around the desert for a while now, and would continue to do so for forty years.  At that point, they were thinking about how nice it would be if they had just remained slaves in Egypt so that they wouldn’t have to come all the way out here to the desert just to die of thirst.  Better slaves than dead, they thought.  The issue was that they didn’t have what they thirsted for, and had not yet learned to trust God to quench that thirst.  So Moses takes all the complaining of the people and complains to God, who provides water for them in the desert.  Think about that – they had water in the desert! And they had that water for as long as they continued to make that desert journey.  Read the whole story of the Exodus – it’s a good Lenten thing to do – they never ran out of water, they didn’t die of thirst, God proves himself trustworthy in a miraculous way.  The end of the reading says they named the place Massah and Meribah because they wondered, “Is the LORD in our midst or not?”  What a ridiculous question!  Obviously, the answer was “yes.”

 

Which brings us to the rather curious story we have in the Gospel reading.  If we think the story was all about a woman coming to get a bucket of water, then we’ve really missed the boat, to misuse another water metaphor!  This story asks us what we’re thirsting for, but at a much deeper level.  Did Jesus really need a drink of water?  Well, maybe, but he clearly thirsted much more for the Samaritan woman’s faith.  Did she leave her bucket behind because she would never need to drink water again?  No, she probably just forgot it in the excitement, but clearly she had found the source of living water and wanted to share it with everyone.

 

In the midst of their interaction, Jesus uncovers that the woman has been thirsting for something her whole life long.  She was married so many times, and the one she was with now was not her husband.  She was worshipping, as the Samaritans did, on the mountain and not in Jerusalem as the Jews did.  And every single day, she came to this well to draw water, because her life didn’t mean much more than that.  She was constantly looking for water, or something that would quench her unsated thirst.  She didn’t even know what she was seeking, and yet she was thirsty all the time.

 

And all of this would be very sad if she hadn’t just found the answer to her prayers, the source of living water.  One of my favorite hymns is a hymn written by Horatio Bonar in 1846 called “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say.”  This hymn is sung all during the year, but I think it may be the quintessential Lenten Hymn.  One of the verses speaks beautifully to this wonderful Gospel story:

 

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Behold, I freely give
the living water; thirsty one,
stoop down and drink, and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank
of that life-giving stream;
my thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
and now I live in him.

 

Which is exactly what happened to the Samaritan woman, isn’t it?  She drank of the stream of Jesus’ life-giving water, and she now lived in him.  She couldn’t even contain herself and ran right off to town, leaving the bucket of her past life behind, and told everyone about Jesus.  They were moved to check this Jesus out, initially because of her testimony.  But once they came to know him as the source of life-giving water, they didn’t even need her testimony to convince them; they too lived in him now.

 

But remember that I said earlier that, whenever you see this much about water in the readings, the point is always baptism.  The readings for this Sunday are particularly chosen for the First Scrutiny in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.  So if we had anyone becoming Catholic in our parish, which we don’t this year, we would be reflecting in a particular way on their upcoming baptism.  The Catechumens of the Church in these Lenten days are, like the Samaritan woman, coming to know this Jesus who is the source of life-giving water.  Since we have no Catechumens in our parish this year, I want us to reflect on two things.

 

The first thing is to reflect on our own baptisms.  Because we too find baptism in our Lenten journey.  Lent, as is often pointed out, means “springtime” and during Lent we await a new springtime in our faith.  We await new growth, we look for renewed faith, we recommit ourselves to the baptism that is our source of life-giving water.  We have what we are thirsting for, and Lent is a time to drink of it more deeply, so that we will be refreshed and renewed to live with vigor the life of faith and the call of the Gospel.  As we approach Easter, then, we should reflect on our own baptisms, perhaps received before we could even understand or remember them, but certainly renewed as we have journeyed through life.  Those baptisms have called us to a particular way of life, leaving behind the buckets of life in the world and the well that can never really quench our thirst, so that we can embrace Jesus the Lord, our source of life-giving water.  He alone gives us water in such a way that we will never thirst again.

 

The second thing is to commit ourselves as a parish to the task of evangelization.  Just because we have no Catechumens this year doesn’t mean that there is nobody unbaptized among us.  We all know people who need to know the Lord.  Maybe they are unbaptized, maybe they are baptized in another Church, or maybe they are just not practicing any religion.  But because we know the source of life-giving water, they we know that everyone should be drinking of that water.  We have to bring the message to them.  Maybe not by preaching on the street corner, but more by the witness of our lives.  We might also need to extend the invitation, bring someone to Mass, encourage them to join us.  These Lenten days take us to Easter and beyond with water that we can pour out in every time and place where God takes us.  The life we receive in baptism can revive a world grown listless and droopy and make it alive with springs of refreshment that can only come from the one who gives us water beyond our thirsting, that follows us in our desert journeys, that springs up within those who believe.

 

The Israelites wondered, “Is the LORD in our midst or not?”  Surely we cannot be as unbelieving as they were.  We see the marvels God does for us, we experience the assurance of our faith in good times and in bad.  We see lives changed as they embrace the faith.  So how would we answer the question, “Is the LORD in our midst or not?”  Absolutely, yes he is, always and forever.  Amen.