Offers food for thought
Part three of the Lenten Series
Readings: Exodus 17:3-7; Psalms 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9; Romans 5:1-2, 5-8; John 4:5-42 or 4:5-15, 19-26, 39
Jeremiah proclaimed that the time was coming, when God "will put my law within them. I will put my law within them, and write it on their hearts." (Jerimiah 31:33) The woman at the well in the Gospel reading for the 3rd Sunday of Lent, from John 4:4-42, experienced the grace of God that touched the place within her soul that Jerimiah spoke of, and moved her to be able to encounter Christ.
Not all experiences of the Divine Presence are as dramatic as the Transfiguration event which we listened to from the Word of God, last week. (Matthew 17:1-8) Just as with this woman at the well, Christ comes into our daily lives under the most ordinary of circumstances. Sometimes it’s not convenient and often it’s not the way we expect. I’m sure this woman wasn’t expecting to find a Jewish Rabbi, thirsty and tired, asking for her to give him water out of her impure bucket. I’m sure she wasn’t expecting to meet someone who would gaze into her heart and help her to see how she had gone astray in life. I’m sure she wasn’t expecting the Messiah to reveal himself in such a strange and ordinary moment, and yet love broke into her hardened heart and she was able to see how she was far away from God and yet in that moment, so close. She was able, to allow Christ to soften her heart, to allow God’s mercy through Christ, to draw her back and to give her a vision of a better life. To give her greater understanding of what it’s all about. She embraced that moment and in that instant, something in her was profoundly and immediately changed. He satisfied her heart’s desire. He satisfied her thirst for more. He led her to the waters of life.
This same knowledge of and desire for God is within you and I, and is always working to draw us to the wellspring of encounters with Christ and experiences of grace. This is true whether we have been baptized and received the Holy Spirit or not. Whether it is by sanctifying grace or actual grace, God is seeking to satisfy our deepest desires for the fullness of the divine life which is offered to all, and made possible through the victory of the Cross.
In those encounters with Christ and experiences of grace, God invites us to freely respond, just as we see how the woman at the well responded. We must move freely toward him and receive what is offered to us and thereby enter into that communion of love. When we do that, at any moment in our lives, when we respond to that universal call to holiness, God immediately touches and directly moves our hearts. He has placed in man a longing for truth and goodness that only he can satisfy and promises of "eternal life" respond, beyond all hope, to this desire.
Even though our souls hunger and thirst for this encounter of grace, for real encounters with Christ which speak to our hearts and draw us back to our true selves, people created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). We instead spend so much time and energy striving to satisfy that desire with myriad things. We are often like the Israelites who were thirsty and fed up. With having so much difficulty in life. With getting what they need. With wanting what they need. With having to struggle and work so hard. (Exodus 17:1-7) Like them, in those moments we question whether God is even there. We don’t perceive his presence and without even realizing what’s happening around us. We’re so concerned with the more temporal needs of the moment. We become what the Psalmist warns against (Psalm 95:7-8); our hearts become hardened by the experiences and frustration of life.
In today’s Gospel the Samaritan woman epitomizes someone within whom Gods grace is active and inspires within her a thirst for real love, but she has not yet been moved to turn from living as she does. She is living a life of frustration and alienation, of loneliness and inner turmoil because she is divided within herself and seeking to satisfy her desire for God’s love and mercy through sin. So, she wasn’t completely unaware of the idea or the importance of God, but it didn’t really affect the way she lived her life. How much is that true of us, and how much more do we realize that during the Lenten season when we search our hearts and we seek renewal and refreshment in the Lord, when we allow the light of Christ in us to expose those parts of our lives that are not yet surrendered to God. And those ways in which we live like there is no God, or that the existence of God doesn’t matter. It doesn’t affect our day to day life choices.
Then, in the middle of the day, in the course of the daily grind love brakes through. Maybe even in answer to the prayers of someone who loved and cared for her. Who hoped that she too would find peace in Christ. Who hoped that her life would be changed because of an encounter with Christ. How many have prayed for you or I in our lives when we’re having difficulty or when we’ve gone astray. How often have you done the same for people that you love?
When love breaks into our world as it did for her, it’s an experience of grace and a moment of conversion. This experience at the well draws a picture for us, not only of first love, first conversion of heart toward God… but also of encounters with grace in Christ throughout our lives that invite us to deeper conversion. To greater surrender, and to a more faithful embracing of living our lives in that freedom and in that love and in that mercy. More and more transformed, into what we were created to be.
The Lord knows when he is dealing with a hardened heart and he will meet us, reveal himself to us just as he did for the woman at the well. He is eager to satisfy our thirst and lead us into the waters of life. He is eager for us to respond to his love, mercy and forgiveness just as she did… complete conversion and unhesitatingly eager sharing of the good news to anyone and everyone. When she shared her experience of saving love, over the course of the next 3 days, many experienced the same encounter with Grace that she had experienced. Who knows what will happen if we do the same. And this happens through transformative encounters with Christ by Grace, total conversion to the Gospel vision of life.
Saint Augustine said (De Corrept. et Gratia ii) "without grace men can do no good whatever," and "Not only do they know by its light what to do, but by its help they do lovingly what they know." Because, "as the eye of the body though most healthy cannot see unless it is helped by the brightness of light, so, neither can a man, even if he is most righteous, live righteously unless he be helped by the eternal light of justice."
Once we have fully surrendered ourselves to Christ, and become adopted sons and daughters of God through baptism, it is the sanctifying grace of that sacrament by which we receive the Holy Spirit and which justifies and sanctifies us. It is also through this grace that we receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit which enable us to participate in the divine life and mission; to enable us to collaborate in the salvation of others and in the growth of the Body of Christ, the Church.
It is the Holy Spirit who is the person of God who is most close to us, because all the sons and daughters of God are ‘Temples of the Holy Spirit’. (1 Corinthians 6:19) It is there that the Holy Spirit is constantly at work empowering us to grow in virtue, dwell in peace, and enter more fully into the life of the Holy Trinity.
Christ wants to make this difference in our lives, just as he did with the Samaritan woman and Lent is a time to seek renewal in that love, to seek encounters of Grace with God and to seek a violent stirring of our souls by the Holy Spirit; to satisfy that thirst again, to repent, believe and firmly resolve to accept no substitutes.
Make a daily trip to the well. The well, a symbol of prayer, where we encounter Jesus. When we pray, we draw from the well of God's grace, wisdom, and love, refreshing and nourishing our souls. Our souls are thirsty, and Jesus is waiting at the well of prayer.
“Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (John 3:5)
Part One of the Lenten Series
Part Two of the Lenten Series
Part Four of the Lenten Series
Part Five of the Lenten Series
Part Six of the Lenten Series
Conclusion of the Lenten Series
Audio version of this homily, as preached at Mass
Peace doesn't just happen; it's made.
CampusPadre is a college ministry Priest Chaplain with 30 years experience in youth and young adult ministry, who strives to let the Holy Spirit lead and challenges students to seek holiness above all.