Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Third Sunday of Lent, Year A
March 23, 2014
Ex 17:3-7, Ps 95, Rom 5:1-2.5-8; Jn 4:5-42
To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below:
The text that guided this homily is as follows:
Jesus’ Thirst and Ours
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, promised that he would leave all of his other sheep behind and go in search of whatever sheep of his was lost. Today we see him putting that truth into action, in his encounter with the Samaritan Woman at the well. She was the Liz Taylor of her day, who had married five times already and was then living with a sixth man who was not her husband. Her behavior had led to her being ostracized from the community, as was evidenced by her going alone to draw water at the well at high noon, at the height of the piercing sun, when no one else for obvious reasons would have been there. Had she gone in the cooler times of the early morning or late afternoon, when everyone else was accustomed to be there, she likely would have been the butt of criticism from other women for her past and present. Jesus went to await her at the most brutal moment of the day. In his conversation with her, not only did he break two social conventions — that Jews didn’t speak to Samaritans and that men didn’t speak to women alone in public places — but most importantly he taught her and through her us about the two essential realities about our spiritual life: God’s grace, symbolized by the “living water” he describes, and our desire or “thirst” for that water.
Upon the Cross, Jesus said “I thirst,” and his thirst was not principally for wine mixed with gall but for us, for souls, so that he might fill us with himself, with his love, with his divine life. His whole life was an insatiable quest to give us that spring of living water gushing up within us to eternal life. This morning in his Angelus meditation in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis said, “Jesus’ thirst was not so much for water but to encounter a parched soul. He needed to meet the Samaritan woman to open up her heart. He asks her for a drink in order to bring into the light the thirst that she bore within herself.” The Eucharistic Preface we will pray later in this Mass reminds us that when Jesus “asked the Samaritan woman for water to drink, he had already created the gift of faith within her and so ardently did he thirst for her faith that he kindled in her the fire of divine love.” Just like our body cannot exist without water — the human body is in fact 60 percent water — neither can our soul survive without this living water. Jesus, through whom both our body and soul were created, knows both realities, and came as the divine physician to give us the soul-sustaining remedy to the woman at the well and to each of us.
The Living Water
What is this “living water” exactly? Jesus describes what it is in two places in St. John’s Gospel. It is nothing short of God’s divine life — what we call in theology the Indwelling of the Blessed Trinity. In one place, he identifies the living water as the presence of the Holy Spirit; in the other, he identifies it as his own presence through the holy Eucharist. But we know that whenever one of the divine persons is present in a soul, the other two persons in the one God are likewise present. Jesus’ two descriptions of that living water show us how that holy H2O quenches our deepest thirst:
In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus said: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” St. John tells us: “He said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive” (Jn 7:37-38). This presence of the Holy Spirit within us is what St. Paul is describing in the beautiful passage from today’s second reading: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Elsewhere in St. John’s Gospel, when Jesus prophesied how the “bread” that he would give would far surpass the Manna in the desert given to the Jews, he stated: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.… for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them” (Jn 6:35; 55-56). The indwelling of the Blessed Trinity occurs through the Sacraments, when people who are thirsty come to Jesus who fills their hearts with this living water. This reality begins with the life-giving waters of baptism when we first received within us Jesus, the water who saves. But this saving water continues in every sacramental encounter, most particularly in the Eucharist, when we receive Jesus, the incarnation of that life-giving water, within our bodies and souls.
Jesus wants to give us this living water of the Holy Spirit, of his life-giving flesh and blood, of the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity, but his will is not enough. He placed a condition on his own omnipotence; he won’t force us to drink of that water. Paraphrasing the old cowboy aphorism, we can say, “Jesus will lead us stubborn horses to water, but he won’t make us drink.” He wants us freely to ask for it, to desire it. We see this very clearly in his invitation to the woman at the well: “If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would ask him, and he would give you living water.” And the woman used her freedom to say, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty!” In the same way, we need to have a desire for God, for his life inside. We need to thirst for him. And we need freely to ask him to give us that water to quench our thirst. We know on the other hand, as we prayed in today’s Responsorial Psalm, that many times when we hear the Lord’s invitation, we can respond not with thirst but with hardened hearts. “If today you hear his voice,” we sang, “harden not your hearts.” That’s what happened to the Israelites in the desert and can happen to us. Just like God had Moses strike a rock and have it flow with cool water to quench the Israelites’ thirst, so God can strike our hardened hearts and have it overflow with living water, but he won’t do this unless he’s invited, unless we ask him for that water, unless we crave it.
In one of the most beautiful psalms, which the Church prays in the Liturgy of the Hours on the first Sunday of the month and on every major feast day, this necessary thirst for God is highlighted: “O God, you are my God, for you I long, for you my soul is thirsting. My body pines for you like a dry, weary land without water” (Ps 63:1). The question each of us needs to ask as we pray this psalm, however, is “Do I really mean what I’m saying?” God wants each of us to say, “in spirit and in truth,” “Give me that water!” He hopes that each of us will sincerely exclaim, “My soul pines for you!” But if we mean those words, if we thirst for God, certain behaviors would follow. If we thirst for God, we will pray as much and as well as we can. If we thirst for God, we will get to know him much better in Sacred Scripture. If we thirst for God, we will make the sacrifices to cross the deserts of human life to adore Him and receive him in the Eucharist as often as we possibly can. If we thirst for God, we will seek to quench his thirst in those who are needy.
Examples of the thirst for which Jesus is thirsting
Last weekend as you know I was in Alabama preaching a retreat for lay people and I was so happy to see people whose lives were pining for God like a dry weary land without water. They were thirsting to spend time with God, to grow in faith and to learn from the teachings of Pope Francis what reform God was asking of them this Lent. One retreatant had come all the way from Austria! Another had come from Ohio. Others had driven for eight hours from Florida. Many others several hours from southern Louisiana or Kentucky. There was one 90 year-old guy who came and was taking copious notes so that he could respond better to what God wanted of him. It was extremely moving to see their desire to grow in faith. But I saw something even more inspiring when I then went to Louisiana to preach a parish mission. It was for Our Lady of Wisdom Parish, which is located in the heart of the campus of a big secular university, the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, famous for training engineers. Every day at daily Mass, the Church was packed with a couple of hundred people, mostly university students, using their lunch time to come to allow Jesus to feed their deepest thirst. Throughout the day, there were many students stopping into the Church to make holy hours. Twice a day, at 11 am before the noon Mass and from 5-6:30 before the nightly mission, the pastor, parochial vicar and I were hearing confessions, and we couldn’t finish them all in time; we had to return after Mass or the evening talk to hear those we couldn’t get to beforehand. I found it very moving the confessional I was using had frosted glass on the outside with an image, very similar to today’s bulletin cover, of Jesus speaking to the woman at the well. Both of them had a cup in their hands, Jesus with the water the woman gave him, and the woman with the cup waiting for Jesus to pour into it the living water of his revivifying mercy. Finally, at night, I was preaching a conference of 75 minutes to a packed Church full of students and others of every generation, who were all thirsting for God and asking for more. That was shown by the fact that each night, after the conference, I uploaded the audio as well as my notes to the CatholicPreaching.com website and so many went to listen to the talk again or share it with others that each night the website crashed because of too much use. Their souls were thirsting for God and it was amazing and inspiring to see!
I give God thanks that I’ve found a similar thirst in many of the parishioners here. I saw it a couple of weeks ago in the couple of dozen parishioners who went each night to the Fall River Deanery Catholic Mission, entering more deeply with Fr. Pignato’s help into the Lord’s Paschal Mystery. I behold that thirst in those who are on fire to get to know God’s word better and come every Wednesday night for the Bible Study. I see it in those who make it a point to come to let Jesus quench their desires at daily Mass. It’s obvious in those who have signed up for Eucharistic Adoration and come to spend time with the same Jesus with whom the Samaritan woman had her conversation at Jacob’s well. I witness it especially in those who take the nighttime hours, who thirst for God more than they thirst for sleep. I frankly long for, and am working for, the day when every parishioner will be marked by a contagious passion to spend time with Jesus in prayer, to come to receive him every day they can, to listen to and spread his word, to receive regularly his mercy, to share his love with their friends and his goodness in charity toward the needy. The reason why I long to see it is because if we, like the Samaritan woman, were to recognize who it is who speaks to us in Sacred Scripture, feeds us in Holy Communion, forgives us in Confession, visits with us in Eucharistic Adoration, and lets himself be loved by us in charity, we would all readily be saying to him in each of these ways, “Lord, give me this water always!” Many of us, however, will honestly admit that we don’t really thirst for God like we ought to, like a man in the desert would. Rather than having hearts out of which “flow rivers of living water,” our hearts can be stony, stubborn, and lifeless. But we need to ask God to strike those hearts so that the rivers of Christ’s love can flow.
Our spiritual life is like a family that gets a company to come drill a well in their yard. Often they need to burrow through layers of rock and various geological formations to tap that underground stream or aquifer. But that’s only the beginning. They next need to keep that well free of leaves, of debris, and of various contaminants. Then they need to pipe that water into their house. And finally they have to use the water to give life to their daily activities. It’s the same way with our souls. We need to ask God to drill the well. He’ll need to get below the surface or superficial layers of our life, to burrow through the various rocky strata, to go deep, to tap that source of living water. Once it’s drilled in baptism, we need to keep that well clean of the toxins of sin and free of the various debris that can clutter it up — all those daily activities that we think we “have to do,” when the only thing we really have to do is to let God love us and love him and others in return. The next step is that we need to have that living water pumped into the various rooms of our life and put the water to use. We need to drink that water and have it fill our souls. We need to use it to clean ourselves of whatever dirt we can into. We need to bathe in it. And we need to use it to water the various gardens of activity that characterize our life. Some of us haven’t cleaned the well in years. Some of us have pipes full of rust. Some of us have allowed it to become contaminated and hence, we’re receiving poison when we think we’re receiving only life giving water. Some of us have pure water, but turn on the faucets so little, like an hour on Sundays or a few minutes before we go to bed, that we’re not nearly as hydrated with God’s living water as he wants us to be.
Lent is time for us to examine that water system and help us to take advantage of that gift! It is the season to help us allow the water to flow unimpeded. We’re called to increase the quality and the quantity of our prayer time, going to the source of life-giving water and begging him to give us a drink. We’re called to fast, which is a means by which we “clean the pipes” of all types of spiritual rust. We’re called to sacrifice ourselves and what we have, sharing that life-giving water with others in need. The greatest alms of all is when we give others the greatest gift of all — who is Jesus. Just like the Samaritan woman, who left her bucket at the well and ran to spread news about Jesus to all her townspeople, such that they themselves recognized that Jesus is indeed “the Savior of the world,” so we, too, this Lent, are called to go to all our fellow citizens here in greater Fall River and bring them to the one who wants to give us this saving water.
Leaving our jugs behind
In his Angelus meditation, Pope Francis pondered what it meant that the Samaritan woman left her water jug there at the well, so changed was she by her conversation with Jesus. “The result of that encounter at the well was that the woman was transformed. She left her water jug with which he had come to get water and ran into the city to tell others of her extraordinary experience. … She was full of enthusiasm. She had gone to take water from the well but had found another water, the living water of mercy that flows to eternal life. She found the water for which she had always been searching. She ran to the village that was judged, condemning and rejecting her and announced that she had found the Messiah who had changed her life. … In this Gospel, we, too, find the stimulus to ‘leave our own jug,’ a symbol of everything that seems important to us but that loses its value before the ‘love of God.’ All of us have one or more than one of these water jugs. I ask you and ask myself, ‘What is my interior jug, which weighs you down, which distances you from God?’ Let us leave it and listen with our heart to the voice of Jesus that offers us another water, one that brings us closer to the Lord.”
Welling up to eternal life
Whether we respond to Jesus’ invitation today is something of great stakes. If we really drink of the life-giving water of Jesus, it will lead us to heaven. But if we don’t, if we respond to his offer with hardened hearts, our lives will be dessicated in this world and we risk having them absent of Christ’s living water forever. Jesus tells us that the living water he wishes to give us will form a geyser welling up within us flowing up to eternal life. This desire, this thirst, is supposed to lead us to heaven. During my six years in Rome, I was a Vatican guide to the necropolis buried underneath St. Peter’s Basilica where the crucified body of the Rock on whom Jesus promised to build his Church was buried in the first century. When the emperor Constantine in he 320s was planning to bury the entire necropolis underground so that the altar of the Basilica of St. Peter could be built right on top of St. Peter’s tomb, he allowed the pagan families to remove all of their dead ancestors to necropolises elsewhere in the city. At the same time, Christians took advantage of the change in laws to move their dead into the necropolis. They didn’t care that it was going to be buried underground, presumably forever. They just wanted to bury their loved ones as close as possible to St. Peter, so that he would show them a special “love of neighbor” and pray for them to enter eternal life. And in that necropolis you see a huge contrast between pagan and Christian burial practices. One of the pagan understandings of the afterlife was that it was a huge frat party led by the god of drinking Bacchus (also called Dionysius) who would be dragged around the afterlife by a centaur-driven carriage with a large carafe of wine in his hands keeping everybody’s glasses full and spirits high. The pagans also used to take out huge straws to pour wine down into the sarcophagi or the urns of their loved ones so that their deceased family members could join in their wine-filled celebration here on earth. When Christians came into the necropolis, what you started to see was that they would place a counter-image on their title plates. I remember one —of a woman named Amelia Gorgonia — whose husband hewed a recycled title plate himself. On the side her epitaph, he depicted an image of the woman at the well, indicating that his wife was like the Samaritan woman today, who had asked Christ for the living water welling up inside of her to eternal life. Because of that living water, there was no need for Bacchus to keep everyone’s glasses full, because we had Christ, the living water, the one who had turned water into wine, on the inside, quenching all of our thirsts, all of our desires, forever. If we wish to have our desires fulfilled forever in heaven, the way we prepare ourselves for that is by imbibing Christ the living water as much as we can now.
In the last book of the Bible, in which Jesus speaks to us from within the heavenly Jerusalem, he reiterates what he said to the Samaritan woman and what Amelia Gorgonia and her husband believed with all their hearts. He states: “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life” (Rev. 21:6). Then he gives us an incredible invitation; he is not forcing anything on us, but as with any invitation, we have to respond. “The Spirit and the bride (the Church) say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift” (Rev. 22:17). Jesus is inviting us to the eternal wedding banquet, where he will quench our thirst forever. He gives us the means to give our RSVP in the sacraments, in prayer, and in the moral life that flows from faith. But Jesus also wants to help us to anticipate that heaven by quenching our deepest desires here on earth, by saying to us about our forestaste in that heavenly banquet — the Mass — “Come!”
Taking the Water as a Gift
In the beatitudes, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for holiness.” To thirst for sanctity is to thirst for God. Jesus promised that those who so thirst “shall be satisfied,” and he’s faithful to his promises. If we are truly thirsting for him — and not for something or someone else — the Eucharist will be the greatest earthly satisfaction and joy we could possibly receive, because here we receive Him for whom we thirst “like a dry-weary land without water.” We consume Him “for whom our soul pines.” And we enter more fully into that life giving stream that brings us back to its Source, God himself, in that kingdom were we hope to drink of that life-giving stream to the dregs forever. The Holy Spirit and the Church say, “Come! Take the water of life as a gift!” May we respond to that invitation with an ever greater thirst, and say “in spirit and truth” to Jesus now, “Give us that life giving water always!”
The readings for today’s Mass were:
the people grumbled against Moses,
saying, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?
Was it just to have us die here of thirst
with our children and our livestock?”
So Moses cried out to the LORD,
“What shall I do with this people?
a little more and they will stone me!”
The LORD answered Moses,
“Go over there in front of the people,
along with some of the elders of Israel,
holding in your hand, as you go,
the staff with which you struck the river.
I will be standing there in front of you on the rock in Horeb.
Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it
for the people to drink.”
This Moses did, in the presence of the elders of Israel.
The place was called Massah and Meribah,
because the Israelites quarreled there
and tested the LORD, saying,
“Is the LORD in our midst or not?”
PS 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD;
let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us joyfully sing psalms to him.
R/ If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us bow down in worship;
let us kneel before the LORD who made us.
For he is our God,
and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.
R/ If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Oh, that today you would hear his voice:
“Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as in the day of Massah in the desert,
Where your fathers tempted me;
they tested me though they had seen my works.”
R/ If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
ROM 5:1-2, 5-8
Since we have been justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have gained access by faith
to this grace in which we stand,
and we boast in hope of the glory of God.And hope does not disappoint,
because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
For Christ, while we were still helpless,
died at the appointed time for the ungodly.
Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person,
though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die.
But God proves his love for us
in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar,
near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.
Jacob’s well was there.
Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well.
It was about noon.
A woman of Samaria came to draw water.
Jesus said to her,
“Give me a drink.”
His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.
The Samaritan woman said to him,
“How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”
—For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.—
Jesus answered and said to her,
“If you knew the gift of God
and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘
you would have asked him
and he would have given you living water.”
The woman said to him,
“Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep;
where then can you get this living water?
Are you greater than our father Jacob,
who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself
with his children and his flocks?”
Jesus answered and said to her,
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again;
but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst;
the water I shall give will become in him
a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him,
“Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty
or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Jesus said to her,
“Go call your husband and come back.”
The woman answered and said to him,
“I do not have a husband.”
Jesus answered her,
“You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’
For you have had five husbands,
and the one you have now is not your husband.
What you have said is true.”
The woman said to him,
“Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.
Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain;
but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”
Jesus said to her,
“Believe me, woman, the hour is coming
when you will worship the Father
neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
You people worship what you do not understand;
we worship what we understand,
because salvation is from the Jews.
But the hour is coming, and is now here,
when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth;
and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.
God is Spirit, and those who worship him
must worship in Spirit and truth.”
The woman said to him,
“I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ;
when he comes, he will tell us everything.”
Jesus said to her,
“I am he, the one speaking with you.”
At that moment his disciples returned,
and were amazed that he was talking with a woman,
but still no one said, “What are you looking for?”
or “Why are you talking with her?”
The woman left her water jar
and went into the town and said to the people,
“Come see a man who told me everything I have done.
Could he possibly be the Christ?”
They went out of the town and came to him.
Meanwhile, the disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat.”
But he said to them,
“I have food to eat of which you do not know.”
So the disciples said to one another,
“Could someone have brought him something to eat?”
Jesus said to them,
“My food is to do the will of the one who sent me
and to finish his work.
Do you not say, ‘In four months the harvest will be here’?
I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest.
The reaper is already receiving payment
and gathering crops for eternal life,
so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together.
For here the saying is verified that ‘One sows and another reaps.’
I sent you to reap what you have not worked for;
others have done the work,
and you are sharing the fruits of their work.”
Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him
because of the word of the woman who testified,
“He told me everything I have done.”
When the Samaritans came to him,
they invited him to stay with them;
and he stayed there two days.
Many more began to believe in him because of his word,
and they said to the woman,
“We no longer believe because of your word;
for we have heard for ourselves,
and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”