Fr. Bryan Howard
3rd Sunday of Lent – Year A – 15 March 2020
Blessed William Hart said, “The joy of this life is nothing; the joy of the afterlife is everlasting.” Blessed William Hart was born at Wells, England, in 1558 and raised as a good Anglican Protestant and was educated at Oxford. His studies lead him to recognize the truth of the Catholic faith and he soon converted to Catholicism. Remember, this was a big deal in 16th century England, because Catholicism was illegal, some Catholics were martyred, and many Catholics, if they were found out, were ostracized from society or even their families. William, however, felt a call to share the faith that he had found, and so he travelled first to France and then Rome to study theology and was ordained as a priest. He went back to England to minister to the hidden Catholic communities until he was betrayed and arrested. He was martyred for his faith on this day, March 15, 1583. What is it that caused Blessed William and so many others to go to their martyrdom joyfully? Why do so many of the saints, like Mother Theresa, dedicate their lives to the poorest of the poor? What is it that brings notorious sinners, and even those who hate the Church, like Blessed Bartolo Longo, to turn back to God? In the words of St. Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.”
The Samaritan woman wasn’t looking to meet Jesus when she went to the well that day. In fact, she didn’t expect to see anybody. The Gospel tells us that it was about noon, which is the hottest part of the day. Ordinarily you would go get your water as early as possible, before it was too hot, and because you would probably need it to start your cooking and work for the day. This woman went at noon, probably so she could avoid the rest of the people in town, and, more importantly, so she could avoid their whispers and judging looks. This was a woman who’d had five husbands, and was currently with someone who wasn’t her husband. We can all relate to the woman because we’ve all done things that we were ashamed of, that we didn’t want anyone to know about, that we hid away, perhaps even from ourselves. So, the woman comes to the well, the source of life, and encounters Jesus. We, too, encounter Jesus especially in those dark corners of our lives. God never gives up on us. He’s always calling us back to Himself, reaching out to us, knocking on the door.
Turning back to the Gospel, Jesus asks the woman to give Him a drink, and she’s surprised, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” The Samaritans were descended from Israelites, but when they were conquered by the Assyrian Empire many of them were taken into other lands, and some of the people of those lands were moved into Israel. The Samaritans had intermarried with those people and gotten caught up in worshiping their pagan gods, so the Jews considered them unclean and didn’t mix with the Samaritans at all. Sometimes our sins make us feel like we’re unclean or tainted. We might wonder how God could possibly forgive us. Do any of you remember the George Strait song, “A Father’s Love?” At the end of the song he dreams that he died and was standing outside the pearly gates thinking that there must be a mistake, because they would never let him in if they knew half of what he’d done, and then he hears God’s voice, “Daddies don’t just love their children every now and then, it’s a love without end.” We may think we’re not worthy of love, but it has nothing to do with worthiness. God loves us because we’re His children, and He wants to free us from the bonds of sins and the pain and damage that sin causes, and share His life and love with us.
Jesus answers 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.” When she misunderstands He continues, “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.” We sometimes think that we have to overcome our sins and get our lives in order before we can have a relationship with God, but that’s exactly backwards. How can we possibly overcome our sins without God’s help? We want to go to God on our terms, but we need to give everything over to God, even, and especially, those dark corners that we’d prefer to remain hidden. We need to accept the living water, the Holy Spirit, from God and let it fill us with His life and goodness and truth.
There’s another time in John’s Gospel when Jesus has something to do with water and marriage: the wedding feast at Cana. The Blessed Mother noticed that they were running out of wine, so she asks Jesus to help, and He tells the servers to the six stone water jars with water and turns the water into wine. The Blessed Mother performs two roles here. First, she goes to Jesus on behalf of the couple, who would have been extremely embarrassed to run out of wine at the wedding party. The Blessed Mother also goes to the Lord on our behalf, to implore Him to give us the living water, the Holy Spirit, so we can grow in union with God. However, she also tells the servers, “Do whatever He tells you.” That is what our Blessed Mother tells us, “Do whatever He tells you. Draw close to Him. Follow Him.” The Blessed Mother is our advocate before God, but she is also God’s advocate with us. The Holy Spirit, of course, if The Advocate, as Jesus calls Him, always calling us to the Lord, and bringing the grace of God to us.
The miracle of the water and wine points forward to another miracle involving wine, when our Lord will turn the wine into His very Blood. In John 6 Jesus said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” If we wish to have life, to live to the full, as God is calling us to live, then we must listen to the voice of God, turn to Him in repentance, and ask Him to give us the Holy Spirit.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.