Detail from "Christ and the Samaritan Woman" by Duccio (1308-11)
Psa 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
Rom 5:1-2, 5-8
Lent is not merely a season, but a journey, an encounter, and a time of purification. Benedict XVI, in his 2011 Lenten Message,
focused on these three aspects of Lent, stating, “As she awaits the
definitive encounter with her Spouse in the eternal Easter, the Church
community, assiduous in prayer and charitable works, intensifies her
journey in purifying the spirit, so as to draw more abundantly from the
Mystery of Redemption the new life in Christ the Lord …”
Today’s readings reveal the purpose of this journey, the meaning of this encounter, and the reason for this purification.
Israelites, liberated from slavery in Egypt and save by the miraculous
passage through the Red Sea, grumbled against Moses. Their anger toward
Moses, who had been chosen by God to free them, had erupted after a
short time in desert: “But you had to lead us into this desert to make
the whole community die of famine!” (Ex 16:3). They become perversely
nostalgic about their former slavery, saying, “Why did you ever make us
leave Egypt?” (Ex 17:3). Because they lacked faith in God, they longed
for the false security of chains and subjection. Faltering in the
journey toward the promised land, they tested God.
can reveal to us the fragility of our faith, the frailty of our hope,
the feebleness of our love. We might be tempted to blame God for our
struggles with sin; worse, we may long for the comfort of sinful habits.
It may seem easier to return to the slavery we know than to journey in
faith toward the kingdom of God.
But in the midst of fasting from
food and other temporal things, God provides sustenance. He is the Rock
from which issues the gift of living water. The Samaritan woman
encountered and tasted this water, of course, when she spoke with a
mysterious Jewish man at Jacob’s well. Her encounter is a turning point,
but it does not come easily or without questions. The paradox in the
encounter is that while the woman thinks Jesus is thirsty for ordinary
water, he really thirsts to give her supernatural life. For, as St.
Augustine observed, Jesus “had not asked for the kind of water that she
herself had understood, but … he himself was thirsty for her trust and
was desirous of giving the Holy Spirit to her in her own thirst…”
however, she began to realize that Jesus was inviting her to begin a
new life, free from sin and selfishness. Sitting alone with Christ,
looking upon his face and hearing his words, she began to be
transformed. The process of repentance and conversion commenced, until
she was able to give testimony to her neighbors of her encounter.
the Samaritan woman, we need to encounter Jesus, to look upon his face,
to hear his words. “In that woman, then, let us hear ourselves,” wrote
Augustine, “and in her acknowledge ourselves, and in her give thanks to
God for ourselves.”
This thanksgiving comes from recognizing and
embracing the gift of purification and holiness. This is the
supernatural gift of justification, which is the restoration of
communion with God, through his grace and mercy. “Since we have been
justified by faith,” wrote St. Paul to the Romans, “we have peace with
God through our Lord Jesus Christ…” This access to God is by faith,
which is accompanied by the surety of hope and the outpouring of God’s
live into our hearts. The three virtues of faith, hope, and love
“dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity.
They have God for their origin, their motive, and their objectGod known
by faith, God hoped in and loved for his own sake” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1840).
as the Holy Father explains, is “a journey of conversion towards
Easter” that causes us to “rediscover our Baptism”, through which we
were transformed into children of God by water and the Holy Spirit.
(This "Opening the Word" column originally appeared in the March 27, 2011, issue of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)