Sunday, March 19, 2017

Thirst, hope, a well, and life-giving water

I preached today, but I am not posting my homily. In thinking about the readings for the Third Sunday of Lent, I am struck by thirst, hope, a well, and life-giving water.

Faith in Christ is your own deliverance from Egypt. This faith that St. Paul declares justifies, liberates you from sin and death. Sometimes, as with the Israelites of old, as you make your way through life's deserts, it is only natural to sometimes wonder, "Is the Lord with me or not?" What prompts this question are circumstances that suggest God may not be present, at least not in a way you expect or would like him to be.

In his book Patience with God, Fr. Tomáš Halík suggests that love happens when faith and hope have been obliterated. It's an interesting take and a fairly convincing one framed as it is in the life of St. Thérèse of Lisieux and rooted in St. Paul's discourse on the matter (1 Cor 13:1-13). While Halík provides a worthwhile discussion on the primacy of love, my own view remains a bit more synthetic. I agree that when a person learns to love perfectly s/he also knows perfectly and, therefore, faith and hope reach their destination as a person realizes her/his destiny.

I believe the question, "Is God with me or not?" ought to prompt two things. First, it ought to prompt one to call to mind what the Lord has already done for her, which includes how he did it. Second, it gives one the opportunity to become more mature in her faith. Maturity in faith enables us to use what is happening, even that which is unpleasant and causes suffering, for bringing about God's purposes in and through us. In light of today's readings, there seems to be an important sense in which the Dos Equis motto, "Stay thirsty," applies to faith.

Thirst, I think, easily relates to what St. Paul wrote to the Christians in ancient Rome in the passage that is our second reading. Hope is the aspiration for something not yet fully realized. What I believe distinguishes hope from wishing is trust. Trust can only be built through experience. This trust goes back to the fact that God did not free you in order to lead you into the desert to die. The experience of the ancient Israel is recapitulated in Jesus' forty days in the desert, where he was tempted. The apostle mentions the love of God being poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. God's love is life-giving water. It was created, sustains, and is now redeeming all that is. If hope is the flower of faith, then love is its ripe fruit.

God is mystery. As such God is unfathomable depth, the bottom of which you can never reach. But, as Luigi Giussani succinctly stated, human beings are a direct relationship with the Mystery. This is why the question "Why?" constitutes our humanity. It is the concrete manifestation of the fact we are made in God's image.

In Jesus, God, who is Mystery, became one of us. The Christian answer to the question posed in a song made popular by singer by Joan Osborne more than 20 years ago, "What if God was one of us?", is: "For us men [in the original Greek anthropos- neuter term for human being- in Greek the neuter is distinct from both the masculine and feminine, unlike English, in which it is identical to the masculine] and for our salvation, he came down from heaven and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man."

The life-giving water Jesus gives us is himself. He doesn't just want us to drink it, but to be immersed in the water, which refers to baptism and is a metaphor for the very life of God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For my money, the best definition of grace is God sharing divine life with us. Divine life is constituted by love. As Scripture conveys: "God is love" (1 John 4:8.16).

St. Teresa of Kolkata (a.k.a. Mother Teresa of Calcutta) took as her motto these words of Jesus: "I thirst." The Lord uttered these words as he hung on the cross (John 19:28). That Jesus thirsted for the Samaritan woman more than she thirsted for him is expressed well in the Preface for the Eucharistic Prayer for the Third Sunday in Lent:
When He asked the woman of Samaria for water to drink, Christ had already prepared for her the gift of faith. In His thirst to receive her faith He awakened in her heart the fire of Your love

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