Friday, March 1, 2013

Quenching Parched Souls

Third Sunday of Lent 
(With Scrutinies: Year A Readings)

Throughout our lives, we thirst and hunger for many things. We thirst and hunger for food and water, for shelter and warmth, for clothing and things that will make us happy. But I believe that the greatest thirst of all is the thirst for love. It is a longing, an ache that ebbs and flows within us along our journey depending on the season of life we find ourselves in.  At times, the ache may seem unnoticeable. Feelings of contentment, purpose, affirmation, and love consume our hearts and all in the world is well. In other moments, feelings of rejection, failure, pain, or insecurity can siphon the life right out of us leaving an emptiness that is beyond palpable. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta once said in an interview: “The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.” In today’s individualistic world, where everyone seems to be taking care of his own selfish needs and consumerist society busy manufacturing artificial substitutes to satiate our obsessive craving, we need true love more than ever.

Contrary to popular myth, loneliness is not just the exclusive domain of those who have no kith or kin. Loneliness is universal; in fact a human existential – we were each born with a cavity in our hearts. Although we may be surrounded by people all the time, by our family members and friends, we can still feel lonely. The reason for this is that deep down inside of us is this yearning to be loved, understood and accepted by someone. We try our best to please the people around us in order to gain their love and acceptance. We try to fill that emptiness that constantly gnaws at our soul. Over the years we will come to realise that no amount of possessions, friends or power will be able to satisfy this thirst and hunger of ours. There is only thing that can satisfy that thirst – it is God’s love. In the timeless words of St Augustine, “Thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” Therefore this thirst, this yearning, this desire, this longing is not a mere human reality. It is put there by God as a reminder of his desire to share his own life with us and to symbolise the Christian’s longing to be with God forever.

Today, the readings use the symbol of water to represent the ever abiding and ever faithful love of God. Man can survive without food for a few days but he cannot survive for long without water. A major part of our body composition is made up of water. Without water we will die. It is thus the apt metaphor for life, or rather that which is necessary for life. But here the author of the Fourth Gospel makes an intriguing claim - Without God, we will die and our death will be eternal.

In the first reading, God allows Moses to perform the miracle of making water flow from rock to feed the physical thirst of the Israelites in the desert. But in the gospel, Jesus promises a far greater source of water – living water that surges up from the depths of our being, water that can be accessed without the use of a bucket, i.e. human ingenuity and machination. The story tells of two thirsty persons who meet at a well. Jesus, sweaty, weary, thirsty, comes to the well with a parched throat. The Samaritan woman, on the other hand, came to the well with a parched soul. Unlike the woman, Jesus has no bucket and the well is deep. The reason for this was not just an oversight on his part, a passing traveller. The reason for this was that he had not come to quench his thirst, but rather to quench the thirst of the world; our thirst for God. Her thirst for love and for salvation was more profound than his physical thirst for water. That is why she had been married five times and now lives with someone who is not her husband. She sought fulfillment and meaning in the arms of a mate. She drank from the well of relationships – a well that continued to run dry because void of Christ and self-worth, these relationships could not meet her inner longing. Her thirst for acceptance, purpose, and worth had yet to be quenched and she spent years suffering.

Throughout the conversation, Jesus’ goal was to help the woman recognise her greatest need so He could supply her with the only gift that would meet that need: a God who saves; a God who loves her unconditionally; and a God who will forgive her sins. She had spent her life trying to find love and acceptance in all the wrong places. Jesus promised the Samaritan woman and each of us that if we were to drink from this water, we will never be thirsty again. Christ offered her the living water of the Holy Spirit—the only thing that would quench her spiritual and emotional thirst. Only God can satisfy our every hunger and thirst. Only God’s love can reassure us that we are precious and worthy of love. In the eyes of her fellow townspeople, she was a sinner beyond redemption. But not so in God’s eyes. Jesus promises her, a sinner and an outcast, the water of life – God’s love and forgiveness.

The story of the Samaritan woman’s thirst can be understood in the light of what St Augustine has written about the ambivalence of desire. For St Augustine, spiritual growth begins with desire. Left to ourselves, desire turns inward on our own pleasure and lust, as Augustine experienced for years. The solution, however, is not to destroy inner desire but to transform it. Created in God’s image, we were made to desire—to reach outside of ourselves toward the “other”—both God and other people. Our hearts were created for the ‘Other’ and will never be complete until we are united with the ‘Other.’ When Augustine repented of fleshy desire and focused his pursuit on the Lord, he began a life of radical commitment to Christ. Desire does not cease when we experience salvation. Rather, this is when our relationship with the Lord truly begins. Desire keeps us ever seeking the Lord, the source of Living Water.

Like the Samaritan woman, we can at times be so intent on desiring for the wrong things and on getting our immediate needs met that we fail to see God’s hand reaching out to us in love, offering what will truly satisfy. This world is filled with wells that promise to provide love, acceptance, and self-worth but never fully satisfy. Many of us turn in desperation to the fountains of the world seeking a drink; where alcohol, food, outside relationships, addictions, entertainment, money or constant busyness fill our cup. And, yet, like the Samaritan woman, we still thirst. Only Christ can fill our empty souls for eternity and provide for our essential emotional needs now. Don’t wait till your soul is empty and the well runs dry. Look for Jesus now. Thirst only for him. He alone can quench the thirst of your soul.

Today, Jesus promises each and every one of you the water of life. If you drink of this water you will never be thirsty again. If you have experienced the unconditional love of God, you will no longer crave for other lesser substitutes. Cease your search for other wells; they will all run dry. You have found the source of Living Water, where you will thirst no more.

Today, our elect will undergo the First Rite of Scrutiny, a rite that will be repeated three times over the next three Sundays. Through this rite, they will be examined and prayed over so that they may receive abundantly the graces promises by Christ during Easter.

My dear Elect, you have been waiting these past few months to receive the waters of baptism. In a way, you have been thirsting for this water. You will not have to wait long. Soon, you will be able to drink from the fountain of eternal life.

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