Tag Archives: Lent

Restoring the Samaritan woman to community

Many people in the world – mostly women – get up early and go to the community well or water spigot to gather water. I remember, when I spent several months in rural El Salvador, Esteban calling out very early, “Get up. It’s time to fetch water.”

Several months later, the community had a common spigot. I remember the first day that water came. People were lined up with their colorful water jugs, waiting in line, at the tap.

Fetching water is a communal event. The people, almost exclusively women, gather at the well or the community spigot in the cool of the morning to fetch water and to share the news (and the gossip) of the community.

Woman at the Well

in the Vatican Museum

And so in today’s Gospel (John 4) it is strange to find the Samaritan woman coming alone in the heat at noon. Something was wrong.

And then she encounters a solitary Jew.

Can you imagine her consternation when he addresses her and asks for water? The Jews despised and looked down on the Samaritans and considered themselves superior in many ways – not least of all in their religion. And he is a man and men do not talk in public to women.

Yet Jesus initiates contact with this woman who was probably alienated from her village. After all she had had five husbands. Perhaps she comes to the well alone and at noon to avoid the condemning looks and the remarks of the other women.

But a Jewish man does not command her to give him water but, as one in need, asks for a drink.

A spirited conversation follows and Jesus offers her living water.

How long had she come alone to fetch water? How long had she endured being marginalized? How long had she felt shame for her situation?

Perhaps she was tired of all this and when Jesus offers her living water, she realizes the deep thirst within her that cannot be sated by coming to the well or by her five former husbands or the man she’s now living with.

Jesus opens her up to her deepest thirst, her deepest desire.

The water Jesus gives her is different. It is the water that quenches our deepest desires, our deepest thirsts. But more than that, Jesus notes

the water I shall give will become in [the person] a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

It is not a water merely from the outside; it is a water that opens up a spring in our very hearts, where we can worship God in spirit and in truth.

And what does this water do for us? Note what this gift of water did for the woman.

She left behind her water jug and goes into town.

She leaves behind the sign of her lonely struggle to satisfy her own thirst on her own terms. She goes and tells the people about the Messiah she has experienced.

She is no longer isolated. She is an apostle, a missionary to her people. The one who had been an outcast becomes the one who brings news of great joy.

And then she returns to the well – not alone but with the people of the village.

A stream of living water is flowing out of her, watering her neighbors who no longer look on her as an outcast, but join her in going out to meet this Jesus, who satisfies our thirsts.

And when they encounter Jesus, they too have their thirsts satisfied and find in themselves springs of that living water.

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.

May we recognize our thirsts and our ways of trying to satisfy them. Even more let us open our thirst to receive the living water, and let that Living Water of Jesus flood our hearts so that we too may find in ourselves “the spring of living water that wells up to eternal life” and share it with all who thirst for real Water.

ARE WE BEING TRANSFIGURED?

On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus is revealed in his divinity – with Moses and Elijah – before three close apostles.

As Paul wrote to the Philippians (2: 6-7), Jesus did not grasp on to his divinity, but humbled himself to take on our humanity.

During the Offertory of the Mass, as water is added to the wine, the priest or deacon prays

By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share our humanity.

The transfiguration should remind us that we are called to God’s life, divinity, which is our deepest nature – made, as we are, in the image and likeness of God.

Today as we contemplate Jesus transfigured on the mountain, we should recall that God calls us to be transfigured – and to be present with God in the transfiguration of all creation.

Today we also remember the martyrdom on March 12, 1977 – forty years ago – of a good priest, an old man, and a boy on the road between Aguilares and El Paisnal in El Salvador. Padre Rutilio Grande, a Jesuit,  was killed because he sought the transfiguration of the people of El Salvador, especially the people of his parish.

But he sought not merely a transfiguration political or social, but a transfiguration of the whole person.

Almost seven years before his death he preached a sermon in the San Salvador cathedral on the feast of the Transfiguration. With many people present, including political leaders of the country he gave an impressive and strong homily.

He noted:

Christ our Savior came to save the entire person, to transfigure it in this sense into a new person, authentically free of all situations of sin and misery, self-determining and free to enjoy all the privileges of being a child of God, conquered by the triumph of the resurrection of Christ. This transfiguration of the person so conquered, proclaimed, and demanded by Christ and his followers has its starting point in baptism, the holy commitment of each baptized with the resurrected Christ.

We are transfigured in our baptism, called to live a transfigured life.

But this was not for Padre Grande only something personal, least of all individualistic. He probed deeper:

And so we return to the question: Is the Salvadoran person transfigured?
Is the immense majority of the Salvadoran people, represented by our peasants, transfigured?
Is the minority transformed, the one that has in its hands all the economic power, decision-making power, control of the media, and means of communication?
There must be some painful confessions.
Many baptized in this country have not accepted the demands of the postulates of the Gospel that demand a transfiguration.
Therefore, those same people are not transfigured in their mind and in their heart and they put a dam of selfishness in front of the message of Jesus our Savior and the demanding voice of the official witnesses of Christ through the Church, the pope and his bishops!

As I look around me here in Honduras, I see many who are transfigured by their encounter with the Lord.

But what Padre Grande saw in El Salvador in 1970 I also see today in Honduras. I do not see a people transfigured. I see a people crushed under the weight of poverty and corruption. I see leaders who seek their own glory and don’t let the glory of God shine through in the people. I see a people despised by those with wealth and power who many times do not see their glory as children of God. I see a people who are treated as pawns in power struggles, handed “gifts” from party and government officials who only want their votes and do not want a people who think for themselves and seek to be the protagonists of their history.

This, for me, is evident today, primary election day in Honduras, a day where partisan politics takes a central place in the life of the nation. No public gatherings are allowed, but we will have Mass in several places.

Partisan politics here has taken on a role that the lack of real organization of the people has left empty. It has almost become a type of idolatry. I don’t see it transfiguring the people.

But I have hope since I see small signs of people who have been transfigured by their faith and are working quietly in the transfiguration of their communities.

This is the transfiguration Honduras needs and lacks.

And so I pray that as Christ came to share own humanity, we may share his divinity and live as children of God, brothers and sisters in Jesus, transfigured.

Mural-Rutilio-Grande-El-Paisnal

Painting in El Paisnal of Romero and Rutilio


The quotation from Rutilio Grande’s sermons was adapted from Thomas Kelly, Rutilio Grande, SJ: Homilies and Writings (Liturgical Press, 2015). The Spanish can be found in Romero-Rutilio: vids encontradas (UCA editores, 1992).

The fast of Mother Drexel

“If we live the Gospel, we will be people of justice
and our lives will bring good news to the poor.”
Saint Katherine Drexel

Katherine Drexel came from money, but also from a house in Philadelphia where prayer and open doors for the poor were part of her growing up.

She saw a need for responding to blacks and Native Americans (who were called “Colored and Indians” in her day) and asked the pope to send priests for them. Pope Leo XIII told her to be a missionary. And she did.

She founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to work with blacks and Native Americans, founding schools and even Xavier University in New Orleans.

Though she and her sisters inherited millions, she never used the money for her congregation but assisted others in responding to needs of the marginalized.

Though it might seem that her approach was mostly what some would term “charity,” it is important to realize that Mother Drexel also spoke out against segregation before the civil rights movement. Her sisters were threatened for their commitment to blacks.

She is one of those who live out today’s reading from Isaiah 58:

This, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.

May we too be people who respond to those in need as missionaries of the love, justice, and mercy of God.

A grain of wheat and the witness of Romero

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground
and dies,
it remains alone.
But if it dies, it produces much fruit.
John 12: 24

The evening he was killed at the altar of the Divine Providence cancer hospital in San Salvador, Monseñor Oscar Romero preached on this theme. Here are a few lines from that homily:

You have just heard in Christ’s gospel that one must not love oneself so much as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life that history demands of us, and that those who try to fend off the danger will lose their lives, while those who out of love for Christ give themselves to the service of others, will live, live like the grain of wheat that dies, but only apparently. If it did not die, it would remain alone. The harvest comes about only because it dies, allowing itself to be sacrificed in the earth and destroyed. Only by undoing itself does it produce the harvest….

This is the hope that inspires us as Christians. We know that every effort to better society, especially when justice and sin are so ingrained, is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God demands of us…. Of course, we must try to purify these ideals, Christianize them, clothe them with the hope of what lies beyond. That makes them stronger, because it gives us the assurance that all that we cultivate on earth, if we nourish it with Christian hope, will never be a failure. We will find it in a purer form in that kingdom where our merit will be found in the labor that we have done here on earth….

Dear brothers and sisters, let us all view these matters at this historic moment with that hope, that spirit of giving and of sacrifice. Let us all do what we can. We can all do something, at least have a sense of understanding and sympathy….

[I]t is worthwhile to labor, because all those longings for justice, peace, and well-being that we experience on earth become realized for us if we enlighten them with Christian hope. We know that no one can go on forever, but those who have put into their work a sense of very great faith, of love of God, of hope among human beings, find it all results in the splendors of a crown that is the sure reward of those who labor thus, cultivating truth, justice, love, and goodness on earth. Such labor does not remain here below but, purified by God’s Spirit, is harvested for our reward.

The holy Mass, now, this Eucharist, is just such an act of faith. To Christian faith at this moment the voice of diatribe appears changed for the body of the Lord, who offered himself for the redemption of the world, and in this chalice the wine is transformed into the blood that was the price of salvation. May this body immolated and this blood sacrificed for humans nourish us also, so that we may give our body and our blood to suffering and to pain — like Christ, not for self, but to bring about justice and peace for our people.

Let us join together, then, intimately in faith and hope at this moment of prayer….

As he finished these words, a shot rang out from the back of the chapel and Monseñor Romero, the voice of the voiceless, was killed instantly. But his death has brought life and inspiration to many – from poor shacks in Central America to churches throughout the world.

His message is a challenge for all of us, to live out our mission as the people of God.

——

Thanks to Whispers in the Loggia for reminding us of this powerful quote from a martyr and saint of our time.