March 23, 2014

Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent, 2014, Year A

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH



One of my favorite Scripture quotations is, “As cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.” (Proverbs 25:25)

Today, however, I feel I should quote Samuel Taylor Coleridge: “Water, water, every where, nor any drop to drink.” The first half of the quotation seems apt for today’s readings. Water, water everywhere!

In their wanderings in the desert, the Lord led his people to an area where, as we read: “There was no water for the people to drink.” The dramatic scene depicted in the first reading follows immediately. Here water is obviously meant in the strictly literal sense.

Water is even more prevalent in today’s Gospel. The word occurs eight times in Jesus’ conversation with the woman of Samaria. But here, as often happens in John, the literal sense is soon eclipsed by a deeper symbolic sense. As we read, it becomes clear that Jesus is using the image of water to talk about the gift of grace. Even when the conversation turns to other things, the same reality is present. Worshiping God “in Spirit and truth” is, after all, possible only for those who have received the “spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

What about the reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans? True, the word “water” does not occur, but the symbolic sense is present nonetheless. St. Paul writes, “The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Poured out like what, if not like water?

This conjuction of water and Spirit goes right back to the beginning of the Old Testament. Most translations of Genesis 1:2 read, “The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” So too in the New Testament. Early in all four Gospels we find John the Baptist saying that while he baptizes with water, the one coming after him will baptize with the Holy Spirit. On the day of Pentecost, Peter begins his discourse with a quotation from the Prophet Joel: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all mankind.”

“Pouring out” occurs as well in another, quite different context, quoted in every Mass. “This is the chalice of my blood... which will be poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.”

Which takes us back to the first reading: “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” This same idea is expressed in a wonderful poem attributed to St. Francis Xavier, translated from the Latin by the brilliant poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. It reads in part:

O God, I love thee, I love thee---
Not out of hope of heaven for me...

Thou, thou, my Jesus, after me

Didst reach thine arms out dying,
For my sake sufferedst nails and lance,
Mocked and marred countenance...

Yea, and death, and this for me.
And thou couldst see me sinning!

The water of baptism cleanses us. The blood of the Eucharist saves us. The Holy Spirit is present in both.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t just make an appearance once a year at Pentecost. Lent is certainly a good time to open our hearts and minds to the constant presence of the one whom we call in the creed, “the Lord, the giver of life.”

Spirit, Spirit everywhere. And always more to drink.

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