Sunday Sermon for March 20, 2022, the Third Sunday of Lent, Year C
Readings: Ex 17:3-7; Rom 5:1-2, 5-8; Jn 4:5-42
In the Gospel reading today our Lord asks the Samaritan woman for a drink. Since Jews would never use the utensils of a Samaritan, the woman is taken aback by this request. Jesus provides an even greater surprise by telling her that if she knew the One to Whom she was speaking, she would have asked Him and He would give her living water. Not understanding the statement of our Lord and thinking it would keep her from having to make the daily trek to the well, the woman asks for the water so she would no longer feel thirst.
What the woman did not understand was our Lord’s description of how the water He gives would become a spring welling up to eternal life. The water of which our Lord speaks is His grace. Sanctifying grace is the life of God Himself, and grace is the beginning of eternal life in our souls. So, we can certainly understand our Lord’s statement in this manner.
However, the context the Church provides for us with the other two readings allows us to see this gift in a different light. In the second reading, St. Paul tells us that it is through faith in Jesus that we have access to grace. Once again, we can apply this to the water of which our Lord speaks. However, St. Paul did not stop there. Instead, he goes on to say that we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Faith allows us to receive God’s grace in this life, but hope, which builds upon that faith, opens our hearts to this “water” can spring from within and reach toward Heaven, toward the glory of God.
Once again, St. Paul does not stop even with this. Rather, he continues on to say this hope will not disappoint because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us. This is the “water” that is to pour out from our souls. Seen this way, we can say that faith obtains grace for us, hope opens the heart, and charity provides the spring for the grace to well up and overflow from within us.
When we look at our own selves, we might think this is not possible. After all, we may not see a lot of evidence that grace is overflowing from our hearts. On the natural level, it may be that we are putting a barrier in the way of the working of God’s grace by failing to cooperate fully with the faith, hope, or charity the Lord has given us. It may also be that we are afraid to allow our hearts to open up to either receive God’s grace or to pour it forth from within ourselves.
Fear of opening our hearts is a problem experienced by many people. If we have been hurt or violated in the past, we are loath to open our hearts, even to God Who loves us. In essence, we pull into ourselves and do everything we can to protect ourselves from getting hurt. This causes a spiritual calcification that leads to what we might call a petrified heart, a heart of stone.
Thankfully, the Lord knows us all too well and has provided for us. In the first reading the Lord instructs Moses to strike the rock so water would be released for the people and the livestock to drink. There are pretty simple explanations of how this happened, but all that stops when St. Paul speaks of the rock that followed the people through the desert. There is no natural explanation for this.
Regardless, God wants our hearts to be opened. If we are unable to do this on our own by cooperating with His grace, then we need to put the Theological Virtues spoken of above into practice. We need to have faith that God has forgiven our sins and filled us with His grace. We need to pray for hope that God will provide the means of opening our hearts. Finally, we need to earnestly implore the Lord for charity so the love of God and neighbor will burst forth like a torrent from within our hearts. It begins, as our Lord tells St. Photina (the woman at the well) with asking Him for this grace.
Depending on our circumstances, it may take something painful or extraordinary to pry our hearts open. Remember, nothing is impossible for God. Moses struck the rock with his staff and water flowed out. Tell God to do whatever it will takes, then continue to pray and trust. He wants this even more than we want it, so ask with faith, open with hope, and He will give you give you grace and charity springing up to eternal life.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.