3rd Sunday of Lent
Do you understand what you believe? Do you believe what you understand?
Jesus challenged the woman at the well on this. She had questioned his nationalism. "How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?" She questioned his veracity. "Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water?” She questioned his authority. “Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob?” She questioned his piety. “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem." To Jesus, none of that mattered. She needed to understand.
If you only knew who was sitting here with you and to whom you are speaking. And he proceeded to open her eyes.
It is through reason that we understand with the head. It is through prayer and contemplation and worship that we understand with the heart. If all you have is book learning then your faith has no motivation. If all you have is emotion, your faith has no roots. It is like the person Jesus said builds his house on sand. When trials and tribulations blow there is no conviction there to keep it from being torn down.
Conviction comes from the heart. Why is it that sports teams that have the most talent do not always win the championship? Every player knows the rules of the game, and all of them possess great skills. It is what is in the heart that makes them champions. It is the heart that gives them the strength and courage to go further, to excel, to conquer in the face of great adversity.
The woman at the well was faithful to her understanding of her beliefs, but that alone would not ensure her salvation. It was not until she had a conversation with her God, one to one, face to face, did she begin to understand. And that conversation was brutal and honest. It brought into the light what had been going on in the darkness.
I think it’s the same with many people today, maybe even with most people today. Why do you worship the way you do? Why are you Catholic and what do you really understand about your faith? How much have you studied what your Church teaches you? How much time have you spent in contemplation and prayer to try to ascertain why those teachings are necessary for your life? How has that brought you face-to-face with Jesus? Are you inspired by your beliefs? Do they change you? Do they change the people around you?
I think we cradle Catholics oftentimes worship out of a sense of obligation or fear or habit, without ever trying to understand the what or the why. When you come here on Sunday, do you really listen to the readings as they are being proclaimed? Is that the only time in your week that you experience the scriptures? Is the weekly homily the only time you think about what the scriptures are trying to tell you, to change you? Do you fully participate in the Mass every Sunday? Is this the only time you pray?
I think the reason I am Catholic is that I have studied and contemplated my faith and it makes sense to me. It’s reasonable. I believe I have a good understanding of what I believe and therefore can see its relevance in my life and its place in the world. I can also explain it to others in a logical way. But that only takes me so far. Like the woman at the well, once she gained a better understanding of who the person before her was, she was able to not only change her own behavior, but bring others to Christ.
I’ve said many times before that unless you can internalize the intellectual you cannot make it personal. Unless you have an actual encounter with Jesus yourself all you will have is a bunch of knowledge. Knowledge and understanding can help stoke the fire within you, but it is not the fire itself. Knowledge does not drive people to be greater than they were. Knowledge is only the starting point for conversion.
It takes looking into the very eyes of your Savior.
The apostles had a good understanding of their faith, but what compelled them to leave hearth and home and become the most influential human beings in history was their personal relationship with Jesus. He was not just an intellectual exercise to them. He was their friend and brother.
For over 25 years I have had the privilege of walking alongside hundreds of adults who have answered the call to become Catholic. Each of them has a unique story of their call. Some are dramatic. Some have gone through some horrific experiences. Some have battled some pretty strong demons. But all have one thing in common: they all were looking for that personal encounter with God. Something had called them to the Church, but it wasn’t until they experienced the touch of Jesus that they felt they had made the right decision. It wasn’t until then that they felt at home.
We may call these encounters conversion experiences, and they are, but for most of us our conversions are much more subtle. We encounter God in the stuff or our everyday lives, many, many times, and each encounter requires a response from us to God’s outreach.
Most of us experience God in the simple things all around us. A newborn child, a lover’s kiss, the awesome beauty of a landscape, a sunrise or sunset. Most of us don’t have life shattering encounters with our God. Most of us encounter Him in countless little ways throughout the days of our lives. I think actually those encounters are the most lasting and the strongest. Because they build upon one another.
You know what we call these daily encounters with God? Grace. Grace is simply God touching our lives in some way. Sometimes His grace is strong and obvious, like on your wedding day or when you held your firstborn for the first time. Sometimes it hits you over the head like a rock. We can be shaken when we encounter God for the first time. It can be life-changing and can re-direct our lives in ways we never imagined.
Has that ever happened to you? Has something soul-shaking ever happened to you? I often see it in families who have suffered the sudden loss of a loved one, or who have sickness thrust upon them. Times like that force us to focus on the fact that we are ultimately not in control of our lives, no matter how much we want to believe that. But what usually happens is that when we finally release our grip God takes over.
Lent is the perfect time to encounter the risen Christ. How have you been preparing for that encounter? Have you taken the time to pray, fast and give alms this Lenten season? Have you taken advantage of the most awesome example of God’s grace, to see the Lord face-to-face in the confessional? You see, the most obvious result of saying yes to God’s call is to change your life. We are all called to repentance, each and every day. Conversion requires repentance. We must first see ourselves for who we truly are, coldly and honestly, before we can accept the burning fire of God’s love in our lives.
And while that conversion experience is a very personal one, it will also affect those around you. Like the woman at the well, once she said yes she changed. She changed her view of herself, she changed her view of God, and she then went out and changed the world.
Will you do the same?