Lenten Reflection from His Holiness: Third Sunday

Today’s Gospel reading is about Jesus’ dialogue with the Samaritan woman about thirst and water. The Holy Father’s brief synopsis from his lenten reflection is the following:

The question that Jesus puts to the Samaritan woman: “Give me a drink” (Jn 4: 7), is presented to us in the liturgy of the third Sunday; it expresses the passion of God for every man and woman, and wishes to awaken in our hearts the desire for the gift of “a spring of water within, welling up for eternal life” (Jn 4: 14): this is the gift of the Holy Spirit, who transforms Christians into “true worshipers,” capable of praying to the Father “in spirit and truth” (Jn 4: 23). Only this water can extinguish our thirst for goodness, truth and beauty! Only this water, given to us by the Son, can irrigate the deserts of our restless and unsatisfied soul, until it “finds rest in God”, as per the famous words of St. Augustine.

My favorite part of this interpretation is found in the ending, when the Holy Father tells that it is the Holy Spirit alone who can “irrigate the deserts of our restless and unsatisfied soul”. The human person is thirsty. Without a doubt, there is some sort of primeval emptiness in the human heart, a perennial search for completeness. What can satisfy the heart, the core of man?

For Benedict, and this is the response of the Christian story too, it is only from above. God has a passion for each of us. He is radically in love with every single person He’s created. (I sometimes wonder how different we would treat one another if we really took into account God’s infinite love for each person.) The Holy Father sees in this Gospel “the passion of God for every man and woman”. His passion, genuinely articulated in the Passion of His Son, is the true nutrition for humans. The Incarnate Word is the true pinnacle of creation: He is savior through and through.

Moreover, Jesus, in today’s Gospel, says: “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work” (Jn 4:34). For Christ, the element that sustains him, procures his daily energy, is praise. After all, to praise is to accept and follow the Lord’s commands and life. What is so human and beautiful about this theology is that it is so innate to every person: we are living the best kind of life, the most satisfying life, when it is a life that is praise to the Father. Man’s ontology is most in tune with itself when it becomes a theological ontology: anthropology is naturally oriented toward Theos. This Gospel reading, in addition then, may have a cryptic liturgical element to it. That the liturgy, especially the celebration of the Eucharist, is the “source and summit of the faith” is no small doctrinal statement: if it is true, then it seems that the liturgy is the most human of cultures–our life can parallel the reverence and praise within the liturgical sphere, and when it does, one experiences the irrigation of divine love. An oasis of “goodness, truth and beauty” is implanted within the human experience. This temporal life becomes a penultimate experience of the ultimate experience that is the eternal presence and love of the Holy One.

Reflecting such thus far, is it any wonder that the Pope interprets this Gospel passage as an invitation through the Holy Spirit for Christians to be “true worshipers”? That is what the whole story is about. Am I worshiping God? To be a true worshiper entails a complete abandonment of the self in the hands of others, specifically the Divine Other. To be a true worshiper entails, accordingly, an attitude of indifference: that we are, at a foundational human level, indifferent such that we place no limits on the Divine voice. To be a true worshiper entails, at its core, radical love. To be a true worshiper requires the spiritual transformation of the Holy Spirit, offered to us by the Son, the eternal exemplar of mankind.

Let us pray to faithfully drink from the water of God, that water of divine life manifested to us by Jesus Christ through whom the human person, as if in the womb of God, by grace is nurtured until one day, in salvific hope, he may hatch into the very divine life of God Himself, and so offer the King humble and eternal praise in the company of His angels and His saints: Praise be to God, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!

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