Sunday, March 12, 2023

Water from our stony hearts: Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent 2023

My dear brothers and sisters, in the homilies I have preached through the Sundays of Lent thus far I have attempted to show how Our Lord Jesus Christ was foreshadowed in the Old Testament. These pre-histories allow us to gain a deeper appreciation of who Jesus is and what He did, and does, for us. These pre-histories of Christ, give us more context, they offer greater detail, they help us get to know Him better, which is why it is so important to be able to co-relate events in the Gospel with the larger scriptural tradition we have received.

On the first Sunday of Lent I demonstrated how the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden was the Cross of Christ, and its fruit was His Body. On the second Sunday of Lent I pointed out how God’s call for Abraham to leave his father’s house was the same call that was given to God the Son.

This Sunday, I was arrested at the very first line of the first reading:

              In those days, in their thirst for water

From the very start of salvation history, we see that God is concerned with our thirst. What is thirst; a deep, primal need, the failure to satisfy which drives us insane; think of the classical and biblical image of the deer that runs this way and that looking for water. A failure to satisfy thirst eventually kills us. From the first reading today, we know that the thirst of the people of Israel was satiated. They were satiated through water that was drawn from a rock. A rock, that was struck by a stick.

If this image sounds familiar to you it is because this rock in the desert that satiates the thirst of the people is God the Son, who in his incarnation as our Lord Jesus Christ, was struck in his side by a lance, and from this wound expressed, and continues to express, the life-giving water about which he spoke to the Samaritan woman.

But this episode from Exodus is only about a foreshadowing of Christ, not Christ himself. All things, as we know, are fulfilled only in Christ, and so, while the Israelites merely had their bodily thirst sated from the rock, it was only through the life-giving water that flowed, and flows, through the side of Christ that our spiritual thirst is satiated perpetually.

How does Christ meet this spiritual thirst? He does this in the words of St. Paul to the Romans that we just heard:

the love of God has been poured out into our hearts 

through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Once again, we have this aquatic metaphor, the love of God, His love for us, His love, or caritas, has been poured into our hearts, through the medium of the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Indeed, St. Paul speaks of a triple grace that is provided to us, faith, hope, and charity. I will return to these graces later, but right now I would like to dwell on the theme of thirst and water.

The source of this Love is the water that flows from His side, and this mystical, spiritual water comes to us in various ways, first of all through the water of baptism when – in the face of all the powers of darkness – we are claimed for Christ, through the person of the minister of baptism Jesus says: “This person is mine.”

It comes through the sacramental of Holy water with which we bless ourselves with.

And most importantly, and hopefully most regularly, it comes through our consumption of Our Lord’s body and blood in the Eucharist.

Having said this, I want to shift register for a while. Seeing the issuing of water from the Rock at Horeb as a pre-figuring of the water of life pouring out of the side of Christ at His crucifixion is one way to read today’s first reading. There is, another way.

This other reading allows us to see the rock at Horeb as our own stony hearts, God stands at this Rock, allows for it to be struck so that it may then issue forth streams of living water. With what does he strike our hearts? He strikes our hearts with the law and the prophets, the example of his life, the teaching of the apostles, and the teaching of Holy Mother Church. Indeed, God is striking our own hearts today in the course of this eucharistic liturgy. This is why the response to the psalm today is particularly important: "If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts."

This caution, that we not harden our hearts, is actually critical to our spiritual lives because it is another reminder that God is not all-powerful when it comes to us. He has given us the gift of free will and allows us, his creatures, a freedom that he has allowed to no one else. He allows us to choose, a choice that our first parents Adam and Eve exercised badly, but one that Abram exercised well – you will realise here that I am making reference to the readings from the previous Sundays of Lent. Even in today’s gospel, he allows the Samaritan women to exercise her will. Jesus Christ, Son of God, asks for help from the Samaritan woman. “Give me a drink.” He says to her. As St. Augustine touchingly points out, “his real thirst was for this woman’s faith”. In other words, He was asking her for her heart.

Our Lord is similarly asking us to aid him in providing the living water that he has offered to us. He will draw water from our stony hearts, but we need to not harden them in the first place.

It is in this context that I would like to change register again, but by referring once again to the words from the first reading with which I initiated the homily today:

In those days, in their thirst for water

In those days, in their thirst for water, the people grumbled against Moses. So loud and persistent was their grumbling that Moses himself was terrified,

So Moses cried out to the LORD, 

“What shall I do with this people?
a little more and they will stone me!”

There is a similar situation in contemporary Goa and India. There is a general unrest in our souls which manifests itself in various ways; like the Samaritan woman who was searching for life-giving water, but found herself five husbands instead – a reference to sexual consumption – we live frenetically moving from the consumption of one object or another. Nothing is enough. Think again of the deer that runs this way and that.

The other way we seek to quell the unrest in our hearts is by asserting ourselves violently. One does not need to turn to the violence against religious or social groups in this country, look at the violent ways in which we drive. This violent asserting of ourselves, however, merely drives us deeper into the desert – where we are pushed further and further from living water.

It has been my belief for a while that this unrest is merely a manifestation of the Indian peoples’ deep need, and desire, indeed, theirthirst, for Christ – the only person who is capable of satisfying their thirst. Christ needs His prophets and saints, however, and that task falls to us. It is our job to go out and announce the gospel. It is our actions – our genuine Christian lives – that must soften the hearts of those around us. In ways as simple as the way in which we drive, the way we talk while making purchases, we are called to be the Moses to these people who are lost in the desert of materialism, of mindless consumption, and the worship of power. The way we live our lives will be the staff that will strike at their stony hearts and bring forth the water of life.

The question is, however, are our own hearts stony? If so, how will we be able to aid in the drawing of water from these hearts?

And so, my dear brothers and sisters, if we are to be the prophets and saints of Our Lord Jesus Christ, to the beleaguered people of this country, we need to pray and renew our relationship with Him, so that the water that flows from our stony heart, my bring life into the desert that surrounds us. Every single action of ours must sing His name. And, for the cynics among us, who believe that so few of us cannot change the mess around us, I refer you back to the three graces out which St Paul speaks to us today: faith, hope, and charity. All these have been provided to us with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and it is enough.

A life of frequent Mass going, of regular confession, of living in a genuine Christian community educates us so deeply that very often we know what is the right thing to do, our conscience reminds us what we need to do. This is the voice of God, and Christ His Son, speaking to us. So,

If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

(A version of this homily was first preached at the church of N.Sra. do Rosário, Parish of Caranzalem, on 12 March 2023)

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