Sunday, March 23, 2014

She Left Her Water Jar . . .

(Third Sunday of Lent (A): This homily was given on March 23, 2014 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read John 4: 5-42.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Third Sunday of Lent 2014]

“The woman left her water jar . . . “

You might say that that’s a very small detail in a very long gospel story, but I also consider it to be a very important detail (so important, in fact, that I’m going to build my entire homily today around it!).

“The woman left her water jar . . . “

Now why did she do that?  From one perspective, at least, it makes no sense.  This Samaritan woman had come to Jacob’s well to obtain some water, presumably for her daily needs.  Lest we forget, people couldn’t just “turn on the faucet” back then.  They first had to find fresh water somewhere (which wasn’t always easy).  Then they had to carry that water in some type of container back to their home or to wherever they intended to drink it or use it (which also wasn’t easy).

So what this woman intended to do—get the water she needed for her daily life—was very important.

But then she met Jesus, and her priorities changed!

And that’s the point I want to drive home in this homily: her encounter with Jesus Christ, her personal interaction with the Savior of the world, was so transforming that this extremely high priority in her life (obtaining water for her needs) suddenly became a secondary priority—which, I believe is precisely why St. John mentions this otherwise “small detail” when he tells the story.

All of a sudden, getting water from that well and bringing it back home was not so urgent.  It could wait.  It could wait while she proclaimed the message about Jesus to her fellow Samaritans.
And what’s really interesting is that her encounter with Jesus was not initially a pleasant one.  In fact, it was anything but pleasant!  Our Lord tells her, in effect, that she’s spiritually way off-base in her ideas, and that she’s an adulteress several times over! 

But, to her great credit, she doesn’t get angry and she doesn’t walk away; nor she does she close herself off from the truth.  Rather, she accepts the truth that she hears from the mouth of our Lord and she responds to it in faith.

In that, she should be a great role model for all Catholics.  How many Catholics hear the truth proclaimed to them (for example, in a particular homily)—the truth that convicts them of their sin—and then get angry at the priest, tune him out, and refuse to change their lives?

I dare say, it happens a lot.  I know I’ve even done that a few times in my own life.

The Samaritan woman—at least on this occasion—did not close herself off from the truth of the word of God that came to her through Jesus.

And that courageous acceptance of the truth (even when it hurt!) changed her priorities—and her entire life!

This, then, is one of the signs of a living faith.  This is one of the external signs that we’ve really met the Lord in a personal way in our life: our priorities get readjusted, sometimes radically so.

  • Faithfulness to Mass all of a sudden becomes more of a priority for us than getting an extra hour of sleep on a Sunday morning.  It becomes more of a priority than participation in a sport or some other social activity that we like.  And it becomes that kind of a priority even when we’re on vacation!
  • Daily prayer becomes more of a priority than reading the newspaper, or the latest bestseller—or watching our favorite television program.
  • Working at making our family holy and loving becomes more of a priority than making more money than we really need.
  • Working at forgiveness and reconciliation becomes more of a priority than working for more “stuff.”
  • Going to confession becomes more of a priority than going out to dinner or a movie.
  • Helping the poor and needy becomes more of a priority than buying a lot of extra things that we really don’t need.
  • Standing up for the sanctity of human life becomes more of a priority than standing up for the protection of animals (although, as St. Francis of Assisi would remind us, the latter is certainly not a bad thing).
  • Learning about God and our Catholic faith becomes more of a priority than learning a lot of useless information on Facebook.
Those are just some of the priorities that surface in a person who truly knows the Lord.

I was reminded of this a couple of weeks ago when I was on vacation.  Fr. Brian Sistare and I went to Orlando, Florida, just before Lent began.  It was either “go to a warm place” or “go skiing,” and we decided to “go warm”—for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who’s lived in New England this winter.

And we got the most out of our time down south: we went to SeaWorld; we went to Disney’s Animal Kingdom; we went to Busch Gardens; we went to an Orlando Magic game; we went to an Atlanta Braves pre-season baseball game; we played mini-golf at least a dozen times (Fr. Brian loves to try to beat me in mini-golf.  Thankfully he failed most of the time on this trip!). 

We even got to see Sr. Dorothy Sayers.  Many of you will remember Sr. Dorothy.  When I first came to St. Pius in 1988, she was the principal of our school.  Now she runs a huge Catholic grammar and middle school in Orlando.  It was great to see her after so many years.

The reason I mention all this today is because of what happened on Saturday (the day we went to Busch Gardens).  Busch Gardens is located in Tampa—about an hour and a half away from where we were staying in Orlando.

We found out on Friday that we could take a shuttle bus on Saturday morning—for free—from SeaWorld in Orlando to Busch Gardens.  Well, that sounded a lot better to us than driving for an hour or more in heavy traffic and then paying an exorbitant fee to park our rental car.  So we decided to take advantage of the free ride.

The only issue was what to do about Mass and our holy hour.  You see, on every other day of our vacation, we had gotten up when felt like it (which usually wasn’t very early!).  Then we had celebrated Mass, made a holy hour, and gone off for the day.

In that order.

But the shuttle to Busch Gardens was only available once, at a relatively early hour of the morning.  There were no later buses for us to take.

So I said to Fr. Brian on Friday night, “Look, so that we don’t have to rush around to get to the shuttle tomorrow morning, why don’t we just celebrate Mass and make our holy hour at the end of the day when we get back from Tampa?  That would be so much easier.”
Well, Fr. Brian objected; he didn’t like that idea.  And his reason for objecting was simple.  He said to me, in effect, “You know, the Lord deserves the best hours of our day, not the leftovers!”

I said, “Um.  You’ve got a good point there.  You’re right.”

That meant, of course, that we had to get up an awful lot earlier than either of us wanted to get up while on vacation!

But priorities are priorities.

Now I’ve known Fr. Brian for about twenty years.  Had he gone to Orlando two decades ago, when he was living what might be called “a rather worldly lifestyle” as a college student at U.R.I., I sincerely doubt that it would have been a priority for him to receive the Eucharist and make a holy hour every day.

I could be wrong about that, but somehow I think that way back then sleeping in, taking it easy—and a few other things—would have trumped getting up extra early to pray and adore Jesus Christ!

But priorities change—sometimes a lot—when you actually meet the Lord in your life.

As the Samaritan woman and Fr. Brian would tell you, the “water jars” get left behind.

And that, my brothers and sisters, is a very good thing.