Monday, 16 March 2020

3rd Sunday of Lent Year A 2020

The passage on the Samaritan Woman should be titled as the Lady IN the Well. She might as well be because she was not only looking for water but she appeared to be drowning in her search. The setting cannot be more controversial. To have an observant Jew speaking to a woman in public is definitely a taboo. To have drunk from her vessel would have rendered Him ritually unclean. Finally, there is the age-old animosity between the Samaritans and the Jews which would render their conversation next to impossible.

Conversation is an interesting word. The general sense is of talking to each other. But, more than 100 years ago, “criminal conversation” was a legal term denoting adultery. The word conversation actually shares the same root with another word conversion which is “to turn about with”. Here at the well, Jesus entered into a conversation with the woman leading to her conversion.

The story of her conversion can help us also in this situation of Covid-19.

In the case of the Samaritan woman “in” the well, she was looking for love, for fulfilment or for completion. In other words, she hungered for happiness. But, guess where she went looking for it? She had five husbands previously and now, she engages a “criminal conversation” with the present one.

In the long-drawn dialogue with Jesus, she was slowly led to her conversion. Jesus did not condemn her but through His gentle manner of exploring gave her enough space to recognise her own sinful situation as well as enough room to find a way out of it. This Sunday is the First Scrutiny for the Elect going for their Baptism. In their catechetical journey, we hope that through knowledge and kind understanding they too may acquire the strength and grace to change their lives.

Conversations should lead to conversion—to a change of heart, to a change for the better. We live a very polarised world; deeply divided by different ideologies that when someone says something it is not to enter into a conversation. One is either shouting out or being shouted down. Many of the so-called conversations take place within an echo chamber—where like-minded people gather virtually to exchange opinions similar to theirs; reinforcing one’s cherished views whilst rejecting alternative perspectives.

Conversion is often a slow process but, in a culture fattened by instant gratification, we seem to think that it is just a matter of willing. I want to change and I will change. The truth is, it usually happens this way: One step forward and maybe two steps backward. Often it is painful because it requires stripping away whatever false security that we have padded ourselves with. Just like the woman in the well. She thought her happiness was to be found in fleeting relationships. Hence, she needed strength to walk away from her criminal conversation.

For us, the conversation on Covid-19 has not led to conversion. We have ended up in fear. In the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman we witness the power of mercy in conversion. Perhaps we can learn this especially when we are engaged in conversation with those whom we want to kill or those who want to kill us. Patience and charity must colour our conversation even for those whom we think do not deserve it. Conversation, when soothed by the milk of charity can lead to a change of heart.

In some ways we can discern this process of conversion taking shape in the Diocese, praying and hoping that it will bear the necessary fruits. The 4Es of the Diocesan thrust begins with an encounter and ends with evangelisation. Interestingly, Pope Francis’ first Apostolic exhortation is entitled Evangelii gaudium. There, the Pope urges Christians to renew their personal encounter with Jesus Christ so that like the Samaritan woman who encountered Christ at the well, we can be enlightened and empowered to evangelise. Her profound conversion ended up with her becoming a joyful evangelist. She left everything at the well to go back to the village to tell them that she had found the only One who could ever fulfil her deepest desire.

We have no public Masses. It does sound like a defeat or a failure. But it could also be a blessing in disguise. In place of Masses, we have the Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. Lent’s fasting and almsgiving are both practices of self-emptying; stripping ourselves of the false securities that cannot satisfy us completely. We are used to Masses or maybe even take them for granted. Now deprived of it, we begin to appreciate Whom we are receiving. Thus, the silent Adoration before the Lord present in the Eucharist is our act of purification. We come before the Lord whom now we cannot receive to beg Him to spare us so that we can once again receive Him. Perhaps at the end of the purification, we can hope that the Churches will be crowded but this time with people who have been deprived of the Eucharist. Sometimes we need to lose something in order to discover and appreciate the great Gift we had taken for granted—the Lord who alone is our fulfilment.