The generations before us were a traveling folk. Except for Native Americans, we all came from other places to be here. (It is believed that even Native Americans arrived here during the Ice Age, 20-30,000 years ago.) The number of vowels in my last name gives evidence to my ancestral origins. The "old folks," so they seemed through my boyhood eyes, left the poverty of southern Italy for America – the "Land of Promise." And, despite the poverty and prejudice my grandparents’ generation endured, their sacrifices bore fruit for their children. Here we are, a couple generations later, educated, employed, well fed (perhaps too well fed!) and settled in "our country."
The Israelites were also a traveling people and we can tell from today’s first reading that they had a harder trip to make. They had left slavery behind, but their arrival to the next place, the Promise Land, was long delayed and the trip to get there was arduous and tempted their faith. They were forty years in the desert. They didn’t like what they left but, as the reading from Exodus shows, at this point of their travels they were very discouraged. Each day was a struggle and the present moment looked impossible. They were thirsty and they were beginning to doubt Moses and their God. Where was God in this hard place? The name of the place summarized this moment of their journey: Massah means "Proof"; Meribah means "Contention." That’s how hard the place was! The trip was too long, with too many camping grounds and too many frustrations and failures. Was God with them? Judging from their condition, it didn’t seem so to the Israelites.
We can identify with the people wandering in the desert, for we too have known similar moments on our journeys. There have times when we have lamented, "How long must I endure this?" "When will it end?" "Can I/we make it?" We know what we have left behind and we are not sure what lies ahead. Will it be worth the struggle? We have known the hard places; we have known the rock at Horeb.
We can understand the temptation the Israelites had to return to the old places and the old ways. We have dreams we want to see come to fruition for ourselves and or family, yet at the rock, the hard place, those dreams feel flimsy. So, for example: We would rather go back to silence and getting along, than to more open communication and the pain that may cause. We would rather stay in a relationship that is not working, than risk a break and go forward to new, uncharted territory. We would rather stay with an abusive spouse, than choose the scary terrain of independence. We would rather continue old habits and dependencies, than go through the sacrifice change requires.
Lent urges us to shift to a traveling mode. Lent invites us to set out; to say to ourselves, "I have got to change, I have got to make this journey." We are being invited to leave behind what is not working and not good for us and go to a place up ahead. Like the Israelites, we start out making the changes we must, but the road is long, uncertain and sometimes very hard to stick to, so our resolution dissolves and we look back to where we used to be and turn around.
The experience of the Israelites in the desert reminds us how much we need God – day by day. Today’s Exodus story reveals that at the very hard place, at the rock of Horeb, God will provide the refreshment we need. God tells Moses to strike the rock with his staff. From the rock water flows to quench the people’s thirst. Is the same possible for us: that from the very hard places of struggle and temptation God can draw water for us and refresh us? How? By the steady hand of a friend; the presence of one with us by the bedside of a loved one; in the support group that encourages and challenges us to stay with the program so we can break an addiction or destructive habit; the voice of confrontation from a loved one, who encourages us to be better than we have been. The initial experience has the sound and feel of the rock; but then, through God and God’s instruments, we discover that we are at the rock at Horeb and God has made living water flow to quench the thirst only God can quench. The Israelites, we are told, quarreled and tested God at the hard place and asked, "Is the Lord in our midst or not?" To their sunrise, they found that God was.
The story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman is a familiar one – perhaps too familiar. It is an important story for John and he spends a lot of time narrating the exchange between the two. (There’s a shorter option in the Lectionary, but why violate the storyteller’s intent by reading a chopped up version? For the sake of brevity will we sacrifice the dramatic development in the account? I plan on inviting the congregation to sit down and listen to a good tale.) Because the story is so familiar I find myself leaning heavily on John P. Pilch’s input for new insights (Cf. Below).
Pilch notes some "irregularities" in the story. He says the Mediterranean world is divided according to gender: women have their places in the home and kitchen; men have theirs in the fields, market place and the gate. The well is common to both, but women and men go there at different times of the day. Women go in the morning and evening. The Samaritan woman is there at noon – something is wrong. Is she avoiding the other women of the town? Does she have a "reputation" and is shunned by them? She is at a well, at noon and she is alone, speaking to a strange man in a public place.
The conversation between Jesus and the woman raises even the suspicions of Jesus’ disciples. When it is over she goes to another public place to tell those gathered there (men at the market?) about her conversation with Jesus. Pilch notes the subversions that are occurring in the story. John is giving new roles to women in his community. He fashions the conversation between Jesus and the woman in a seven part dialogue; each speaks seven times. Is a new creation story being told in this seeming unimportant moment and place? Just as God created light on the first day, so Jesus leads the woman out of her darkness into light, to a deeper understanding of his identity. Did you notice the growth in the woman’s awareness of Jesus, revealed in the names she gives him? She begins by calling him "a Jew," then moves to "prophet," then, she tells the town people, "Could he possible be the Christ?" Later they call him "the savior of the world."
The woman gets more time in this story than anyone else in John’s gospel. She grows rapidly in her insight about Jesus and he commissions her to go call her husband and return. She announces Jesus’ presence to the people of the town and is, therefore, the first disciple in John’s gospel.
In our first reading the people grumble against Moses in the desert. They are thirsty and demand water. Under God’s direction Moses strikes the rock and water flows. In the gospel Jesus, the new Israel, is thirsty and stops at a well in Samaria. There he receives a good reception, first from the woman, then from the townspeople. Jesus finds rejection among his own; among Samaritans, he is welcomed. He reflects God’s thirst for people, willingness to go outside the usual religious and social boundaries, and God’s desire to give life giving water to anyone thirsty enough to seek it. The woman in today’s story has no name. Perhaps she represents all of us, regardless of race, gender or nationality, who acknowledge our thirst for more than we can provide for ourselves.
The entire exchange between the woman and Jesus is characterized by respect, openness, even mutual challenge. But there is an underlaying current throughout the story – Jesus’ compassion. He accepts the woman as she is. She, on her part, reveals an honest probing into Jesus’ identity; more than we find among Jesus’ disciples. Two strangers meet at an unusual place and their honest dialogue brings one to a deeper knowledge of herself and the offer of a new and deeper life.
Is it possible then that, when we meet a stranger and are willing to put aside all the political, social, ethnic and religious barriers that normally separate people, and enter into open dialogue, that we too might come to the life-giving experience the woman had and discover God in the stranger?
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
Is the Lord in
our midst or not?
Lent is a time of fasting to create a physical hunger and thirst, which should heighten our spiritual hunger and thirst for the Lord. The one thing that should be noted is that fasting is a voluntary activity and that, even in our fasts, we are allowed to drink water. For many in our world, however, hunger and thirst is an involuntary way of life that can lead to death.
Hunger in our communities is an issue that far too many families are experiencing. A lack of nutritious meals can have long lasting effects on the physical, mental, and social well-being of all members of a family. In response to this need, Catholic Charities currently operates five food pantries in central and eastern North Carolina. Here in Wake County, Catholic Parish Outreach (CPO) began in 1977 when Sister Ann Joseph and Sister Louise Hill of the Order of the Daughters of Charity were sent to Raleigh to start a Catholic charities program. At that time, Sacred Heart Cathedral was one of five founding parishes, along with St. Joseph, St. Raphael, Our Lady of Lourdes, and St. Mary, Mother of the Church. Today CPO functions with 3 full-time and 2 part-time staff members and 1900 parishioners from area churches in a true community response.
Catholic Charities leverages the support of community partners to provide over 3 million pounds of food to families in need each year. Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral participates by holding semi-annual food drives, such as the one we are having this weekend. If you forgot your bag, $40 will help feed a family for a week. Please stop by the CPO truck.
Catholic Charities Food Pantry Services are dedicated to distributing healthy groceries, increasing access to food, and developing innovative solutions to address food insecurity in a collaborative way. On each visit, families receive a week’s worth of groceries, helping to fill the gap that families experience once their resources have been exhausted and before they receive their next paycheck. Once their immediate need for food is addressed, Catholic Charities staff and volunteers may connect families to other critical services that aim to remove barriers to self-sufficiency, increasing access to opportunities and creating hope for a better future. With dignity and respect at the forefront of all interactions, families are offered a hand up during their most challenging times.
Let there be no question that the Lord is in our midst.
Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS, Director
Office of Human Life, Dignity, and Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Exodus reading:
The Lord answered Moses:
"Strike the rock and the water will flow from it
for the people to drink." This Moses did...."
Today’s Exodus story reveals that at the very hard place, at the rock of Horeb, God will provide the refreshment we need. God tells Moses to strike the rock with his staff. From the rock water to quench the people’s thirst flows. Is the same possible for us: that from the very hard places of struggle and temptation God can draw water for us and refresh us?
So we ask ourselves:
POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES
Many people say that we need the death penalty in order to have "justice for the victims."
But so many family members of murder victims say over and over that the death penalty is not what they want. It mirrors the evil. It extends the trauma. It does not provide closure. It creates new victims… it is revenge, not justice.
Killing is the problem, not the solution.
----Shane Claiborne, Death Penalty Action's Advisory Board Chairman,
This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
Please note: Central Prison is in Raleigh, NC., but for security purposes, mail to inmates is processed through a clearing house at the above address in Maryland.
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/
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