February 27, 2024 // Diocese

Contemplate Rebirth Through Christ’s Living Water This Lent

“When I prove my holiness among you, I will gather you from all the foreign lands; and I will pour clean water upon you and cleanse you from all your impurities, and I will give you a new spirit, says the Lord.”

For parishes that administer the Scrutinies (the rituals of verification of desire and preparedness for those to be baptized as adults) for the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults this Sunday, the encounter of Jesus and the woman at the well will be read for the Gospel. That Gospel, when placed in relation with the entrance antiphon for the Mass, provides a rich reflection for us as we approach the halfway point of Lent.

Two major points of focus are the image of water and the otherwise harsh sounding words of Christ to the woman. We are presented with the contrast of dead and living water – water that is polluted by sin and the water that God provides, which is deemed “living” because it gives life and because it is clean and pure and, therefore, able to clean other things, “Which is true indeed both of material water and of that of which it is the type,” St. Augustine writes. “For the water in the well is the pleasure of the world, that abode of darkness. Men draw it with the waterpot of their lusts; pleasure is not relished, except it be preceded by lust. And when a man has enjoyed this pleasure, i.e. drunk of the water, he thirsts again; but if he has received water from Me, he shall never thirst. For how shall they thirst, who are drunken with the abundance of the house of God? But He promised this fulness of the Holy Spirit.”

The pursuit of carnal desires leaves the person always wanting more. A common example is eating food. The more one eats, the more the stomach desires and can fit. Thus, the pursuit of the dead water – the water this woman is drinking for sustenance only – results in greater thirst. But the spiritual meaning of this experience is deeper than the physical image. The woman, when offered the living water of the Word of God, is stuck in her worldly concerns. She wants the water Christ is promising to decrease her workload: “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” She misses the point.

But the living water Christ is offering to her, and to us, is the fulfilment of the promises of God. Here Christ is gathering from the foreign lands (a Samaritan woman) and is offering the water that will cleanse from impurity and grant a new spirit. We will see this dynamic in its fullness at the Easter Vigil, when the priest will pray over the new baptismal water: “May this water receive by the Holy Spirit the grace of your Only Begotten Son, so that human nature, created in your image and washed clean through the Sacrament of Baptism from all the squalor of the life of old, may be found worthy to rise to the life of newborn children through water and the Holy Spirit.” The water of baptism is truly the living water of the Word Incarnate, which cleanses us of our sins, incorporates us into the Body of Christ that is the Church, and puts within us the very spirit of God (perfected through divinization, the true end to which our lives are directed).

In that mode of thinking, it is unsurprising that Jesus responds to the woman’s request by immediately pointing out that she has had five husbands and is with a sixth. Harsh words to our ears, but right to the point of what is holding this woman back from access to the living water she so desires. If we again consider the spiritual implications of this exchange, we can see that the spouse imagery connects to the soul. God’s overwhelming image of choice when it comes to describing His relationship with His people is nuptial. It is found throughout the Bible. The nuptial imagery (of which Christian matrimony itself is a sacrament) of this relationship draws out its essential themes: indissolubility, total fidelity, and love stronger than death given expression in a sacred oath. Thus, the woman’s spiritual problem of infidelity to God’s word is expressed in her carnal problem of the pursuit of her body’s desires instead of being truly satisfied by God.

This leaves us with a powerful examination to make. How many spouses does my soul have? What are the things of this world that I place above God as my soul’s true and only spouse?

Lent is the time to allow the Lord to make these things known so they can be brought back down to where they belong. And for help in that, we turn to baptismal grace – the washing of living water. For those to be baptized, it is baptism itself. For those already baptized, we turn to God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Confession, by which we are returned to baptismal grace.

Father Mark Hellinger is Parochial Vicar at St. John the Baptist Church in Fort Wayne. He will write weekly reflections throughout Lent for Today’s Catholic.

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