Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Thirst is a good thing (Lent 3C)

We start most Alpha evenings start with a lighthearted video—a great way to make our guests relax, and to remind them that Christianity isn’t dull and boring.

My all-time favorite is a YouTube clip by the clean comic Brian Regan. He has everyone laughing as he makes fun of buying a refrigerator.

“We have this refrigerator here,” the salesman says, “It keeps all your food cold, for six hundred.”

“And you’ve got this refrigerator over here. This keeps all your food cold—for eight hundred. Check this out—fourteen hundred. Keeps all your food cold.”

The comedian goes on, but you catch the drift.

However, every time I watch the routine, I find myself feeling a bit sorry for refrigerator salesmen. Because the joke was on me when I bought a refrigerator. What I wanted was something to keep food cold. But what I really needed was something more: one of those fancy fridges that dispenses ice water.

Our fridge stopped working soon after I came to the parish—just before I realized that almost everyone coming to see me wants water, especially young adults. When I was young, an offer of a drink before an appointment meant coffee or tea, or maybe a pop. Not water.

I think there may be a case of mass dehydration out there.

At least all those water-bottle-carrying Christians will find it easy to connect with today’s Scripture readings. In the first reading water gushes from a rock in the desert, in the second reading love is poured into our hearts, and of course the Gospel simply overflows with living water.

At the start of Mass I told you that our readings would be from the Mass for the First Scrutiny, not the Third Sunday of Lent. Now I’d like to explain why.

The reason is simple: our parish has two catechumens preparing for baptism at the Easter Vigil. On the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent the community gets a chance to meet them at Mass. These encounters with the catechumens are called scrutinies.

The Church pulls out all the stops for the catechumens, reading three spectacular passages from St. John’s Gospel on those three Sundays. They help those getting ready for baptism to make a full and final decision for Christ, who offers them living water (this Sunday), sight and insight (next Sunday) and finally eternal life.

The scrutinies this year will be at the 5 p.m. Mass. The Church permits us to use the special readings at all the Sunday Masses, so we will all feel connected to our friends preparing for baptism, and help them with our prayers. And it’s merciful to priests who preach more than once on a Sunday since it would be a tough to prepare two different homilies.

It’s not hard to figure out why catechumens have been told the story of the Samaritan woman since ancient times. Their long preparation for baptism was designed and intended to make them thirst for Christ. They’ve crossed the desert of sin and now the Church, the oasis of life, is in sight.

Our catechumens barely need a homily. Every word of Jesus and every word of the woman at the well speaks to their hearts.

Perhaps we, the already-baptized, need a homily more than they do. 

Because we may not know we’re dehydrated, and that can be a dangerous thing. Doctors and coaches regularly remind runners—and all of us—not to wait until you notice symptoms of dehydration to take action. 

Are you thirsting?  Let’s face it—despite the rain we love to complain about, we all live in a spiritual desert, at least some of the time. The sun beats down on all of us, and most of us know what it’s like sometimes to feel dry as dust in our spiritual lives.

Young people can lose their way in the desert—there are no landmarks to guide them. Middle-aged people can be wearied by the noonday heat: many places in the Scripture speak of the dangers of night, but Psalm 91 reminds us that the midday sun can also be destructive and make Christians lose heart.

Some find old age a desert, with the landscape around them slowly becoming barren as they lose friends, loved ones and give up familiar surroundings.

Whatever age we are, there are various ways we find ourselves in the desert. Sometimes we are even led there by the Spirit, as Jesus was. We didn’t ask for it; we can’t explain it; and we don't want to be in a dry and lonely place. But we meet God there, according to his plan for us.

Sometimes we are dumped in the desert by circumstances. We’re suffering from the death of a loved one, illness, unemployment or some other worry. When we look around we can’t see a single flower or tree, just a lot of prickly cactus bushes.

Temptations, too, can be a desert. One day we’re hiking up the spiritual mountain, enjoying the view, and then all of a sudden life is bleak, and we’re dying for something to relieve the monotony.
There’s one thing these different desert experiences have in common: they all make us thirsty. Dryness creates desire.

But here’s the important thing: there’s nothing wrong with being thirsty, as long as you have something to drink. Thirst in itself isn’t bad; in fact, when you're thirsty, there’s nothing better than a cold glass of water. The feeling is good. The water refreshes us.

Of course we can try to quench our thirst with the wrong things. Some drinks make us thirstier in the long run. But if we drink from the stream of life—if we drink the living water that Jesus promises—our thirst will have done us good.

So there’s nothing necessarily wrong about the desert. Just as thirst reminds us how much we depend on water, so the deserts of temptation and trial remind us how much we depend on grace.

I've talked about a number of the ways we can find ourselves in the desert. But sometimes we decide to spend time in the desert. That's what Lent can be: we leave the ‘city’ of our selfishness and retreat to the ‘desert’ of our hearts. We freely chose to step back from rushing around in what we call ‘the real world’ so we’ll have time and energy for the things that matter most.

All of this presumes we are ready to drink from Christ. It’s said that “when we drink from the world, we always thirst again, when we drink from Christ, we never thirst again.” In a world full of temporary things, we’ll find temporary satisfaction. Jesus alone satisfies the longing of the heart, and satisfies it reliably, consistently, and eternally.

But he doesn't give us his living water in plastic bottles. We must meet him personally where he can be found—and the desert is one sure place to find him.

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