Around the world today parishes are conducting Scrutinies for those who are not baptized. We call them catechumens, or correctly now the “elect” since Bishop Stika elected them for the Easter sacraments after we the parishioners of St. Mary’s sent them to him three Sundays ago. The elect or only those to be baptized take part in the scrutinies. Those who are converting to Catholicism and have already been baptized do not take part in these scrutinies. The term “scrutiny” makes it sound as if we are giving an exam to see if they are ready or worthy to join us. But, it is not us who scrutinize them, it is they who scrutinize themselves. They are asking themselves, “Am I ready?” Our response is to support them through our prayer. Actually during Lent, all of us need to look at our lives and the obstacles to faith and turn to the great power of Jesus.
The story of the Samaritan woman at the well begins the 3-week cycle of scrutinies. It is a story of how to believe in Jesus even when there are lots of reasons not to believe in Him. He engages her in a dialog and He challenges her to believe in Himself as the Messiah as she confronts her own beliefs and past sins. They talk about the differences between Jews and Samaritan; between well water and living water; about her past and Jesus’ insights into her life.
In this scene, Jesus is already at the well, before she arrives. This is what we call the Primacy of Grace. It is not you who have chosen me, but I who have chosen you. Bible not about us seeking God. It is about God fervently seeking us.
When we surrender to God who is always looking for us, we are in the right place. How do I allow myself to be found by God who is already looking for me? It is like a helicopter trying to land. The helicopter represents God’s grace or presence. Spiritual life is not jumping up to the helicopter, but merely clearing the ground so that the helicopter can land. Those parishioners who have gone on the CRHP retreat cleared the space of time and activity to allow that grace to come to you. Those young people who went on pilgrimage to Alabama last week did the same. This woman at the well certainly opened herself up to speak to Jesus and was not afraid to answer Him who offered to give her life-giving water. This is the first step – responding to Jesus and the grace He offers. It is accepting the gift of life-giving water.
Before water can flow into one’s life, we must remove some obstacles so that water can flow into us. How beautifully Jesus addresses the moral issues of the woman. She is a pariah, coming to well at high noon and all alone. This is significant because usually the women would go together to the well to draw water in the morning when it is not so hot. She had five husbands and is in an illicit relationship. She knows or experiences that she has done wrong and suffers the consequences of her behavior in the community of Sychar. No telling what the individual stories of the past five husbands includes. But, Jesus did not start with moral correction. He offers grace first. Many make mistakes by starting with judgement and condemnation of immoral behavior of others.
Jesus’ conversation with this Samaritan woman was scandalous. He was a Jewish rabbi. It was taboo to speak to Samaritans and women. Jesus is acting like the Father in the story of the Prodigal Son. He actively goes out to an undeserving soul to offer mercy and grace.
However, it is also very important to see clearly that Jesus is not indifferent to moral correction. Jesus is very direct in telling her that He knows that she has had five husbands and the one she has now, she is not married to. Sexual morality is a serious matter. Spiritual life does not really get off the ground if moral issues are not addressed. Is there something in me that is blocking the flow of grace? In her case, it is the disordered relationships
Being that it is Lent and knowing that thousands of men and women are going through the first of three Scrutinies today, we too should consider a serious appraisal of self. How? The Church provides us with a perfect way to examine our lives—the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The word reconciliation translated loosely means “eyelash to eyelash.” In the Sacrament, we sit at another type of well and look at Jesus “eyelash to eyelash.” This is our occasion for a serious self-appraisal.
What must be dealt with in our lives before waters flow? As with her, so with many of us. She was looking for love in all the wrong places. We try to satisfy the longing for God with something that is less than God. It will make us frustrated. For the woman, it was sexual pleasure with her 5 failed marriages and an illicit relationship. For others, we seek wealth, power, approval, or positions of greatness. All these good things fade away, wear off, run out. They do not satisfy our infinite thirst. What is the One reality that never runs out? Answer – the divine life which is what Jesus offers to the woman at the well. God is infinite so He never runs out. That is the well that you drink from.
While we witness converts joyously studying their new faith, how much have we studied about God through the years? The well does not run out of water. How have we deepened and nurtured our faith? Jesus says plainly that if we are to grow in God’s eyes, we must drink of the Living Water—that we must build a relationship with Him. How have we done this?
Jesus spent a lifetime breaking down walls. How many barriers have we created? How many grudges do we hold? How many hurts have we let fester? How is our practice of Christian morality?
Too many of us are afraid to look in a mirror to see ourselves as we really are, especially if that mirror is in the form of the eyes of Christ. For too many, this fear keeps us away from the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Today, our Church’s catechumens will seriously look at themselves as they prepare for the waters of Baptism. Dare we do anything less?