Finding Jesus in our Isolation — 3rd Sunday of Lent—Year A

Today’s Gospel story contains a valuable lesson for us in our present situation.

Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there
at [Jacob’s] well. It was about noon.
A woman of Samaria came to draw water.
Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”

There is a weird detail contained in these passages: the woman is going to the well to draw water at noon. It’s hot at noon in the Middle East, so Jesus and the woman are the only ones there. Why didn’t she come in the morning or the evening when the heavy job of hauling water would not have the added burden of the midday sun and heat? It’s because she didn’t want to be there when the other women would be around. Jesus reveals that the woman has no true husband and that she has had five different mates through the years. Jesus knows this supernaturally but her neighbors know something of these facts naturally, through local gossip. This woman has a reputation and if she were to go to that well at the same time as the other women they would make her feel unwelcome, through their words or their silence, with their eyes and their body language. They have quarantined themselves from her and she has socially distanced her heart from them.

In the middle of her day,
in the uncertainties of her life,
amid the stress of her tasks,
in her personal isolation,
she is surprised to encounter Jesus there.

He says to her:

“If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. … Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Jesus wins over the woman’s soul, she leaves her water jar behind and joyfully proclaims her great discovery. Meanwhile, the returned disciples urge Jesus, ‘Rabbi, Teacher, eat something!’ But he says to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know. … My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.” Of course Jesus is hungry—physical realities are real—but he has nourishment in his soul, from his relationship with God his Father and his deepening relationship with those he has come to save, like this woman at the well.

Now in likening the woman at the well to one quarantined from others, I am not advising you to take unnecessary or imprudent risks amidst this current Coronavirus pandemic. In these months ahead, some of us will be called to acts of particular courage; nurses and doctors come first to mind. But we should not blithely, unnecessarily place ourselves in foreseeable natural dangers expecting God to perform miracles to protect us. Recall how Satan tempted, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus answers, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” We must not act presumptuously.

The reason I mention the woman finding Jesus in her isolation is because, whatever our health may be, we need to encounter him there as well. Public Masses continue in our diocese, but it is very probable that these will be suspended in the future, just as Catholic Churches suspended public Masses a century ago during the Spanish Flu pandemic. I will personally be very surprised if we are having Mass here together two weeks from today. [Post-Script: On the evening of March 17th, Bishop William Callahan directed his priests to abide by Wisconsin’s statewide ban on all gatherings of more than 10 people announced earlier in the day. As a result, we are cancelling all remaining public Masses at my parishes.] Yet even in times when public Masses are readily available, most hours of our week and not spent inside of a church.

In the middle of your day,
in the uncertainties of your life,
amid the stress of your tasks,
in your personal isolation,
you can encounter Jesus there.

He is with you and within you, so you are never really alone.
Jesus says:

“Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink.
Whoever believes in me, as scripture says:
‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him.’”

Wherever you are, find him there, and draw on his graces.

I seem to recall a story about St. Faustina Kowaska, the Polish nun and visionary most closely associated with the Divine Mercy devotion. When she was confined to her convent infirmary, suffering from the tuberculosis which would eventually take her life, she lamented that for one or more days in a row she had been unable to receive Holy Communion. In a vision, Jesus reassured her, saying, ‘Whenever you receive me in the Eucharist, I remain within you until you receive me again, unless you cast me out through mortal sin.’ Similarly, in the sixth chapter of John, Jesus famously declares:

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. … Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

Christ’s Church encourages frequent, even daily, reception of Holy Communion as a helpful devotion toward holiness, but whether your next communion is one week or three months from now, know that Jesus is with you to provide his sufficient graces for your life. If public Masses are suspended in our diocese, realize that I and other Catholic priests, even if standing alone in our churches, will still be offering the Holy Mass daily for you and the whole world. And we will be bringing Confession, Holy Anointing, and Viaticum to the sick, as is our calling and duty, for as long as we are able. This Wuhan Coronavirus pandemic is rightfully concerning. (I urge you to read my bulletin article this weekend.) But whatever comes we need not fear, for “we know that all things work for good for those who love God,” and “whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” As Jesus would very often say, “Be not afraid.

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