Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
On the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent, the Church celebrates the Scrutinies. These unique rites seek God’s blessing and graces for those who are to be received into the Church at the Easter Vigil. Our catechumens and candidates will participate in this rite at the 11 AM Mass these next three Sundays, and I ask you to keep them in your prayers as they draw closer to receiving the powerful graces God has in store for them in the Easter sacraments. The Gospels read at Mass for the next three weeks reflect something of the process of conversion. We will hear the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, the man born blind, and the raising of Lazarus. These Gospels, combined with the Scrutinies, are an invitation to all of us, Catholic, candidate, or catechumen, to revisit the ways the Lord wants to work in our hearts and lives.
The Gospel this weekend is the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. This passage demonstrates for us the expansive reach of the Messiah. The Messiah comes to save the chosen people, Israel. He comes to save those who have received the law of God and abide by it. But he has also come to save those who are sinners, those who do not abide by the law of the Lord. He has come to bring salvation also to those who are not numbered among the chosen people, that is, he has come to save all humanity.
The woman Jesus encounters at the well models some important characteristics. She is curious and asks Jesus her questions in a spirit of freedom. Alongside that freedom, though, we can see a certain hesitancy and an attempt to deflect attention away from herself. In her actions, we can see some shame. In her reaction to Jesus, we see the joy that comes from knowing Christ. When Jesus first speaks to her, perhaps she was filled with suspicion: “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” Clearly, though, there is something about our Lord’s presence there that relieves any suspicion and allows her to engage in the deeper questions of faith that are held in her heart. It is not uncommon for us to experience these same feelings. We might ask what God could possibly want to do with us or deny that our Lord sees us as worthy of attention. But when we encounter him, especially in the Eucharist, we come, like the woman at the well, to understand that God wants to be with us, wants us to come to Him with questions, wants to speak to our hearts. Jesus invites the woman to share more with Him, and in the process reveals that He knows the things she would rather avoid speaking about. Notice how He speaks kindly and gently into her sin, without condemnation. So often we hold onto our past and our sin, thinking Jesus will judge us just as the villagers would have judged the Samaritan woman. This Gospel reminds us how God looks at us even when we are lost in sin, and that mercy is always available. The Samaritan woman also embodies the mission entrusted to us by Christ. After encountering the Lord, she brings the good news to her friends and neighbors. Just so, having encountered Christ, we are sent out that others might receive the invitation into relationship with God.
The Scrutinies are also referred to as a rite of continuing conversion. For our catechumens and candidates, these rites remind them of the invitation they received from Jesus, who has invited them, just as He once invited the woman at the well. The rites also point to what Jesus can do in and through them. For those of us already initiated in the sacramental life, the rites serve as a reminder of what God has done and continues to do for us through the sacraments. Like the Samaritan woman, we stand in need of mercy. Like her, we may have questions. Like her, in Christ we will find the hope of mercy. And from our ongoing encounter with the Lord, we will learn our mission, to proclaim to our friends and neighbors the good news of the Messiah present in our world.