“Is the Lord with Us, or Not?” – Fr. Bob’s Homily for Sunday, March 12, 2023

I think I already shared with you a few times my experience of going to visit a friend of mine in Rome, who had joined a new religious community there, called the Community of Beatitudes. As a young  community, the members relied on Divine Providence to supply their needs. Once a week they would go down to the main fruit market in the city center. The merchants there were in the habit of opening a box of say, pears or apples, and, if they found just one piece of bruised or rotten fruit, of tossing the whole box into the street. The members of the community would scrabble in the gutters, picking up the fruit, examining them and rescuing any that were sound, much to the amazement of the merchants. I joined the community for one of those trips, and it was rather humbling to be on my hands and knees looking for fruit under the pitying eyes of merchants and shoppers alike.

But I got an understanding of the heart of Jesus, and therefore of the heart of God, who does not discard or throw out anyone, even if they are bruised sinners, but will search them out to rescue and save them. Indeed, this is precisely what Jesus’ ministry while on earth was all about, as he said once “to seek and save the lost” (cf Luke 19:10).

There is a technical name for what we were doing, searching among the rotten fruit in the street. That name is “scrutiny”, and it comes from the Latin word “scrutari”, meaning “those who search through piles of garbage in the hope of finding something of value”.  In time, this Latin word was turned into the English word “scrutiny”, meaning a “careful examination or inquiry”. In the Roman Catholic Church, this term is now used for the examination of the catechumens or those under instruction in the faith. There are three Sundays when these Scrutinies are carried out: today, the Third Sunday of Lent, and the next two Sundays, the Fourth and Fifth Sundays of Lent. At those times, the catechumens are presented before the community of the parish ,and given signs and symbols of the faith, such as the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. We have our own catechumen going through what we call the RCIA process (the rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, and not “Roman Catholics In Agony” as some have suggested!). Though our catechumen, Zachary Keane, may feel some agony or at least embarrassment, at the thought of being called out to stand in front of you all, as we will ask him to do at the end of my homily.  But Zachary, you should think yourself fortunate not to be doing this during the early years of the Church, because then you would be subject to a thorough grilling to find out how much you know and understand about the Catholic faith at the end of all the teaching you have received from Deacon Louis.  By the way, to make this scrutiny business clear, it is not just that Zachary is being scrutinized by us, the parish community, to see if he is worthy to become a member of our parish family. It is also a two-way thing, Zachary is also at the same time scrutinizing us, the parish members, to see if he wants to be a member of us or not. Have we shown him, in the months that he has been coming to our church and receiving his RCIA teaching, have we shown him that we are worthy members of the Catholic Church and disciples of Jesus? I don’t know about you, brothers and sisters, but as I consider that question for myself, I feel rather in an agony of embarrassment myself, wondering if I have made the grade in Zachary’s eyes, and shown what a follower of Jesus should be?

In our gospel today, Jesus carries out a “scrutiny” as well. He comes to this Samaritan community, people who, in the eyes of the Jews, would be considered garbage, but not in the eyes of Jesus, in search of someone of true value, a seeker after God. He deliberately arranges this encounter with the Samaritan woman, knowing she will be coming here at this time to draw water. That she comes on her own in the heat of the day, at noon, tells us that she is not welcome among the other women of the village, perhaps because she has had multiple marriages, and is not considered by them to be properly married. (By the way, as we try to follow Jesus’ way of evangelizing, preaching the good news, we should note that Jesus does not begin by telling the woman she is a sinner, though he clearly knows. This is not where Jesus starts from, and neither should we. We will not get very far, trying to win souls for Christ, if we call them out right away for being “wicked sinners”). No, Jesus begins with recognizing the woman as someone of value, even though, in the eyes of so many, she would appear to have three strikes against her, in the Jewish culture of the time: she is a Samaritan, she is a woman, and she is living out of wedlock. Jesus recognizes her thirst, a thirst for hope, for recognition, for acceptance, for a meaning to her life, and extends all of these things to her, in the course of his conversation with her (By the way, note that he gets rid of his apostles before the woman comes. Being Jews themselves, they would undoubtedly have made the woman feel condemned, useless, unwelcome).

Jesus begins the conversation by saying “I’m thirsty, I need a drink”. The preface for today’s Mass says something very profound and moving, and we should pay close attention to it. It says this: ”so ardently did Jesus THIRST for her faith that he kindled in her the fire of divine love”. Jesus thirsted, yearned, for her to respond to him in faith, so that he could pour out within her an awareness of how much God loved her. Brothers and sisters, Jesus today also thirsts for us, for us to have faith in him, so he can pour out the gift of his love into our hearts. This gift is the gift of the Holy Spirit, through whom, as Paul says in the letter to the Romans in our second reading today, the love of God is poured into our hearts” (Romans 5:5). This gift of the Spirit is also what Jesus refers to, in our gospel today, as “living water” who will “gush up “ within us, filling our hearts and our souls with divine love, light, joy and life.

Zachary, you are here today at this point in your life, because Jesus has thirsted for your faith, because he wants to answer the searching in your heart for life, light, love and meaning , by pouring out his gift of the Spirit upon you, which he will do at our Easter vigil in a few weeks. The journey you have been on ,over the last few months, coming to know more about this Jesus, represents the journey of the Samaritan woman, who comes from regarding Jesus as a mere Jew, to recognizing that there is something more about him, to calling him a Prophet, and then the Messiah, and then joining in the rest of her village in calling him the “Savior of the world”. Brothers and sisters, as we hear Zachary expressing his faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, we have to ask ourselves “Do I agree with Zachary? Do I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior, or simply regard him as a good Jewish man who said and did some wonderful things, but, all in all, is still a human being, and not Lord,or Savior?” 

The RCIA process, ideally, leads to the point at which the catechumen declares before all of the Christian community, his faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, and then he is baptized and confirmed and then, as such, joins the Christian community in receiving holy communion. Zachary has already been baptized, but his confirmation will complete his baptism, and will open him to receiving a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, wherein he can now preach the good news of Gods’ love through Jesus Christ to others. So the main theme of the Scrutinies in these next three weeks is the proclamation of the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection, which we declare to be our own personal faith commitment, if not at our baptism, then certainly at our confirmation. 

As we welcome Zachary into our faith community, we unite with him in professing our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, and we declare that we will stand with him in living and proclaiming that faith before the world.