Sunday, March 15, 2020

3rd Sunday of Lent: Mass Suspension of Faith

Today's reading for the Third Sunday of Lent have one main thing in common: Water. However, this theme is based on Faith.  As I write this, the world is in a pandemic that it has never experienced before. Covid19 or Coronavirus has spread throughout the world taking hundreds of thousands of lives and effecting billions more.  In response, many Catholic dioceses decided to suspend Mass, other Sacraments. Some have decided to close churches altogether. This decision has been praised by some, but frowned upon by many, including myself.

Our religion is at a precipice now. In a world that is slowly becoming more and more secular and atheistic, displays of spiritual cowardice is not the way to go.  To suggest that the Mass will become a conduit for the spread of disease is an overreaction. In fact, there is no study that suggests this nor has there been any recorded event in history that we can recall. Moreover, to ban reception of Holy Communion by the tongue, hand or both is also ridiculous. Would Jesus allow His body, blood, soul and divinity to become a conduit for contagion?  We read in 1 Corinthians 11:30-31 that the Holy Eucharist did make people sick and even brought death. However, this happened to people who received unworthily either by being in a state of sin or by treating the Sacred Species as another meal to eat alongside the offerings presented to the deities of the Greek-Roman era.

That being clarified, there is no way the Blessed Sacrament can become means to spread disease. This is just irrational and blasphemous to think. We are talking about Jesus' true presence here.  Already atheists and even protestants have started to mock the idea of transubstantiation due to the whining of bishops and others in the Church during this crisis. Suspending Holy Communion reception in any form and/or the Mass is just spiritual cowardice. It is a demonstration of lack of faith. In other words, it is implicit atheism. How can we believe God to be all powerful, yet not be able to protect His people from a microscopic organism?  How can we believe Jesus is truly present in the Holy Eucharist and can spread disease?  How can we believe that God would allow the Mass to become a place of contagion?  Catholicism has become a mockery, a faith lacking faith.  The first reading touches on lack of faith.

The first reading comes from Exodus. In it, we read about Moses' struggle with the stubborn Hebrews who whined about being taken out of captivity. Go figure right?  They complain to Moses about being brought out into the desert to die of thirst.

The Hebrews actually preferred being in Egypt as slaves than in the desert.  Here we see a lack of faith. Despite all the wonders God performed, they still doubted and whined. Think about this for a minute.  They saw God send down plagues upon Egypt, one of them which transformed the waters to blood (Exodus 7:14-10:29). However, they still believe that they were taken to the desert to die of thirst.  How can they even think this after seeing how God had complete control over the molecules and atoms that make up water?

Again, the issue here is lack of faith. Humanity has not changed much since this time. I began with the Coronavirus and suspension of the Mass as an example in this reflection.   We still
whine, complain and believe man's tangible methods are best. For the pope, bishops and others to think man's ways make more sense than God's is just blasphemous. To suspend the Mass and instead trust in men defeats the purpose of Catholicism. We already saw how science, government and even suspending events or engaging in social distancing has failed.  The virus is still spreading!  Suspending the Mass is the dumbest attempt at a solution possible.  We reject the most powerful prayer on Earth all for nothing.  This is a lack of faith and it hurts our spiritual life.  We begin to doubt God. When God doesn't answer our prayers or answers them differently, we get upset. Some of us even lose faith altogether despite witnessing God work in our lives in the past. 

Moses himself becomes a bit stressed out and asks God for help fearing that the people will stone him. God calmly tells him to go with his staff and strike a rock and water will flow from it. Gods asks Moses to do this to show that He can do anything. Usually water comes from rain, but God wanted Moses to tap on a rock for it. I see this as an innuendo of sorts. The Hebrews then and us today are "hard-headed." God must sometimes tap on our rocky heads to get water to flow, so to speak.

This first reading should remind us of faith and how delicate it is. We can be the most zealous Christians on Earth jumping around shouting alleluia like the charismatics, but it takes just one disappointment in life to bring all that down. In an instant we can lose faith in God. This is dangerous. Moreover, the first reading can be connected to our own spiritual journey during Lent and the rest of the year. We are "in the desert" trusting God. The desert is not a comfortable place.  In fact, it is so uncomfortable that even being a slave in Egypt sounds better.The desert is a common theme in the Sacred Scriptures.  It is not only a real place on Earth, but a symbol of hardship and loneliness.

The Psalm response is linked to the first reading. It comes from Psalm 95 and mentions the incident of the lack of trust the Hebrews had at Meribah and Massah. The psalm calls God the "rock of our salvation."  This is a connection to the rock Moses tapped for water. Water is the "salvation" of a thirty individual.

It is no surprise that to each refrain we respond, "If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts." This "hardening" is another connection to the rock in the desert and why I wrote a few paragraphs above that it is an innuendo. We often become "hard-headed" and harden our hearts as well.  The psalm reminds us that God is the one who made us and we should trust in Him. We must not repeat what our ancestors did where they did not trust Him and tested Him. The psalm ends in this manner.

The second reading speaks to us about faith. Again, it is all connected with the previous readings.  St. Paul reminds us that faith is what connects us with God. God gives grace to all freely, but we must respond with faith to it otherwise we will miss the grace.

This faith must then be put into practice for it to be truly valid because we must love God and have faith in Him not just because of commands, but because we choose it (James 2:14-26).  When we freely choose something instead of being forced to do something, it becomes more valuable and authentic. The reading continues speaking about hope that doesn't disappoint. No matter what hardships we face, God is still there.  Again, we must not repeat the mistakes of our ancestors in the desert who knew God was there but still doubted.

Lastly, the Gospel tells us about the Samaritan woman's encounter with Jesus. The Samaritans are a group of people who the Jews did not like. In about 700 BC, the Assyrians came to Israel and took over the north. They brought strangers to that area who would be called "Samaritans" later on. These people were Pagans but as they lived among the Jews in the land, they adopted some of their ideas and incorporated them into their own religion. Nevertheless, the Jews saw them as a pariah.

Jesus comes to a town called "Sychar." He is tired and sits down. Imagine that?  God is tired. This shows the humanity of Christ.

I digress..

As Jesus rests, a woman comes by and He asks her for a drink.  The woman is shocked because He asks her for a drink.  She does this because of the tension between the Jews and her people. Moreover, women at the time were not seen as full persons in those times due to culture. Jesus is showing He is a "feminist" per se. Moreover, Jesus then responds to her that if she knew who was asking her for water she would have been given the "living water" which is God's grace that comes from the Holy Spirit.

He continues telling her that the water He asks of her does not quench thirst but that the water He
gives will. Here He is saying that only God can satisfy us fully. Things of this world, including water, satiate. They do not satisfy us forever. The woman becomes interested and asks Jesus for this water.  Jesus then shows her that He knows her life by revealing that she had five husbands. The rest of the Gospel (if the longer version is read) continues with Jesus speaking about true religion in spirit and truth that comes from what He gives. The disciples also make an appearance and show their disapproval of the woman and Jesus communicating.

The Gospel is very long, but has deep and simple themes to reflect on.  First let us focus on faith. Here we see that it is God who comes to us, not the other way around. Jesus comes to the woman and asks for water. This is His way of saying that we have to respond back to God's grace with our faith and why He says, "I thirst" on the cross (John 19:28). He approaches us and asks for us to give Him water (our faith response).

Second, the woman belonged to a group of people that the Jews did not like.  Christ shows us that we must go to everyone with the Good News, not only our own. We must not be greedy and keep the truth for ourselves, but must share it with the "Samaritans" of the world today: non-believers, lukewarm believers, those who believe in other faith traditions, etc. We must not judge those who are not in our Catholic Church - the Mystical Body of Christ. Instead, we must approach them, be friends with them and reach out to them. We must also listen to them and learn from them just like Jesus listened to the woman.

The Gospel reminds us of "water." Water is the ultimate source of physical life.  Without water, there would be no life on this planet. Water is the engine of life. Jesus reminds us that He has the living water that gives us meaning and true life unlike the common H2o on Earth that we need to live on, physically speaking.

Ironically, in a desert that thing that is lacking the most and is the most desirable is water. When our
lives become dry, painful under the heat; the discomforts of the desert of life hit us hard, it is Christ who gives us the living water who keeps us going. In this time of Lent, we are walking in the desert with Christ. We are tempted to break our fast just like Jesus was tempted by Satan.

We naturally suffer spiritual dryness when we feel God is not there like the Hebrews who felt they were tricked into going to the desert to die. Our response is to trust in God even in bad times. We must not become hard headed and doubt God like those in Meribah and Massah. We know God is there. We have encountered Him in our lives. Our daily struggles should not push us to think God is not there in our lives. Faith is key. We must ask ourselves during Lent as we walk in the deserts of life: “Is the LORD in our midst or not?”

The answer is YES!  He is there with a nice clean cup of fresh living water to quench our thirst.

Today's readings of Meribah and Massah are being repeated today.  Despite seeing God's works, man is doubting again. Our very own leaders in the Church included!  To suspend the Mass, close Churches and trust in the suggestions of doctors and others who are as clueless on this pandemic as everyone else is a slap to the face of God.  Pope Francis loves to paraphrase St. John Chrysostom who said the Church is a field hospital. What field hospital disappears and shuts down service during war and when there are many who are sick?  Does that make sense?  Pope Francis, the bishops and others who are encouraging mundane methods to dealing with this pandemic are doing a great disservice to our Catholic faith.  I usually do not criticize the pope and bishops, but this time they went too far and hit me hard in the heart.  Everyone has failed during this crisis.  My mom bought 5 lysol containers for $9.99 each!  Stores a price gouging, people are panic buying everything forgetting that others need supplies as well. I find humanity's response more horrific than the Coronavirus itself.

Overreaction is what kills everything. When a non-human animal on a road overreacts, it runs into a car and gets killed.  When people overreact, they become like savages.  In fact, viruses themselves are not what kill people. What kills people is the overreaction of the immune system to the presence of the foreign body.  We must stop and have faith. We must not be like the Jews at Meribah and Massah who despite seeing God's works, doubted Him and wanted to do things their way (Psalm 95:5).   Pray and pray!  Repent and have faith!  This is what the pope and bishops should be calling us to, not to become timid and hide.  The Spirit God gave us is not a cowardly one (2 Timothy 1:7).  The pope must recall another quote by St. John Chrysostom and remind the bishops of it, it says: "The road to hell is paved with the bones of priests and monks, and the skulls of bishops are the lampposts that light the path."  Our shepherds need to wake up to what is going on. This is all a cosmic test.  Let us keep the faith!


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