Joy

I rambled recently on Facebook about Christmas, and how I feel that I might be a Christmas kind o’gal at heart. I realized tonight what it is that led me to that reflection, what it is that I am experiencing this week: joy!

This has caught me by some surprise, as I hadn’t quite realized I’d been lacking it, but of course: the past few years and Christmasses have been quite hard. Each holiday I feel keenly the absence of one of my dear children at some point. Although not chronically miserable and even at times happy, I had lost joy.

I am a joyful person! I had not realized. Without joy, I am not myself. What a wonderful thing to discover about oneself! But it is not just true of me: it is the same for everyone! Even the most Ebenezer Scroogiest among us!

This is what I love about Christmas: the total abandonment to joy! Untarnished, unblemished by any cynicism, pure, innocent joy!

Clearly, not every Christmas is joyful to all people. One learns as a child, to one’s astonishment, that one can feel quite contrary to the intended spirit of the special occasion being celebrated, just as the weather can be wretched rather than gay. The past few Christmasses, though happy, have been coloured by grief and anxiety, and I cannot describe my heart as having been joyful.

There is a levity to joy. It is this levity that sets it apart from mere happiness, I think. When one is happy, one’s feet, as it were, remain on the ground. When one is joyful, one is levitating, at least interiorly. My favourite depiction of joy in a movie is from the 1951 A Christmas Carol starring Alastair Sim:

Ebenezer [grumpily]  I don’t deserve to be so happy.

[starts laughing uncontrollably again] 

Ebenezer I can’t help it!

When joyful, we forget ourselves. We lose or renounce the control we typically enforce on our lives: the worries we have about how we might be perceived by others, about whether we are living up to our own standards, about living up to the Idea of Oneself that one has decided one ought to be. If we are uptight, anxious, fearful, or controlling in any way, we cannot be truly joyful. To be joyful, we must lose ourselves in God. And perhaps it will manifest itself in smiles–it certainly does with me, or at least a softening of my face. And there is an excitement in joy, the same sort of excitement the multitude of the heavenly host stirred up when they praised God in the fields, saying “Glory to God in the highest!” When I am joyful, my heart is united with that heavenly host stretched across the vast field, praising God. There is also a deep and intimate aspect to joy, as intimate and ineffable as a mother’s love for her baby.

And true joy is rooted in love. Sometimes we get a taste of joy in our relationships with people. I look upon my husband, or think about a friend who is very close to my heart, and I know joy. The deepest joy, however, is when I turn that gaze towards the Lord in my heart. I smile at Him, knowing He is smiling at me, who is totally unworthy of His smiles.

Joy! Joy is known at Easter, too, but in a more glorious and mature way. Joy at Christmas is so simple, so innocent of suffering albeit wise to it.

I am really quite fortunate to have known joy in my life. I know not everyone has joy in their homes. Perhaps, indeed, most people do not know more than happiness at best. I do not know. My wish is that everyone could know joy, but it is hard to see how one could be truly joyful without knowing Christ. Happy, certainly, but joyful? Perhaps, perhaps. Certainly there are many who know God and find joy in Him. Yet… yet to know God as Christ and Holy Spirit is about as intimate as we mortals can get with the Almighty. There is no other God who became one with us in body and soul, who fused his very being to our matter. This lends an intimacy that cannot otherwise be achieved. It is what marriage is a mere shadow of. And in intimacy, there grows the deepest and the greatest joy.

The most joyful people are the Saints, it has been said to me. I believe it! Who is more free, who is less self-conscious and more God-conscious than a saint? Some are so joyful that their interior levitation has been reflected in physical levitation! A priest my father knew once swiped his foot underneath Padre Pio as the saint was levitating, astounded that a human body should be floating above the ground! Such an amazing and miraculous external reflection of an internal reality!

I am grateful. I am deeply grateful to know joy again. I know that in my life joy comes and goes, but overall, when I am well, I am a joyful person, and I have always wanted to be a joyful person like St Philip Neri. I have prayed that God might grant me the grace of joy, just as I have often prayed that He might grant me the grace of wisdom.

In my joy, I do not forget suffering. I still remember my Matthew. I quickly recall dear friends who are undergoing terrible hidden crucifixions even at this very moment–some, remarkably, enduring these with a continued determination to rejoice in the Lord, God bless them! Rejoice in the Lord always! Newly equipped with joy, however, I can face these sufferings with a levity that is not of this world, a trust that God truly is God, and a good and loving one at that.

For now, my own life is enjoying some reprieve from major grief, and I am taking the time to thank God and to rejoice in my blessings: friendships many times more valuable than gold, family so near to my heart, wonderful children, and a husband I adore the Lord in, for the man is such a good man and such a delight. I am trying to bottle up my joy, label it, and shelve it for a future date when trials strike again, as they are sure to. The joy will still be there, but it will feel more distant, more of a memory than a present reality. And that’s ok. That is how this life is. In the next life, it will be pure joy beyond anything we have ever known in this life. We will all be levitating!

How to become a saint – how my perspective has changed

I’ve always been captivated by the stories of the Saints. My earliest memory is one of fascination and some horror as I flipped through an old illustrated book of Saints for kids, observing the wide spectrum of gruesome ends depicted and fixating on the beautiful dresses that adorned the queen Saints (my favourite pictures in Andrew Lang’s fairy tale collections were likewise those of elegant princesses). From there, I grew to a crude awe of Saints like Padre Pio and Joseph of Cupertino, whose lives were a series of unfathomable miraculous events. I kind of wanted to be miracle-working Saint Superhero. Ultimately, I wanted to feel special and be special. I was charmingly naive to the real toll of bearing the stigmata or the humiliation of levitating in view of others. It was an awkward, immature stage of spirituality, much in line with the awkwardness and immaturity of those early teenage years.

Then I watched The Mission and fell hard in love with the Jesuits, St Ignatius, and the idea of doing great things for God. St Maximilian Kolbe was a great hero of mine as well. I wanted to bring the love of Jesus all around the world, fight like the bravest of spiritual soldiers, and perhaps die a martyr’s death. Ad maiorem Dei gloriam! I was ambitious for the higher things, right? Or so I thought.

My voracious appetite for spiritual reading led me to discover the Church’s supreme estimation of the interior life. I had a new aspiration: to become a contemplative, preferably a cloistered one, a Trappist or something if I were really heroic. I’d read little pamphlets about the slightly insufferable Thérèse of Lisieux, pamphlets that made me feel guilty if I didn’t replace the toilet paper roll if I finished the last one (dang it, conscience! Ignorance is bliss!), and I figured I’d better buckle down and learn to appreciate her. I couldn’t really get through the autobiography. It was far too simple for my sophisticated soul. Thérese got put on the back burner while I fell in love with God through St Augustine, some guy who had beat me to my trick of writing letters to God, and some eighteen centuries earlier, at that!

Eventually, as an undergrad, I encountered von Balthasar’s Two Sisters in the Spirit. What a gift that book was to my all-too sophisticated soul! It was essentially an intellectual translating Thérèse’s simple spirituality into a language a mind hampered by excessive sophistication could understand. This opened my soul to a whole new world of simplicity and humility, and I dove deep.

But I still wanted to be a great Saint. I wanted to do something for God. I wanted to be something for God. I wanted to change the world! Looking back, I am alternately embarrassed and charmed. I am a little ashamed of my blind pride, but I am also charmed by an enthusiasm that I see in my young son: that drive to be the superlative human being in all endeavours. It’s an adorable, trusting, childlike but yet immature stage of faith: instead of “when I grow up, I’m going to be the strongest and the fastest!” it was “one day I’ll be the holiest! I will be the poorest in spirit! the purest in heart! I will do great things for God!”

And, you know, Josemaria Escriva urged people to set as their goal to become great saints. However, there’s striving to become a great saint and there’s striving to become a great saint. One busies itself with becoming great, and the other becomes a beggar.

In recent years, I have not had as much time to devour holy books. I also have three children, so I can no longer spend long hours in prayer. I don’t really even have much time to build an interior life. My life is no longer conducive to my making myself a saint —thanks be to God!

I am a beggar. I am busy just trying to survive on the streets of my life. In between ensuring three small children are properly dressed to venture out into the increasingly cold weather and cleaning up the mess of food fallen under high chairs that children in impoverished countries would happily devour but sadly meets the compost bucket instead, I say, “help me, Jesus” and “I love you, Jesus” and “help me to love you more, Jesus” and, most beautiful of all, “thank you so, so much for your love for me, Jesus!” In five years of marriage that has included twins, stillbirth, unemployment, mental illness, and a perpetually messy home, I have grown in touch with my utter weakness and helplessness, but I have also discovered the greatest joy of knowing that Jesus loves me. Jesus is crazy about me. And what’s more, Jesus is the most incredibly, profoundly, heartbreakingly, terrifyingly beautiful thing I’ve ever caught glimpse of, and I could just sit in awe of his majesty, the burning, blazing furnace of his love.

I am not a great saint. I am not sure I ever will be one, but honestly, I don’t much care anymore. If it pleases Jesus to use me in some way that I am one day upheld as a model to the Church, so be it, although the thought amuses me seeing as I can barely offer up chocolate for a day for some intention at present, nor do I have any discipline of daily prayers. If it pleases Jesus to let me remain a simple soul who struggles daily to overcome her weaknesses and give him glory, who lives in relative obscurity for the rest of her life, that is fine. I only ask that I might share Him in some way with others, that I might make Him known and loved. How I will do that, I can’t determine: circumstances determine that. On the other hand, how I will do that is quite simple: I will bask in his love, and he will in turn allow that love to leak out of me as I go about my daily business.

My interior life is this: on Sunday, I go to Mass and receive the Sacred Host. Jesus takes up residence in the tabernacle of my heart, and I essentially ask him to make a monstrance of my eyes. And that’s it. I go about my daily life. I try to live a good life, but I’m currently in a season of healing. I am praying that He might lead me one day to a season of more active spirituality, one in which I can take on penances out of love for him, but for now I need to know His love for me, and I need to glory in it, and I need to adore Him, and He’ll do the rest. And I do know this: I know that He will lead me to heaven so long as I keep going to Mass on Sundays and avoiding mortal sin, so ultimately, whether I’m a great Saint or not, He has promised to transform me into a saint.

I love you, Jesus.

Why Do I Want to Become a Saint?

After my last entry, I got to reflecting anew upon why I want to become a saint. It’s been my life goal for twenty years or so — long enough, that is, that I forget on a daily basis why I came to it in the first place. However, though my memory is poor for external events, it tends to serve me very well for internal experiences.

Of course, the best reason to become a saint is because God wills it. Indeed, there really is no other way to strive for sainthood ultimately. It’s not about us; it’s about glorifying His ineffable goodness. But we can be inspired to desire this path from a number of lesser paths that come together like rivulets merging together in a river before it pours out into the sea.

I think my first inspiration was reading the stories of the Saints. Not long after I was confirmed, I watched the movie The Mission, and fell in love with it. In perhaps my first personal historical research project, I went to the library to take out as many books as I could about the history of the Jesuits and St Ignatius of Loyola. I’ve always been attracted to intelligence and courage, so this order bore a lot of natural attraction for me. The public library had a surprising number of books on Saints, and I remember being indebted to it for Patricia Treece’s biography of St Maximilian Kolbe as well. I found more books at our parish library, too. I read many different kinds of books, ciphening out information from books less than perfectly friendly towards the Church, and sifting out inspiration from the sometimes somewhat cheesy accounts written by simple, earnest believers. In the end, I got what I wanted: stories of men and women who had lived lives remarkable for their love for God and neighbour. It was impossible not to be seduced by their holy examples of courage, resilience, humility, and love! If the Bible seemed inaccessible to me as a young teenager, these stories revealed Christ to me like stained glass windows commute the sunlight, each in its own individual way. I admired the Saints; they were heroic. I wanted to be like them.

So there was the romance, but there was also the practicality of dedicating one’s life and efforts to holiness. After all, if death and taxes are the two inevitables in life and one carries over consequences into eternity, it only makes sense to be particularly well prepared for that. I’m not one of those people for whom Eternity has been a source of anxiety. I did try to think my way to understanding it as a child, but I eventually learned that the understanding of Eternity, as with so many other mysteries, is not something we grasp through mental exercises but more through life experience, for these mysteries are embedded in the world around us, and especially in our souls. So I looked at the Truth of Eternity calmly and reasoned simply that I ought to pack my umbrella — strive to make the necessary preparations, that is. Adventures appeal to me (they demand courage!), so knowing that this one promises to be a good one so long as we’re prepared was good enough for me.

Another reason I wanted to become a saint was that I’d gone through a philosophical phase when I was ten or eleven, thanks to my Dad. I loved reflecting on the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, and how this trinity, so to speak, was one in God, and I suppose in my little child way, I adored that and desired to be united with that above all. Sin and sorrow over the years to come only served to strengthen that yearning.

These are my roots, or some of the bigger ones. It’s remarkable, I note now, how formative those years transitioning from child to teenager are, or can be. They set me on the path I’ve been struggling to follow since, influenced the choices I’ve made, the renunciations I’ve made. It would seem, too, that though I have changed a lot since then, my foundation remains the same: I want to become a saint because it is the heroic and admirable path, because it is the best life investment a person can make for the long term, and because God is so dang attractive I can’t help myself.

Teetering on a brink, an answer comes

Last night, my husband and I had the opportunity to talk a little, and we discussed the day’s homily and got onto the topic of the Narrow Gate Christ speaks of, and how the purifications of Purgatory are reportedly more painful than any purifications we might endure in this life, and this brought me to a place of frustration I’ve been heading towards for some time now:

“I’ve been trying to become a saint since I was something like twelve years old, and look at me! I’m still impatient, still moody, still irritable, more irascible than ever, and I still crave the regard of others! For all my striving, I don’t seem to be getting very far. It’s like there is a delicate balance of making an effort and relying upon God’s grace, and I can’t strike it. Recently, I just feel like giving up trying. Maybe the secret is to nag God: hey, God, I need more grace because, as you can see, I’m still pretty pathetic and not getting anywhere, so if you want me to become a saint, you better give me a lot more help!”

Shortly thereafter, we acknowledged the hour was late and we should go to bed, and on my way, I picked up one of the most densely inspirational books in the way of Christian living that I know, My Daily Bread, written by the Confraternity of the Precious Blood. I flipped through and landed upon the following – it was a bit of a tollelege moment, if you recall St Augustine. Each chapter begins with the (imagined, yet arguably inspired) voice of Christ, followed by a reflection, followed by a prayer.

“Son, the grace of devotion is not just a holy feeling, nor is it a religious mood. It is an intelligent attachment of your will to Me and to whatever I command or desire of you.

2. This is a very great grace. I will grant it to you if you will make a sincere effort to turn your back on whatever hinders your spiritual progress. You must empty your heart of all useless interests in order to make room for Me.

3. Often it is such a small matter that prevents one from obtaining this grace. Misguided self-interest cuts many people off from this glorious gift.

4. I desire you to have this grace. It will make you loyal to Me in all things. If you do not have it yet, it is because you have not yet prepared your soul for it. Pray for it and labor for it. Gain control of your feelings and unreasoning desires by acts of self-denial and self-sacrifice. Above all, begin a determined battle against the outstanding faults in your daily life.

5. With this grace of true devotion, you will find many things easy which now seem difficult and impossible. You will never again lose sight of My power, wisdom, and love, and you will consider it a privilege to follow My Will.

THINK: If I make a firm and persevering effort to abandon my foolish love for unnecessary distractions, God will give me the gift of devotion. From then on, I will no longer depend on feelings or moods, but will follow God’s Will intelligently and faithfully even when I do not feel like doing so.

PRAY: My loyal and loving Saviour, you lived an earthly life of devotion to Your Father’s Will. By self-giving action You made reparation for my many acts of disobedience to His holy commandments. By self-giving action You also proved Your love for me. You gave me an example of true devotion. Grant me the grace of true and solid devotion to You, so that I may prove my love for You by self-giving. No matter how I may feel, let me do only what is pleasing to You. I desire not only to avoid all sin, but also to do many little extra things for Your sake. Make my devotion like Yours – a constant self-offering which will prove my love beyond all doubt. Amen.

My Daily Bread, Confraternity of the Precious Blood (1954), Book 2, Ch. 13

It can be hard to find a good spiritual director. I’ve had the guidance of a number over the years, and only one felt like a perfect fit for me, and he I only enjoyed the companionship of over the course of a three-day retreat. Jesus has not left me orphaned, though. When I was a teenager, I prayed that if He would not send me a spiritual director, then would He please send me the books I need when I need them and guide me thus. I have often noticed Him answering this prayer, and this was surely yet another instance.

I need to continue striving, but I need to refocus. I need to assess my life objectively, and I need to do things the way God wants me to do them rather than the way I want to do them, for my will’s discernment is still often clouded by “misguided self-interest.” In the past few months, it’s become clear that I need to make time to be alone, something that used to be easy but with three children is a challenge. I’ve started taking Saturday mornings to myself while my husband minds the kids, and it’s been a wonderful time to recollect myself and look objectively at my life and try to bring some intelligent order to it. I suspect my next sabbatical should be devoted to my spiritual plan of life.

The Power of Symbols

Last Sunday we entered church and found our icons, pictures, statues, and crucifix masked with purple cloth. My son was very upset by this, but so was I, small matter that this happens every Lent! I spent the Mass feeling uneasy and unsettled – where could I rest my eyes? When I go to Mass, I look more at the religious art that adorns our churches than anything else. When the mind wanders, as may be relied upon, the artistic and symbolic depictions of significant people and events in my Faith serve as extra aids in keeping my attention on God, rather than my grocery list (although they by no means prevent my drawing up grocery lists). We have very nice art in our church and I like looking at it all, but in every church I visit, it is the crucifix that captivates me more than anything, and it is that upon which I fix my gaze for most of the Mass, as it facilitates an ongoing conversation with – and meditation upon – Christ, and the mystery of His almost incredible love. When, on Sunday, the crucifix was veiled, I spent much of the Mass feeling like a child lost at a family reunion: I wasn’t scared because I knew my parents were there somewhere, but I was a bit anxious because I couldn’t see them, and my eyes darted everywhere.

The veiling of the church art is an effective means of reminding us just how powerful our representations and symbols are. It made me reflect upon how empty the world would be without Mary, St Joseph, St Michael the Archangel, Divine Mercy, etc., etc. – but first and foremost: without Christ! Then would I be lost indeed!

On Thursday, I met with the counsellor who is helping me address my anxiety and insomnia challenges, and she gave me a page out of a book and spoke with me about the idea that in order to overcome anxiety, one does better to face the source of anxiety immediately than to avoid it or ignore it. Avoidance defers the moment wherein the anxiety will be addressed, allowing the anxiety to build.

“Because we are scared to feel fear, we avoid whatever triggers it. It’s the avoidance that locks the phobia [or anxiety] in place…. It’s not the fear that stops you. It’s fear of feeling the fear that stops you…. If you can let yourself tolerate feeling fear, the feeling gradually decreases…. what you really need to do is face down the fear.” – Healing Through the Dark Emotions, Miriam Greenspan (p. 173)

Reading Greenspan’s thoughts, I remembered the crucifix. After all, the representation of a man dead or dying from torture is essentially the representation of all those things we fear most: death, humiliation, vulnerability, loss, abandonment, betrayal, absolute poverty, nakedness, shame, heartbreak, defeat. Greenspan’s book presents the message of facing down one’s fear through a New Age-Jewish-Buddist mindfulness lens, but the idea is at the heart of Catholicism: there is no greater symbol in our Tradition than that of Christ crucified upon the cross. In our homes, in our churches, around our necks, on our keychains, on our dashboards, and tucked away in just about any ready nook, cranny, or pocket, we face our deepest fears on a daily basis. Better even than the acclimatization to fear (“affect tolerance” is apparently the term used by psychologists), Christians are given a real reason not to fear. “In the grand scheme of things, what’s the worst that could happen?” “Hm, well, the Powers of Evil could conquer the Powers of Good. They could even kill a God who, crazy as it sounds, is a fool for love over mere creatures!” Well, The Worst Thing that could happen in The Grand Scheme of Things did happen, and evil was still completely and utterly defeated, for the Crucified Christ became the Risen Christ, gloriously triumphant, having endured the greatest pain and humiliation.

“And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a standard: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he seeth it, shall live.” – Numbers 21:8, a prefiguration of the Crucifix

I have many fears, and many thoughts make me feel anxious. I fear the death of those I love most, I fear raising children poorly so that they prefer sin or worldly comforts to God, I fear the stack of dishes that piles up in the sink and the floor covered with toys and food that the children have dropped, I fear the judgement of those who read my writing and of those who see my lazy or indulgent grocery choices at the check-out counter. And my heart still aches from the death of my son, and from sundry injuries past, missed opportunities, regrets. There is fear and there is grief and there is the temptation to despair, and all this Christ has taken upon himself and given us a symbol that encompasses them all to gaze upon in wonder, knowing how they were not merely faced by a brave man, but thoroughly transformed.

When Catholics gaze upon the crucifix, we gaze upon all that is the worst in this world. We bring our pain and humiliation, our brokenness, grief, and defeat, and face the darkness with Christ. Through Him, with Him, in Him, we not only grow unassailable in the face of the apparent threat of the tyranny of evil, but we find the darkness transformed into light. The “emotional alchemy” that Greenspan writes of? The High Alchemist is the Holy Trinity.

Lord, by your cross and resurrection, you have set us free. You are the Saviour of the world.

The Most Beautiful Gospel Story?

I asked Him permission to take this photo, we laughed at my social media generation, and then I told Him He could stop smiling — only, of course, He never will.

One of the persistent jokes in my family of origin revolves around the incredible richness of the Scriptures, so someone might say “the Gospel today was really good!” to be responded with “unlike those other Gospel stories!” One can’t help but laugh with joy when one takes a moment to consider the great and powerful gift of the Scriptures!

It would be foolish to spend much time ranking Gospel stories, for they are all a revelation of one and the same gloriously loving God, but it is true that some offer more material for profound reflection and therefore could perhaps be said to be more beautiful. One of these stories is that of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. It was one of the options for Sunday’s Mass, and the priest not only chose it for our Mass, but he also expounded upon it lectio divina style, which was exactly what my heart was yearning for after being touched by it in a new way during the Gospel reading.

The story found in John 4 is a powerful story of mercy and of the ardent yearning of God for our love. In homilies past, I have had my attention drawn to the significance of the encounter happening at a well, a place that, in Biblical tradition, was a significant meeting point for man with a woman: it was at a well that Moses met Zipporah, that a bride was found for Isaac, etc. In John 4, the well that had associations with the most intimate human alliance draws attention to the marriage that God yearns to share with His people.

The following is very much inspired by Sunday’s homily.

6 Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. 7 There came a woman of Samar′ia to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samar′ia?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.

Here Father drew attention to the setting: It is noon, the hottest hour of the day, the hour when most women would prefer not to be fetching water from a well. But the Samaritan woman is an outcast, the gossip of the town, having taken up with many men and perhaps being eyed with fear and suspicion, if not judgment, so she chooses this hour so as to avoid uncomfortable encounters. God knows her schedule, however, and he has plans to meet her. The division between Jews and Samaritans makes the woman wary of Jesus, anticipating more hostility, to which she is accustomed.

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.”

Jesus is not phased, however, by her apparent unreceptiveness; he knows her heart. We can imagine with what love he looked into her eyes and began to speak to her of the Good News. The woman does not understand that Jesus is speaking symbolically and eagerly latches onto the idea that she might not have to return to this well, a reminder of her humiliation.

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.

Christ is eager to give her everything, all the living water of life that he has to offer, but he also knows there is an obstacle, namely her sins. He cannot avoid the truth, but he brings it up very gently; he does not launch into accusation or lecture. The woman is no doubt ashamed, but Jesus is not scandalized. Our sins may give scandal to others and even to ourselves, but they never scandalize God. Jesus sees into the confusion and shame brought about by her sins; he speaks truth to her, but he does so gently. He also lets her lead the conversation: perhaps inspired by her own discomfort with her sinfulness, she turns the conversation in another direction. Christ does not press her, he does not insist upon a discussion of her sins, he has opened that door for her, an invitation if she wishes to go further into it, but he has not come to condemn her, only to draw her to himself.

20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain;[a] and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

This part of the story is exciting, the action rises to the climax: the present problems of the division of Jews and Samaritans is almost the past, the time is coming that God’s new covenant will be fulfilled, the woman becomes hopeful that perhaps this man speaking to her might know something about the long-awaited and much desired Messiah, and Christ responds to her hope with the most beautiful revelation the world has ever known: He is the Messiah, the Deliverer.

Yes, it is fitting that such an encounter should take place at a well, for it reads with the same sort of excitement and hope as when one reads a Jane Austen novel and yearns for the heroine to find peace and love in the man who loves her. Certainly, human romantic love is but a reflection of the Great Romance that is God’s love for his people, just as the moon reflects the light of the sun. I do not know that any other religion perceives the Great Romance so much as Catholicism, for in Catholicism we have some who are so overcome by it that they happily renounce human marriage for the sake of a life devoted solely to God and his Church. We believe in it so much that, in the Roman rite, we make it a requirement that priests not marry, for they ought themselves to be consumed by the Great Romance and consider themselves in relation to us as Christ is in relation to us.

I have wandered from Father’s homily. There were two other important lessons he imparted, but I don’t remember how he fit them in. The first was a reminder that when God speaks to us, it gives us a sense of peace and joy (of course, He may allow our conscience to be needled for the sake of conversion, but ultimately He brings peace and confidence; confusion and distress come from the Devil). I remember this very well from when I was making a big change in my life from seriously pursuing religious life to opening my heart to dating my now husband. All I wanted was to love God with all my heart and was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to within marriage, and I brought this confusion before Jesus one night in the tabernacle in the convent where I was living, and it seemed he placed words in my heart that I was free to do as I wanted and should not be afraid, and my heart was filled with peace and joy and gratitude. I soon realized that God was offering Rob to me as much as Rob himself was, and within six weeks we were engaged. It still amazes me how quickly one can run along what had been for years a narrow and difficult path when one entrusts one’s heart and life wholly to God, and when the timing is right.

The second lesson was that we must make time to have a daily conversation with the Lord, about fifteen to twenty minutes would be good. I struggle very much to remain faithful to a regular prayer time at home. I prefer to go to Mass or go to Adoration where Jesus is physically present, but as a mother of three children three and under, that’s simply not feasible on a daily basis. As it so happens, however, I’ve taken the past week with my husband on parental leave to enjoy a couple visits to the Adoration chapel, and there Christ has impressed on my heart that I need to find a way to continue the relationship at home in a disciplined manner. When I heard our priest exhort us to regular, scheduled prayer once again, I was confirmed in my sense that it’s time to take this relationship with Jesus to the next level, haha.

There we have it, one of the most beautiful stories among a collection of stunningly beautiful stories. Perhaps the beauty of the various Gospel stories may be likened to the beauty of the various individuals God has made: each different, and some revealing Him to a greater depth than others, but all dazzling with His radiance, His glory, His love.