THE STRANGER’S VISIT
By: John Dalla Costa
Not surprisingly for such an amazing story, theologians have rich and diverse interpretations of the woman whom Jesus meets at the well.
Some see her as a harbinger for the church. She was after all the first person in John’s gospel to proclaim Jesus as Messiah. And she pioneered evangelization, converting her whole Samaritan town into welcoming this thirsty Jewish Rabbi as Lord.
The Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar included this passage in his reflection on the nature of eternity. This woman, whose name we do not know, saw Jesus face-to-face, and was transformed by that gaze. She was the same person in the same life, facing the same struggles, toils and joy. But that ordinariness had been pierced and made holy by letting Jesus into her heart, including its darkest recesses. In that ecstatic liberation from despondency and sin, she experienced the deep communion that dissolved what separated Jew from Samaritan, male from female, loneliness from belonging, and the momentary from the eternal.
Pope John Paul II also referenced the Samaritan woman in his apostolic letter on the dignity and vocation of women. This woman had deep knowledge of religion, and incomparable courage in breaking taboos. Risking a remarkable conversation of equals with Jesus, she created a model for prayer: asking questions and seeking understanding; welcoming truth regardless of its discomforts; standing ground with dignity, and yet willingly and humbly confessing failures; petitioning for grace, and then taking personal initiative and responsibility for passing that gift unto others.
Jesus approached the woman as the thirsty one, but she is the one who leaves sated. Midway through our own Lenten journey, we might pray for the audacity to drink what the Lord offers with the relish and abandon of the remarkable woman at the well.
By John Dalla Costa
With the bright stars of Christmas now a receding memory, and the new dawn of Easter still months away, the liturgical year turns to helping us live the illumination of faith in ordinary time. Light is the motif connecting all of today’s readings: from the poetic-pragmatism of Isaiah, to the terse, Tweet-like declaration by Jesus that we “are the light of the world.”
What does it mean to light up ordinary time? In a canyon of still rising condominiums, our parish church is literally ever more in shadows cast by the city. So we don’t need to go far from our bell tower to discover the gloom of hunger, illness and homelessness, which Isaiah challenges us to see and correct.
Nor, however, do we need to go very far up or down Bay Street to discover other forms of darkness. In our culture, which makes morality optional, and truth relative, it is often hope that is eclipsed, and meaning that gets obscured. And in our neighborhood, it can just as easily be that the busiest people are the loneliest, the smartest most in need of understanding, and the most successful aching most for satisfaction. Jesus does not ask us to share the light, but to be the light; not to judge, but to embody our spirituality so that the peace and purposefulness from our baptism light up the darkness for those around us.
Ever the humble servant, Paul insists that we can’t let these bright lights go to our heads. It is after all God’s power that generates this potential in us. Our job is to be July in February – to radiate the warmth, gratitude, welcome and glee that help extract the deep preciousness from ordinary time.
PROTECTING THE PRECIOUS
by John Dalla Costa
The Holy Family takes on special significance this year, as it precedes the Synod of Bishops on the Family, which Pope Francis convened for 2014. Francis described the family as “the first setting in which faith enlightens the human city.” Concerned about the “social and spiritual crisis” impacting families, the Holy Father asked for input from bishops, clergy, religious and the laity.
Early Christians regarded the family as the “domestic church,” because this is where we first experience the generative power of God’s love. As we read in Sirach and Paul, family is also the container in which we learn Beatitude-like spiritual virtues, such as kindness and respect; grieving together; yearning for and learning justice; and relishing healing peace.
This spiritual formation within family is being lost. The Synod’s preparatory document explains that, “many children and young people will never see their parents receive the sacraments.” As well as re-seed formation, the Bishop’s Synod is charged with framing pastoral care for the spiritual needs of “irregular” families, such as those involving divorced members, single parents, same-sex couples, and surrogate mothers. The aim is to help all families discover and live out what Pope John Paul II called the “fundamental and innate vocation of every human being,” which is to “love.”
Holy families are fragile entities because, as we read in today’s Gospel, by their example and priorities they undermine tyrants, injustice and inequality. Joseph was himself in an irregular situation, making Mary his wife despite her pregnancy, and raising Jesus despite not being his natural father. But once again he surrendered to his “vocation to love,” sweeping the family to safety by taking refuge in a foreign land, and later settling in obscure Nazareth.
KINGSHIP OF MERCY
by John Dalla Costa
Many of us bemoan the state of leadership. Financial crisis, political gridlock, and scandals in senates, and at city halls, have generated tsunamis of cynicism. With political divisions festering, we find ourselves more divided at the very moment when shared purpose and resolve are desperately needed.
Israel at the time of Samuel was embroiled in its own social crises. Treachery and scandal had soiled the elites. The people were in shock from defeat in battle that included the capture of Ark of the Covenant by enemies. When the elders anointed David as King of Israel, they thrust on him the people’s messianic hopes; not only to re-forge political order and unity, but to also re-consecrate the covenant with God.
Even though conventional kingship began to fail during David’s reign, his was the template for messiah that continued to shape expectations. This is why the leaders present at Golgotha “scoffed” at Jesus, and why the soldiers “mocked” him. But as we read in today’s gospel, not everyone missed the transformational qualities of the Jesus’ kingship. Usually we are instructed by the compassion Jesus shows to others. However, in this instance, when Jesus is most vulnerable, it is the thief crucified with him who speaks from the heart, defends Jesus, exposes injustice, and initiates reconciliation by asking for Jesus to remember him.
This kingship of mercy is authentic leadership because it leverages authority from love, not power. And it works because it generates unity from compassion rather than conquest.
ON HOLY GROUND, TOGETHER
By John Dalla Costa (Parishioner)
If we seek a sign for stewardship, or desire scriptural guidance for participative ministry, we can’t do better than with today’s first reading from Exodus. With outstretched arms Moses transmits God’s grace to Israel. Yet at this moment of crisis the need is overwhelming. On his own, Moses can only do so much. So others in the community improvise. Audaciously, they too assume the holy stance, supporting Moses’ arms so that the people would continue receiving consecration.
Stewardship is a shared vocation. As with Aaron and Hur assisting Moses, there are times when ministry to community hinges on our bringing personal strengths, gifts and talents to bear on the outcome.
Baptism confers this priestly potential in each of us. But assuming this vocation cannot be ad hoc. Writing to his acolyte Timothy, Paul describes on-the-job training for stewards. Jesus is our model, and aim: his presence in our lives, through faith, guides us in understanding our role in serving God’s church. Paul also points to scripture “for training in righteousness,” to gain proficiency as teachers, mediators, conflict-healers, and to be “equipped for every good work.”
Proximity to holiness is a privilege not to be taken lightly. “Pray always” Jesus told his disciples, and do not “lose heart.” Today’s parable cautions that help is not available on-demand. God is not an ATM. But Jesus assures us that steady, constant, continuous prayer works profoundly. It’s not that repetition wears God down, but rather that such habits of prayer prepare us to receive vocation, and the abundant grace for fulfilling its duties.