March 25, 2011

Third Sunday of Lent / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe source of the first reading for this Lenten weekend’s liturgies is the Book of Exodus.

Exodus is one of the five books of the Bible regarded as the basis of God’s revelation to the Chosen People.

The initial theological concepts and regulations about behavior are seen as being rooted in the original teachings of Moses.

Together, these books constitute the Torah, which is still the cornerstone of Judaism. Another name for the five books is the Pentateuch, a term coming from the Greek word for five.

As the title implies, the Book of Exodus is greatly concerned with the experiences of the Hebrews as they fled Egypt and moved toward the land that God had promised them.

It was a very difficult trip. Even today, a journey across the Sinai Peninsula is a bleak and lonely undertaking.

It is not surprising that the Hebrews wondered why they had to suffer so much as they wandered across the Sinai desert in search of the Promised Land. They grumbled about Moses, who led the way.

Water was a precious commodity in this arid environment. Understandably, they feared thirst.

Moses, enlightened by God, told them to look for water in an improbable place—the side of a rock. As directed, Moses struck the rock, and water flowed from it.

St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans supplies the second reading.

As is so typical of Paul’s writing, this passage celebrates Jesus as the only source of life and of communion with God, and it proclaims salvation in Christ as the gift coming from the willing sacrifice of the Lord on Calvary.

For its last reading this weekend, the Church presents a section of St. John’s Gospel.

It is the story of the Lord’s meeting with the Samaritan woman beside a well in Samaria. The reading is heavy with lessons for us.

First, merely the facts that the site is Samaria, that the Lord’s conversation is with a female and that the woman is a Samaritan all convey powerful messages.

Pious Jews detested Samaritans at the time of Jesus. Long ago, they had defiled the Jewish race and authentic religion by consorting with pagan invaders, and by worshipping outside Jerusalem. Jews avoided Samaritans and looked upon them with contempt.

Then, at the time of Jesus, no adult man ever would engage a woman in conversation. Such were the religious and social conventions.

Obviously, Jesus set all these considerations aside. He bore the message of God, and this message was meant for everyone.

The Lord asserts a dignity above that of Jacob. He promises a gift of water greatly more satisfying than any that could be drawn from a well.

Finally, Jesus predicts that a new order of communing with God is coming. It will be neither centralized in Jerusalem nor on the mountaintops where the Samaritans customarily worshipped.


Very much a part of Lent are the Church’s preparations to receive new members during the Easter Vigil.

Aside from the triumphant celebration of the Eucharist on that occasion, the most prominent symbol used in the liturgy is water. It is because the new members of the Church will be baptized.

For those Catholics already members of the Church and not being baptized at the Easter Vigil, water also will symbolize life. They will renew their baptismal promises. The priest will sprinkle them with blessed water to recall their baptisms.

Water will symbolize new life and the promise of eternal life. In these readings, the Church is telling us that God alone, in Jesus, is the source of life eternal.

Lent is our time to decide whether to embrace this life or not. †

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