29 February 2008

Fr. Philip Neri's Three Year Plan for Faith Formation: UPDATED

Pretty much everyone admits that the quality Catholic catechesis in this country has taken a dramatic nose-dive in the last forty years. Replacing the contents of the historic Catholic faith with poorly digested pop-psychobabble, leftist political rhetoric, feminist power-grabs, and Protestantized biblical scholarship, our professional catechesis have left the U.S. church with at least two generations of Catholics incapable of articulating the most basic tenet of what we claim to believe as heirs of the apostles.

These same Catholics can emote canonical emotions on cue; “share” their faith when asked (i.e., give an uneducated opinion on some hot-button topic); and defend to the death the libertarian definition of conscience that they believe allows them, without consequence, to use artificial contraception, obtain abortions, divorce and marry without an annulment, and just generally do whatever they please. What they can’t do is describe, defend, or assent to the Roman Catholic faith as revealed in scripture, defined by the Fathers in the creeds, taught by the magisterium, and lived by the Church. And because they don’t know the faith, their “right to dissent” is wasted on tilting at Ecclesial Strawmen.

That we need a top-to-bottom, radical overhaul of the entire catechetical enterprise in this country is as obvious as a rabid possum in the outhouse and as pressing as finding that possum another home…quickly.

One fairly common solution to the problem of vincible ignorance of the faith is the establishment of diocesan centers for continuing education or adult lay formation programs. Insofar as any of these actually teach the faith, they are wonderful as antidotes to forty years of catechetical neglect. However, these centers and institutes are often recruitment and distribution facilities for dissent and pastoral malpractice. The more notorious of these will actively teach against the faith in the name of “cultural or historical relevancy” and in the name of “adult conscience formation.”

Another, and I would argue more specifically “Vatican Two,” solution to the problem is the parish-based, lay-run adult study group. The Episcopal Church offers what I think is probably one of the best organized lay-run continuing education programs called “Education for Ministry.” This is a four-year program that covers all the major elements of a professional seminary education at the master’s level. No doubt there are orthodox Catholic equivalents out there; however, most of the ones I’ve seen or heard about just can’t seem to get the basics right and refuse to side with the church on controversial issues, opting instead for wienie apologies or outright lies.

Below you will find a list of books that I believe one would need to start and maintain a three-year, once-a-week, lay-lead catechetical group in a parish.

But before we get to the books, let’s browse a few mandatory cautions:

1). No one living is as smart as two-thousand years of Church teaching and tradition. Some have come close (Rahner, von Balthasar) but 99.99999% of us are not yet ready to declare ourselves capable of consuming, digesting, regurgitating, and examining critically the monstrous volume of theology, philosophy, spirituality, history, science, biography, etc. produced in the church for the church. Therefore, a certain humility is required when stepping off into this project. This means leaving undeveloped and uncritical positions behind. The know-it-all has nothing to learn.

2). Do not let process crowd out content. If you have twenty minutes left in your group and you have the choice between looking up the word “consubstantial” in the dictionary or sharing your feelings about the Creed, find the dictionary and learn something. “Sharing” has its place but that place is near the back of the line. It has been the whole “sharing” obsession that has emptied our catechesis of its content.

3). Read. read. read. . .and wonder why! Every text deserves the respect of a critical reading. Ask questions until you are confident you could explain the basics to a tenth-grader. There is nothing about the faith that requires us to just shut up and take it. However, humility requires that we assume that it is our inability to understand that is confusing us about the doctrine rather than the falsity of the doctrine, or the unwillingness of the Church to explain themselves clearly (cf. #1 above, “I’m Not 2,000 Years Smart!”).

4). Don’t shy away from disagreement or argument. At the same time, don’t be a bully. Divine revelation is fixed. Our understanding of that revelation is fairly fluid and requires us to talk to one another for better understanding. This is not to say that everything about the faith is up for grabs. It is to say that particular expressions of the objectively true faith can be questioned and explored for clarity. Example: I’ve tried for some eight years now to understand the Church’s teaching on what happens to us after death. I’ve read just about every official document and still I fail to get it. I do not assume that this is a lack of clarity on the church’s part or a failure on the church’s part to make her case. I assume that I am simply not yet capable of “getting it.”

5). You are not an idiot, so please don’t come into the process thinking the project is above you. Yes, most of the ideas and texts are somewhat difficult. So what? Read the text. Look up the words you don’t know. Check references to scripture and the Catechism. And just get what you can as you can. If you think there’s a quick and easy way to have 2,000 years of the faith jammed into your brain…well, I got a possum farm I can let you have for cheap.

The Plan:

For a three-year, once-a-week, two hour class, I would divide the reading (roughly) this way:

Year One: Scripture & The Fathers

Gospels, Pauline Letters: 3 mos.

Patristic sources: 6 mos.

Secondary Texts listed below: 3 mos.

Year Two: Medieval Period

Early Medieval: primarily Anselm, early scholasticism: 2 mos.

Medieval: Bernard and Aquinas, high scholasticism: 6 mos.

Late Medieval: Mystics (Eckhart, etc.): 4 mos.

Year Three: Trent, Vatican One & Two

Council of Trent: 2 mos.

First Vatican Council: 2 mos.

Second Vatican Council: 8 mos.

The Texts

I. Necessary Texts (all three years)

a. a Bible (in order of preference: NRSV, NJB, NIV, NAB)

b. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994

c. Companion to the CCC (full texts of the footnotes in the CCC)

d. Documents of Vatican Two, Austin Flannery, OP

e. Readings in the History of Christian Theology, Volume 1: From Its Beginnings to the Eve of the Reformation, Wm Placher

f. Readings in the History of Christian Theology, Volume 2: From the Reformation to the Present, W, Placher

g. The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, Bernard McGinn

h. a good theological dictionary

II. Year One: Texts for Patristic Period

a. Robert L. Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God, 2005.

b. Andrew Louth, et al., Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers, 1987.

c. John R Willis,. Teachings of the Church Fathers, 2002.

d. Henrry Chadwick, The Early Church, 1993.

e. www.newadvent.org (click under “Fathers”)

1. Ambrose, “On the Mysteries”

2. Augustine, “On Christian Doctrine” (for the brave), “The Enchiridion,” & “Of Faith and the Creed”

3. Clement of Rome, “First Epistle”

4. Ignatius of Antioch, “The Martyrdom of Ignatius”

5. Any other you would like to include…

III. Year Two: Texts for the Medieval Period

a. Carl Volz, The Medieval Church: From the Dawn of the Middle Ages to the Eve of the Reformation, 1997.

b. Brian Davies, The Thought of Thomas Aquinas, 1993

c. Robert Barron, Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master, 2008

d. Selections from the Placher anthology

e. Selections from the McGinn anthology

f. Rule of St Benedict

IV. Texts for Trent, Vatican One & Two

a. document of the Council of Trent (on-line)

b. documents of the First Vatican Council (on-line)

c. documents of the Second Vaticna Council (on-line)

d. Mysterium fidei, Humanae vitae, Pope Paul VI

e. Redemptor homine, Redemptoris mater, Veritatis splendor, Fides et ratio, Pope John Paul II

f. Deus caritatis est, Spe et salvi, Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI


Most contemporary Catholic catechesis is based on the notion that you are too stupid, too lazy, or just don’t care enough to read moderately difficult texts about church history or theology. Frankly, this might be true. But even if it is true and despite yourself you truly want to immerse yourself in your faith: READ! Don’t try to understand every sentence, every paragraph. Read the assignment and just keep reading. Every time you want to skimp on the reading, say to yourself, “Ah HA! There’s something on the next page the Devil doesn’t want me to see!”

Keep your heart and mind open to the movement of the Holy Spirit as you read and discuss the texts. We learn in more ways than just the intellectual. Contemporary adult catechesis has one thing right: experience is vital to the process of integrating knowledge; in other words, knowledge has to be lived in order to become wisdom, otherwise it degrades to mere information.

If you have someone who has read some of these texts or knows something about the history of the faith, it might be a good idea to invite them to your group. You might even want to make him/her the group facilitator. This person ought to be able to help the group discuss the texts critically. If you keep your nose in the texts (and away from opinions, preferences, and feelings), there should be no danger of any one person dominating the group. Very often we are told that “sharing our feelings” is the best way to avoid one person from dominating an intellectual exchange; however, I’ve been in many, many groups where one Unstable Emotional Bully shut down most legitimates conversations with, “That offends me…” The proper response to this claim is: “OK. But are you harmed?”

Yes, this is an ambitious plan. Lots of books. Lots of reading. But just think: at the end of a mere three years you will have under your belt, in your head, and on your heart a nice chunk of knowledge about the Catholic faith and the rest of your life to turn that knowledge into wisdom!

If you want a few suggestions for advancing the reading list to the upper-classmen undergraduate level, let me know. If you want to tone it down a bit, that’s easy: keep the anthologies of primary texts and the histories. Put everything else aside. . .for now.

Reading the Texts and Group Discussion

These suggestions should be applicable to most any way your group wants to configure itself.

The basic idea is to read the texts and then have an intelligent conversation about what you have read. A caution: you will be tempted, as we all are in this postmodern age, to let the conversation drift into “sharing feelings” or “sharing experiences.” Strictly speaking, there is nothing wrong with this. However—and this is a Big However—, merely giving words to a memory or an emotion or a fantasy provoked by the text is not what intelligent conversation is about.

Yes, we must contemplate, and contemplation is much more than just “reasoning through” propositions and syllogisms. Contemplation is reading to pray, reading to understand, reading to grow in holiness and wisdom. Therefore, it is important that you actually know what the text says before you start sharing. Otherwise, what is it exactly are you experiencing?

Try these:

. . .have each member of the group select a passage before the group meets that he/she is ready to read aloud and summarize for the group.

. . .read the passage out loud and offer a summary of the basic argument or claim being made. . .

. . .as a group discuss any unfamiliar terminology or concepts; grab the dictionary if necessary.

. . .now, begin a “close reading” of the text; that is, take the passage apart one or two phrases or sentences at a time, parsing each one in relation to the next. One way to do this is to grab a thesaurus and look up key words to see what their synonyms might be.

. . .as you go along reading a phrase or sentence, back up and repeat the whole sentence or series of sentences until it makes some kind of sense for you.

. . .once you have the basic sense of the idea/argument/claim, discuss it until the group has exhausted all of its questions.

. . .questions can take the form of “What does he/she mean by X?” or “How are X and Y related here?” or, more critically, “Since X is ________, then why can’t we say Y?” or “Is X true?”

. . .the idea here is to avoid at all costs the Death Phrase: “I feel that________.” Feelings are fine and wonderful gifts from God, but if you are going to grasp content, you must hold off on feelings and experiences until you have something to feel about or have an experience of. Very often we use “I feel” to mean “I think” and the former becomes a way for us to express an opinion that appears to be immune from critical assessment.

. . .to say, “I feel that Augustine’s idea of Original Sin isn’t very helpful” or “I feel that Ambrose is being negative” is pointless. How I feel about an idea says nothing about whether or not that idea is true, good, or beautiful.

. . .make your feelings into a claim about the truth, goodness, and/or beauty of the idea being presented: “I think that Augustine’s idea of Original Sin is dangerous.” Now we have a discussion! Tell the group why you think that this true.

. . .stick to the text; stick to making “I think” statements; avoid “I feel” statements and grow in your knowledge of the faith!


It is better to spend two hours thinking through one sentence than it is to spend two hours emoting over an entire book.

Just like feeling, thinking is something we all do, and we all have the right and responsibility to express our thoughts.

Do yourselves a favor and think with the Church! Assume our 2,000 year old Church has something to teach you and let yourself be taught. Disagreeing with a Church teaching is almost always about a failure to understand the teaching properly.

If you disagree with a Church teaching, make sure you understand it fully. Put the teaching “in suspension” and see what develops over the course of time. Please note: just because you’ve put a teaching “in suspension” doesn’t mean that you are free to dissent from the substance of the teaching. For example, let’s say that I put the Church’s teaching on adultery “in suspension.” I cannot then say, “Well, since I don’t agree with this teaching, and I’ve suspended my assent to the teaching, it is morally acceptable for me to have an adulterous affair until I decide that the teaching is correct.”

You can’t learn anything new if you come to the text with your mind made up with regard to the truth of the teaching.

Anyone in the group who bullies the others to accept or reject a teaching should be shown the door. This is faith formation. The assumption from the very beginning has to be: we are here as faithful Christians to learn our faith as it has been given to us. This is not a project of theological innovation nor is it a project designed to help you memorize the Catechism.

A note on conscience: “Conscience” is not a magical word that allows us to believe anything we want to believe about the faith. Your conscience is a divine gift that allows you to recognize the truth when you see it. Conscience does not invent the truth; conscience discovers the truth. Conscience does not make a belief true; conscience makes sure we only believe true things. Be careful, therefore, how you wield the gift of conscience!

Please leave comments and ask questions!

And if you really like this plan of study, buy me a book!

(WOW! Thanks for the swift business on the Wish List. . .)

How not to be a Catholic Zombie

3rd Week of Lent: Hosea 14.2-10 and Mark 12.28-34
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert
the Great Priory and Church of the Incarnation

No doubt each of us here could write a book exploring the tragic spiritual consequences of a divided heart and a fogged mind, not to mention the resulting exhaustion from draining away one’s strength in dissipation and the hard work of entertaining anxiety. How quickly do we become ragged, stumbling spiritual zombies, more or less careening haplessly through a day, a week, a month until we hit wall or fall into a ditch, twitching and moaning, unable even to ask for help! But maybe, while we’re still clear-headed enough to wonder, somewhere in the increasing mushiness of our zombie brains, we ask, “How did this happen? How did I become a spiritual tourist? An accidental Christian? When did I become a Catholic Zombie?” When it happens, it happens for all of us at exactly the moment we love one thing more than we love God. It happens the moment my soul, my mind, my strength targets something other than God to love and then loves that target as if it were God. Jesus repeats the ancient prayer of Israel to the friendly scribe: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord your God is Lord alone!” He does so just for this reason: there is One we are commanded to love; One we are to worship; One we are to contemplate; just One upon whom we are to expend our strength to know and love: the Lord our God. No other, no-thing else; just One and Him alone.

Here Jesus teaches the friendly scribe the meaning of the Law; he does more than merely condense the Law into a pithy saying or two; and he does more than simply edit the Law to highlight his favorite parts. What Jesus does is unveil the foundation stones; he uncovers the roots at their deepest, the very ground of Who God is for us. Since our Lord is One, our love for Him must be one, singular, exclusively focused. But it is precisely because our Lord is One and that our love for Him must be singular that we are then capable of loving more than Him alone. In fact, loving God as Lord exclusively entails loving His creation, His creatures, and honoring their gifted-ends. We cannot, in other words, say that we love God and hate our neighbor.

The genius of Jesus’ teaching lies in the way he moves the abstracted notion of “loving God” into the natural world of real things: loving self, loving neighbor. By directly binding the commandment to love God alone to the commandment to love neighbor as self, Jesus makes it possible for us to “reverse engineer” a revelation of Who God Is for us as Love; that is, since there is just one Love, the one divine love we share in as members of the Body, we are shown—imperfectly—the divine face when we will for ourselves and one another what God wills in love for us all. God’s will, my will, your will, our wills, One Will together in love! When this happens, we can say of ourselves what Jesus said of the scribe, “[We] are not far from the kingdom of God.”

What stands in the way of this grand union of wills in love? The divided soul, the fogged mind, and a dissipated strength; that is, a scattered sense of your purpose as loved creature; a mushy brain confused by error and folly; and your potential as an eternal companion of God squandered on living passionately “just right now for right now.” Think about it: zombies are the walking dead! And you can’t get deader than when you turn everything you are toward a stingy life of Me-Me-Me. Look at Jesus’ temptations in the desert: personal wealth, personal power, personal aggrandizement. The Devil offers our Lord the only thing the Devil can offer any of us, The Temptation that we face in our Lenten desert: the chance to be our own god; to love self without Love Himself. Do this and you throw yourself into a vacuum, a permanent place of Nothingness, a terrible emptiness.

Christ does not urge us to love or exhort us to love or persuade us to love. He commands us to love. And as strange as that might be, the stakes are too high—even in the face of doubts and fears— the stakes are too high for us to do anything else but love as He loves us. Just look at the Cross and ask yourself: why would anyone do that for, why would anyone die for me?

26 February 2008

The Mass workshop

The Mass Line by Line: The Liturgy of the Word

Fr Philip Neri Powell, OP, PhD

University of Dallas, Gorman Lecture Hall E
Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A workshop/lecture on the theology and celebration of the Mass using the text of the sacramentary. Please come and go as you need to but get there early!


NB. Next Wednesday, March 5th: "The Mass Line by Line: Liturgy of the Eucharist," same time/place.

25 February 2008

Entertaining Prophets Unawares

Yup. . .

3rd Week of Lent (M): 2 Kings 5.1-15 and Luke 4.24-30
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory

At their best, prophets are shady characters, dodgy types hanging out on the edges of decent society, always yelling about something, or telling people off, or threatening folks with the “End of the World” or God’s judgment. Apparently, it doesn’t take much to be a prophet these days. You need a loud mouth; a scary-slash-hopeful message about looming changes; a crowd of ego-massaging cultists to follow you around, mooning over you, fainting; and a friendly press corps with questionable ethics…oh wait…that’s a politician in an election year. Sorry. A prophet, a real prophet, on the other hand, is an anointed voice, a national conscience, a heart and mind given to God to see and hear where we as God’s people must go and how far we have strayed from our path. Consistently in scripture, prophets do not tell us what our ears itch to hear, and so we tend to draw them in vivid colors with wild hair, crazy eyes, disheveled clothing. They always seem to be spouting gibberish on the street. We prefer the prophets we listen to be well-dressed, clean-shaven, articulate, and liberal—that way they are easy to ignore, easier to manipulate, and easier still to get rid of when their usefulness is done. Let me ask you: when was the last time you listened to one of God’s prophets?

Prophets present us with a very difficult problem. Back in the day, it was simple enough to determine the divine-creds of someone claiming to be a prophet. The Lord was inclined to provide dramatic evidence of the prophet’s credentials. Fire from heaven. Water from rocks. Quick lift in a flying saucer. A general’s leprosy cured in the Jordan. Even Jesus pulled out the gasp-giving miracle or two to bolster his resume for the crowds. But now, since we are all accounted priests, prophets, and kings in virtue of our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, it seems that the much-applauded miraculous proof of prophet status has gone the way of dinosaurs and humble politicians. Do we entertain prophets unawares? Better yet, given our suspicion of prophecy in our times, if a prophet told us to do something extraordinary, would we do it? For that matter, would we do something perfectly ordinary if asked?

At first, Naaman ignored the prophet Elisha b/c Elisha told him to do something very ordinary to cure his leprosy. Naaman’s expectations for the extraordinary got in the way of his cure. Likewise, the people of Nazareth, having grown up over the years with Jesus, ignored his prophetic preaching b/c they knew him too well. Prideful expectation and contempt for our own often blind us to the power of God’s anointing, deafen us to His Word spoken for our eternal benefit. We want spectacle as proof of prophetic legitimacy. We want to hear sunshine, bunny rabbits, and cotton candy from our McWorld/McChurch prophets. And our self-appointed prophets comply b/c they need the cash for upkeep on their fleet of Caddies.

We have to look carefully at what Jesus says about the power and purpose of a prophet. There were many widows in the land of Sidon due to famine. But Elijah was sent to just one widow. There were many lepers in Israel. But Elisha was sent to just one leper. There were many sinners in the world. But Jesus was sent to the Jews. Does this mean that all the other starving widows, suffering lepers, and desperate sinners were out of luck? No. It means that a true prophet goes where he is sent, does what he is told to do, and very often the benefits of his work go to the stranger, the foreigner, the one we least expect to draw our Lord’s attention. It means that if we want to benefit from the prophet’s ministry among us, we must learn to expect nothing, be prepared for the extraordinary, and give thanks when nothing more than the perfectly ordinary happens.

Naaman is healed because he listens to his slaves. We are saved because we listen to a carpenter’s son. We believe on the testimony of fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes, and thieves. Let me ask you again, how often have you entertained a prophet unawares?

Cartoon credit

24 February 2008

Ideas, anyone?

Though I enjoy writing and preaching these homilies (I hope that's obvious!), I've found myself thoroughly enjoying the challenge of writing the occasional pieces I've written as well (confession advice, vocations, etc).

So, it occurred to me to ask: is there topic or a question or a problem you would like to see me write about for this blog?

I'm open to hearing all-comers. . .but I'm not promising to write something on every idea shot my way. If an idea strikes me as particularly interesting or ripe for discussion, I will pick it up and run.

Either send me an email (address on the left) or--better yet--leave a comment.

God bless...Fr. Philip, OP

Christ, Our Well-Water

3rd Sunday of Lent: Ex 17.3-7; Rom 5.1-8; John 4.5-42
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, Univ. of Dallas

[NB. This is a revision of the homily immediately below this post...]

Is the Lord in our midst or not?

Jesus went into the desert after his baptism “to be tempted by the Devil.” For this reason alone did he step into the arid wasteland of temptation. He did not go to fast or pray or to do penance. He went so that he might be tempted. Though we sometimes embrace temptation as a welcomed break from the apparent tedium of holiness, I doubt that many of us work up a sweat running into the Devil’s theater to beg the dark angel to entice us to act deliberately against our Father’s will for us. Most of us prefer to skirt the edges of temptation, only peeking through the doors and catching glimpses of perdition as our more foolish brothers and sisters push past us and on into their spiritual demise. This is indeed foolish, reckless even, considering the long-term effects of disobedience on one’s soul. However, if the folks who braved the desert with Moses are any sign to us of our own frustration with the hiddeness of God, we too can find ourselves at Massah and Meribah, crying out to heaven, “Is the Lord in our midst or not!” How you answer that question will determine whether you arrive at the Cross in Jerusalem on Good Friday as a living sacrifice or a cheering spectator.

What’s the difference between these two? Answering a question with a question: how pliable is your heart and head? A hard heart and a harder head make for useless spiritual tools. Neither will seek out water to kill a thirst. Neither will seek food to kill a hunger. Neither will ask for help to relieve distress. However, both will faithfully rely on a dull will, a lazy intellect, and a careless concern for little beyond the moment. Moses’ people cannot look beyond their discomfort and so they cannot see their desert trek as anything other than a mistake, or an unmerited punishment. And so they whine incessantly, “Why did you make us leave [our slavery] in Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst…?” In answer to Moses’ worried prayer, the Lord gives them water, but He names the place of their infidelity, Massah and Meribah, that is, “testing” and “quarreling”—the two things a hard heart and harder head do best.

So, here we are. . .in the desert of Lent, slowly winding our way to Jerusalem and the Cross. Are you thirsty yet? Hungry? Are you tired of the journey? Lent is noon-high, half-way finished but the most difficult leg of our trip is still ahead. The betrayal. The Garden. The trial. The beatings and the Way of Sorrow. We’re not there yet, but we’ve been there before. Will you arrive to ride on the donkey? Or, will you cheer the riders on? Will you stand before the crowd for its judgment? Or, will you join the crowd to judge? Between now and then, hold firmly in your heart and mind the Well of Living Water. Not the flow of Massah and Meribah where the infidelity of the ungrateful poisons even the rocks. But the Well of Christ Jesus and remember, remember the water changed to wine; the water poured over Jesus’ head; the water that held him up as we walked the sea to save his friends. Let that water soften your heart and open your head! See and hear the waters of this gospel. . .

This gospel teaches us that: the Good News of God’s mercy is to be preached to everyone, excluding no one not even those with whom we have significant religious differences. The Living Water of God’s grace is immeasurably deep and sunrise to sunset wide. We receive this Water as a gift, given to us without a price or a debt, liberally handed-over in for no other reason than love, and this Water is dipped from the well of Christ Jesus himself.

The Living Water of God’s saving grace flows easily and freely over the dirtiest feet, into the foulest mouths, through the most unclean hands, and it washes away any and all afflictions.

The Living Water of God’s grace waters the cruelest heart, softens the hardest head, and tames the most passionate stomach. No dam or pipe or bucket or cloud is high enough, long enough, deep enough or empty enough to hold the gifts that our Father has to give us.

The Living Water of God’s grace is the Bridge between blood enemies; the Way across all anger and pride; the Means of health and beauty; the only Gate to truth and goodness. Built on the confession of Peter and guarded against Hell itself, the Church floats on its ocean, unsinkable, unshakable, His Ark.

The Living Water of God’s grace wets everything it touches, stains anything it falls upon, and indelibly marks for eternal life anyone who will say with the Samaritan woman, “Lord! Give me this water.”

We learn from this gospel reading that we cannot worship I AM THAT I AM on any single mountain; in one church and not another; nor can we pray in Jerusalem only, Rome only, or Dallas only. We learn that we are to worship the LORD in Spirit and in Truth, not with spirits and lies, but in His Spirit and His Truth; alone with Him and all together, we pray where we are, when we are, and we ask for one gift: voices eager to praise His glory, voice set afire to preach the Word of God’s mercy.

Jesus says to the woman, “I am [the Christ], the one who is speaking with you.” When she tells her neighbors this truth, they come to Christ and listen to the Word. For two days they listen. When the time for him to leave comes, the Samaritans say to the woman, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.” If she had held her tongue, quieted her voice and failed to speak the Truth, they would not have heard. Where then would they find hope?

Paul writes to the Romans: “…hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” If we are not disappointed in the grace we have received, how much more passionate are we then about speaking a simple truth, just one word to our neighbors about the gift of life we have received. There is no hope on the dry land promises of secular religion or science; no hope in the dry mouths of politicians or professors; there is no hope in the small spaces of test tubes or books. No hope that lasts. Our hope, our one hope is the depth, the breadth, the width of our Father’s immeasurable mercy—the sky-wide and valley-deep well of His free flowing and ever-living Water.

Walking this desert of Lent to the Cross, let Paul remind you: “…only with difficulty [do you] die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person [you] might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners [still sinners!] Christ died for us.” Our Lord gave Moses’ people the water they needed to quench their thirsty tongues. But their infidelity, their testing and quarreling, poisoned even the rocks. Now, Christ comes as the Living Water of our Father’s final grace, and all we need to do to gulp our fill is shout out like the Samaritan woman, “Lord! Give me this water!”

Is the Lord in our midst or not? Bring your biggest bucket and taste for yourself!