“God said, ‘I have heard the cries of my people … I have come to rescue them … to lead them to a good and spacious land’” (Exodus 3) … If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts … (Psalm 95)
This week, in parishes throughout our diocese, country and universal Church, thousands of men and women in our neighborhoods and our world will begin their final preparation for the sacraments. At the Easter Vigil, they will embrace our Catholic faith and be fully initiated in it through baptism, confirmation and First Eucharist. The rites marking these next three Sundays are called Scrutinies. They’re meant to help the “elect” look closely at their own personal weakness and sinfulness. Even more, they allow Jesus Christ’s mercy and liberation to strengthen their resolve and fidelity.
While the rites are especially addressed to and celebrated with those preparing for the sacraments, they are also meant for you, me and the entire Church. As the Scrutinies prepare the elect, they can prepare each of us to a recommitment of our own promises at Easter. They’re offered at a mid-point in our Lenten journey and invite – or perhaps even urge – us to reflect.
Some will hear the Cycle C Lenten readings for the Third Sunday this weekend and others the Cycle A at the Mass celebrated with the elect. In light of whichever Scriptures we hear or pray this weekend, we can reflect on them through the lens of that Eastertide renewal of promises.
Last year, I attended a conference and heard Sister Carol Zinn, S.S.J., say that our response to the Gospel message need always be for a “bringing about the life of the world.” I heard that in a way I’d never before heard it.
The Life of the World
We’re consistently reminded with this Sunday’s images, parables, scenes, lessons and words of the promise of God, of God’s enormous kindness, patience and guiding presence and of God’s persistent call and desire to change us and mission us as disciples in a “bringing about the life of the world.” That’s the mission of baptism.
Today’s readings are invitations, but also messages of the urgent need to look deeply into our own hearts and allow God’s mercy to soften, reform and redirect, not only our hearts, but also our very lives.
In the Exodus readings for both cycles, the challenge is more than Moses believes he is capable of doing. His self-awareness, experience and fear make it difficult for him to see that he might be a key factor in “bringing about the life of the world.” In the first account, he fears for his life if he goes to Egypt. In the second, he fears for his life if he goes back to his desperate companions in the desert.
Again, God reminds him … “Go … I will be with you… I will be standing in front of you.”
We are not Moses, or are we? Sometimes, I’d rather respond to God’s invitations with a polite “no, thank you,” and not give heed to the message of an urgent need for my heart to be softened and my life redirected.
St. Paul tells us to not think ourselves exempt from any temptations toward evil, ignorance, infidelity or sin. Neither are we exempt from the consequences of our actions or omissions. At times, our humanity keeps us unaware, or clouds that realization of the grace and mercy that God pours upon us. Gratefully, we’re reminded that our God is a God of second, third and even 23rd chances.
As one who knows this in his life, St. Paul reminds us that “through our Lord, Jesus Christ we have a doorway, an access by faith to this grace in which we stand.”
In and of ourselves, we are helpless; we are sinners. But we know that God’s love is proven through Jesus Christ’s gift of salvation which He won for us upon a Cross.
In John’s Gospel, we meet a woman, a foreigner, a Samaritan, an outsider who encounters the Source of Living Water. At a well, Jesus invites her to look deeply into her own life. She sees Him and His words as refreshment and cleansing for her a new life.
New Way of Living
“Come and see” becomes her message, and discipleship becomes a new way of living. She accepts her share and carries the message in “bringing about the life of the world.”
Viewing poverty, human trafficking and slavery, the exclusion and violence in the world, Christian musician Matthew West wrote these words: “I shook my fist at Heaven, said, ‘God, why don’t You do something?’ God said, ‘I did … I created you.’ …. Right NOW, it’s time … you and me together … I’m so tired of talking about how we are God’s hands and feet … but it’s easier to say than to be” (“Do Something”)
You and me – all of us together – will know the something we can do, the mercy we can be, the fidelity we can witness in “bringing about the life of the world.” May we beg God to soften, reshape and redirect our hearts. Let us pray for each other this week.
Readings for the Third Sunday of Lent
Exodus 3: 1-8a, 13-15
Psalm 103: 1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8, 11 1
Corinthians 10: 1-6, 10-12
Luke 13: 1-9
Sister Karen Cavanagh, C.S.J., a trained spiritual director and retreat facilitator, is a pastoral associate/family minister at St. Nicholas of Tolentine parish, Jamaica.