Third Sunday of Lent

Faith doesn’t just help. It’s Everything.

“How is your faith?…Dormant…That’s not good…Let this be a mother’s gift to her child—the one piece of advice: Find yourself a faith. It helps. No…Not just helps…It’s everything.” During a crisis, whether personal or public, faith doesn’t just help, it’s everything. This was Princess Alice’s message for her son Prince Phillip on Netflix’s TV series The Crown. And it is also my message for us today: During this present crisis, the crisis of the corona or ‘crown’ virus, faith doesn’t just help, it’s everything. 

Friends, what is the nature of the present crisis? Is it a public health crisis? A political crisis? A financial crisis? Is it a crisis of long lines and short supplies? Of closed schools and canceled events? Yes, it’s all these things—all these things and more. But it is also a crisis of faith. Now, disease and death are certainly evil. They were not part of God’s original plan of creation. And, so, we should take every reasonable precaution to stop the spread of disease and do everything reasonable in our power to prevent untimely deaths. But disease and death are not absolute evils. They are, of course, to those without faith. To those without faith, who have hope only for this present life, disease and death are absolute evils, things to be feared above all else, and eliminated and prevented before all else.  

But to those with faith, who have hope not only for this present life but for the life to come, disease and death are not absolute evils. They are not to be feared above all else or eliminated and prevented before all else. To those with faith, the only great tragedy in this life, the only thing to be feared, is not to become a saint. Heaven has a cure for every disease and an answer for every untimely death. But the only wound it cannot heal, the only tear it cannot dry, the only bitterness it cannot sweeten, is not to have become a saint. This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church. And we need to live this faith now more than ever. For ours is a faith that holds fast in difficult moments, that does not give into despondency and despair. Ours is a faith that hopes, that does not let fear win the day nor let it drive out the peace, joy, and love which have been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Ours is a faith in God’s love for us, and His desire to be in an intimate relationship with us—not only in this life, but in the life to come. 

Friends, at the root of this present crisis of faith is a fundamental misunderstanding of what we were made for. We were not just made for this life and the things of this life. We were not just made to go to school, work, and sporting events. We were not just made to travel or buy toilet paper. We were made for an intimate relationship with God—to be begun in this life and perfected in the life to come. God didn’t just make us for this world. Because that’s not good enough for Him. He made us for an intimate and abiding relationship with Him, one that can best be described as a kind of marriage. That is why Jesus came to the well in today’s gospel: To bring the Samaritan woman into a spiritual marriage with God.  

In his book Jesus the Bridegroom, Dr. Brant Pitre says that “at the time of Jesus, if you were an eligible young Jewish man looking for an eligible young Jewish woman, you would not go to a bar or to a club. Instead, you would go where the ladies were to be found: the local well.” For that is where the great figures of the Old Testament found their wives. According to the books of Genesis and Exodus, the future brides of Isaac, Jacob, and Moses were all found at wells. Jesus, of course, does not come to the well in today’s gospel to enter a literal marriage with this woman. He is a celibate Jew and she is a Samaritan woman who has been divorced five times and is currently living with another man who is not her husband. But Jesus does come there to bring the Samaritan woman into a spiritual marriage with God—and not only her but her entire people.  

There is a very ancient tradition, going back to the early Church, of seeing the Samaritan woman in our gospel as a symbol of her entire people. For the Samaritans not only worshiped the God of the Jews, but, according to the Second Book of Kings, they had also worshiped five male deities at different points in their history. In other words, the Samaritans had been ‘married’ five different times to five different male gods, and the god whom they currently worshiped, the God of the Jews, wasn’t really their ‘husband.’ Jesus, then, came to the well to bring the Samaritan woman, and her entire people, into a spiritual marriage with the true God. That is why Jesus says that if the Samaritan woman knew the gift of God, she would have asked him, and He would have given her living water. 

In ancient times, and even today, a future bride is given a gift. Rebekah, the future bride of Isaac, was given the gift of a gold ring and two bracelets. Future brides today are also given the gift of rings. The gift of God that Jesus is prepared to give to the Samaritan woman and to her entire people, if they ask for it, is also a bridal gift. It is the bridal gift of living water, the water of baptism, which will set them apart to be the bride of the true God. 

This is what the living water of baptism does for us to. It is God’s bridal gift to us. The Catechism calls baptism a “nuptial bath” that prepares us for an intimate and abiding relationship with God (CCC #1617). For that is what we were made for: a spiritual marriage with God. To forget that is to fundamentally misunderstand this life and the life to come. To forget that is to have a crisis of faith. To forget that is to live in fear: the fear of disease and death taking away everything which makes life worth living. But the only thing which ultimately makes life worth living is an intimate relationship with God. And that relationship cannot be destroyed by disease and death. No, it can even grow stronger amidst them. We can still become saints—no, we must become saints—during this crisis.

So, my dear friends, be not afraid. Have faith. Faith doesn’t just help at a time like this. It’s everything.