Weekly HomilyArchives

Friday, February 15, 2008

“Jesus said, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’” (John 4:13-14)

“SOUL-SURFING” – February 24, 2008
Third Sunday of Lent
(John 4:5-42)
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

More by reflex than with conscious thought, I checked my wristwatch against the time indicated by the large outdoor digital clock on the bank, though, were I more awake at that early hour, I should have known the bank was wrong. In large red numerals the bank proclaimed it to be 2:23, though it remained ambiguous whether it meant AM or PM. No matter, really, for both my wristwatch and the clock in the car told me it was 7:10 AM.

Weeks went by, and half a dozen times I passed that same clock, and it still insisted it was 2:23. Don’t the bank people know their clock is stuck, I wondered. Do they even care, I further mused. But though my own watch and the car clock declared the movement of time, with the calendar heartily agreeing, it was always 2:23 at the bank.

Another week passed, and still it remained 2:23. By then my annoyance had subsided, the refusal of the clock to move forward becoming a meditation on life itself, my own especially. Regularly passing the bank with its standstill time, I wondered what had changed in my own life since I’d last passed the stuck clock. What was new about me? Something, I hoped! Had I had new experiences that somehow made me different? Had new people come into my life? Had some I’d known left? That stuck clock at the bank invited me into deep and even disturbing reflection.

Early on a cold, gloomy, January Sunday morning, I passed the clock once again on my way to the local parish for Mass. Yup, the clock still said it was 2:23. And on that morning, with a brewing head cold pounding at my sinuses, I shuddered to think that perhaps I was deluded, my own life having stalled at 2:23 and I wasn’t even aware of it. After all, as months flew by at an amazing speed, I’d become mesmerized by the sameness of my days. Though each day surely held its uniqueness, I was far more focused on the unchanging patterns that had become a comfortable framework, even a sort of minimum security prison, were I completely honest with myself. Though I pulled myself out of the dark miasma, I had to wonder if I was stagnating, if my clock had been reading 2:23 for too long.

It’s now mid-Lent, mid-winter, and, as is often our experience in the northeast, cabin fever tends to set us on edge. From this particular vantage, it always feels like 2:23. While we yearn for bloom, birdsong and the sound of rushing waters marking swift snow melt, we grit our teeth, snarl at one another, and study the clock. Will 2:23 ever become 2:24? And while we wait, Jesus and a woman meet at a well and invite us all back into the flowing abundance of life.

As they consider the water provided by the well to which they’ve come, Jesus says to the woman, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14) I imagine the woman, confused by his words, looks down into the well and wonders anew at its freshness. Is there something wrong with this water that I’ve been drinking for so long, she wonders? Is this well stagnant? Jesus, though, just smiles at her, offering better water, living water, though she can see no other well nearby. But she trusts his words. Please give me this water, she begs. And in her request, echoes of Dan’s voice reverberate against my deep feelings of personal inadequacy and unworthiness.

“Have you got a word for me today?” Dan asks. A seasoned physician I regularly encounter at the hospital, I’m far more comfortable discussing ethics and spirituality with him, but invariably comes the request, as earnest as was the woman’s at the well. “Have you got a word for me today?” And I stand dumb before him, knowing that he’s seeking the living water that God has promised day by day to nourish him in his ministry to patients and families. Dan wants the freshness of life that only God can give, and he’s asking me to give it to him, preferably in just a word or two. The first few times he asked me, I laughed it off, thinking surely he’s just humoring me. But then I paid more attention to his eyes, and I saw the thirst, and I knew he wasn’t joking. I didn’t have what Dan wanted, but I knew who did. Dan drove me to prayer, to ask God to quench his thirst. And indeed, if I was to be the human sluice by which God’s living water came to Dan, please God, make me worthy.

It’s been a few years since Dan first asked me for a word. Now, in our regular encounters at patient bedsides, we sometimes discuss ethics, sometimes spirituality, and sometimes still he spears me with the request: “Have you got a word for me today?” Nowadays, though, less terrified by his question, I do offer a word, probably one that I need to reflect on more than does he. A few days ago when he asked me, I put a hand on his shoulder, looked deep into his transfixed eyes and said simply, “Perseverance.” Then I walked away, trusting that God would do the rest, would be Dan’s living water as he offered his heart, hands and mind to God’s good use among the sick.

And yup, that bank clock still says it’s 2:23, but after my regular encounters with Dan, I always come away assured that, at least for me, 2:23 has become 2:24.

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