The path to our cure is not found in a race to be the first to dip into the stirred waters of a porticoed pool, but through advancing more deeply into Jesus, the Living Water.
FALL RIVER, MA (Catholic Online). Today in the Gospel, Jesus compassionately asks a man, crippled and sick for 38 years, "Do you want to be well?"
At first glance, it's a strange question. It's like asking a starving man if he'd like a sandwich, a man in prison if he'd like a pardon, a post-partum woman if she'd like to hold her newborn.
The answer is totally obvious: of course the man would want to be made well. He was, after all, at the Pool of Bethesda to participate in a superstitious race with the blind, lame, crippled to be the first one into the pool when the waters were stirred, believing that that was the path to be restored to wellness.
But Jesus asked the question at a deeper level, trying to solicit the man's deep desires, so that the man's will would be involved in the cure. The man didn't respond the way we would have thought he would, with an emphatic "Yes, I obviously would like to be made well!" Instead, he acknowledged that he needed help to be cured - he needed someone, he thought, to place him into the pool when the water became "alive."
Jesus had come to help and cure him with another type of living water, the living water enlivened by the Holy Spirit he had announced to the Samaritan woman in the encounter immediately preceding the scene in the Gospel.
Jesus' words to this man are almost identical to what he said to the paralytic he healed in Capernaum, "Rise, take up your mat and walk," because there is a great similarity between the miracles. In Capernaum, Jesus first forgave the paralyzed man's sins. In Jerusalem, Jesus told the man, "Lord, you are well. Do not sin any more." In each miracle, Jesus did not cure merely a physical paralysis but a spiritual one due to sin.
And so the Lord asks us today, this Lent, this Year of Faith, "Do you want to be well?," and he intends something far greater than physical health. He wants to free us from sin. In fact, he's already done it once before - on the day of our baptism - but he wants us to live this reality and not to "sin any more." He wants us, in fact, to recognize the power of our baptism and to grow in the reality of the living water that cured us.
This type of growth is what the first reading from Ezekiel points to in prophecy. In a vision, God brought Ezekiel to the Temple in Jerusalem and pointed out to him that from the eastern side of the temple a trickle of water was flowing down toward the Judean desert. He brought him a thousand cubits forward - about 500 yards - and the water was now ankle deep. He then journeyed another thousand cubits and the water was knee deep. After another 500 yards, the water was up to his waist. After journeying a thousand cubits more, it was over his head and the only way he could enter it was through swimming. And what the water did was that it gave life in the desert wherever it flowed and even brought the Dead Sea - which is 20 times saltier than the Atlantic and therefore too saline for fish to survive in it - back to life and fish began to flourish anew in it.
This was a prophecy about what's supposed to happen in baptism when we enter into the stream of water flowing from side of the true Temple - Christ's body - on the Cross, the blood and water that is the source of the sacramental life of the Church. On the day of our baptism, we're sprinkled, so to speak, with the living water who is Christ.
But we're supposed to advance in that water, walking one cubit at a time deeper into our communion with him, so that at the time we begin to pray at home it's up to our ankles, by our first Confession and holy Communion it's up to our knees, by our confirmation, it covers our loins, and then we continue to grow so that we're basically swimming in Christ, as he begins to give life to everything in us and around us that is dead, everything that's crippled, so that even things like the Dead Sea can be given a resurrection in Him.
The question for us is: Is this the story of our life? Has our life been one of continual growth in faith, in our friendship with Christ, in loving worship of God and service of others? If we're honest, many of us will admit that many times, rather than walk cubit by cubit with the Lord into deeper communion, we've taken various detours and gone off into the desert on our own to search out oases real or imaginable that at least temporarily have become more important to us than our relationship with the Lord.
In this Year of Faith, regardless of whether we've always lived in our baptismal graces and nourished them or whether we've wandered and squandered them, all of us have a chance, the great blessing, to get back fully into the stream of living water and begin to head once more, cubit by cubit, in the path that will lead us to the fullness of life here and eternal life with God. Jesus asks us, "Do you want to be made well?"
But this cure through growth in faith doesn't happen to us by osmosis. It doesn't occur but just "wishing" to grow in faith. We have to make resolutions and then act to correspond to God's grace. Jesus offers us the living water but we need to walk in it, to live in it, to swim in it.
That means, first, that we regularly partake of what the early saints called the Sacrament of "second baptism," which is the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, in which Christ bathes us anew in living blood and water flowing from our side and restores our soul to its baptismal beauty and dignity.
But it is also meant to happen through our Lenten practice of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
This is one of the treasures that Benedict XVI taught us during his pontificate. In his 2011 Lenten letter, he stressed that a "particular connection binds baptism to Lent," a connection that the Second Vatican Council's document on the liturgy exhorted all pastors in the Church to accentuate, by making greater use "of the baptismal features proper to the Lenten liturgy."
The purpose of Lent, Benedict taught, is to revivify our baptismal entrance into Christ's death by putting to death whatever in us is mortal so that we may share more fully in Christ's risen life. "Baptism," he insisted, "is not a rite from the past, but the encounter with Christ that informs the entire existence of the baptized, imparting divine life and calling for sincere conversion; initiated and supported by Grace, it permits the baptized to reach the adult stature of Christ."
Lent helps us to advance cubit-by-cubit in the graces of baptism.
"By immersing ourselves into the death and resurrection of Christ through the Sacrament of Baptism, we are moved to free our hearts every day from the burden of material things, from a self-centered relationship with the 'world' that impoverishes us and prevents us from being available and open to God and our neighbor. .Through the traditional practices of fasting, almsgiving and prayer, which are an expression of our commitment to conversion, Lent teaches us how to live the love of Christ in an ever more radical way.
This radical path begins with fasting, which "takes on a profoundly religious significance for the Christian: we learn to overcome selfishness in order to live in the logic of gift and love. . Far from being depressing, [fasting] opens us ever more to God and to the needs of others, thus allowing love of God to become also love of our neighbor (cf. Mk 12: 31)."
The journey continues with almsgiving. The idolatry of goods, Benedict writes, "not only causes us to drift away from others, but divests man, making him unhappy, deceiving him, deluding him without fulfilling its promises, since it puts materialistic goods in the place of God, the only source of life. . The practice of almsgiving is a reminder of God's primacy and turns our attention towards others, so that we may rediscover how good our Father is, and receive his mercy."
Finally, by prayer, "We nourish the itinerary of faith initiated on the day of our Baptism. . When we pray, we find time for God, . to enter into that intimate communion with Him . opening us to the hope that does not disappoint, eternal life.
In sum, "through the personal encounter with our Redeemer and through fasting, almsgiving and prayer, the journey of conversion towards Easter leads us to rediscover our Baptism." It's a time to "renew our acceptance of the Grace that God bestowed upon us at that moment, so that it may illuminate and guide all of our actions. What the Sacrament signifies and realizes, we are called to experience every day by following Christ in an ever more generous and authentic manner, . so that we may immerse ourselves [in Jesus' death and resurrection] and possess eternal life."
This is the path toward our total cure.
Father Roger Landry is pastor of St. Bernadette Parish in Fall River, MA and national chaplain of Catholic Voices USA. His homilies and articles are found on catholicpreaching.com.
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