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Fr Billy Swan

Dear friends. Today’s Gospel recalls the beautiful encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. It is a long Gospel but so packed with meaning and spiritual depth. The main symbol of the story is water that is mentioned several times. It has two meanings that are both important – the need for water to sustain physical life and the living water offered by Christ to sustain spiritual life.

First there is real water that is essential to human existence and survival. Because of our levels of rainfall in Ireland, the availability of clean, fresh water is something we take for granted. We turn on the taps and it is there. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many in other parts of the world. The reality for the world’s poorest people is that they often depend on rainfall to grow food to feed their families and to earn an income. Because of climate change, weather extremes have become more common. In many places like Somalia that is featured on the Trocaire Box this year, severe drought has led to the devastation of crops and the arrival of famine. In others areas of the world, severe flooding can lead to water borne diseases that kill a child in the world every 20 seconds. This Lent, Trocaire is appealing for our support in developing access of the world’s poor to clean supplies of water. It also appeals for our conversion and commitment to climate justice. All of the money collected by Trocaire this Lent will be invested in drilling wells, buying water pumps, building irrigation systems and helping the growth of drought tolerant crops in parts of the world where water is scarce. In some of these places, water is more precious that oil. Let us pledge our support to Trocaire’s campaign. The smallest amount can make a big difference. Remember the Lord’s words: ‘a cup of cold water given in my name will not go without its reward’ (Mark 9:41; Matt. 10:42).

Then there is the spiritual water that Jesus offers. Being the master teacher, Jesus uses the opportunity to teach something important about the deeper thirst of the human soul. When I think of this, something bothers me. The thirst of the human soul for love, for happiness and for God is something that I recognise in myself and in almost everyone I meet. Yet, the way that each of us tries to satisfy that thirst varies hugely. For so many, the words ‘Catholic’ and ‘Church’ have become so negative and toxic that they are only associated with a dark past instead of having something life-giving to offer humanity in the present. And so, they leave and stay away. Afterwards, many try to satisfy that thirst with drink, drugs and other things that can never replace the living water that comes from our faith in Jesus Christ and the sacraments of his Church. The evidence for this emptiness and discontentment is everywhere.

Yet we who experience this living water from the well of our faith and the sacraments must do a better job of showing how they are sources of life and moments that satisfy the soul - how our baptism continues to be a powerful gift and source of refreshment for the love of God is poured like water into our hearts as St Paul reminds us the second reading; how the Eucharist is where we find community and belonging and where Jesus himself nourishes us with himself by his Word and at Holy Communion; how the thirst in everyone’s soul for healing and mercy is met by the sacraments of forgiveness and anointing of the sick.

Friends, the Gospel of the woman at the well brings together the two types of water that we need to survive – real water and spiritual water. In places like Somalia, the thirst is for real water and for most here in the West, the thirst is for the other. By supporting Trocaire’s Lenten campaign we can make a difference to the supply of clean water that is essential. May we also be better witnesses of how the deeper thirsts of the human soul can only be satisfied by God himself through faith and sacraments of his Church.

‘Like the deer that years for running streams, so my soul is thirsting for you my God’ (Psalm 42:1).


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