Sunday, March 11, 2007

Sunday word, 11 Mar 2007

Lenten Sunday3 C (11 Mar 2007) Ex 17. 3-7; Ps 93; Rm 5. 1-2,5-8; Jn 4. 5-42
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Stronger Allegiance

Our annual season of Lent is holy and joyful because its focus is baptism, which unites us with Messiah Jesus. Baptism begins our church-relationship with Jesus, our risen Lord. Lent is the opportunity the entire church takes to focus on our allegiance to Jesus: to deepen it among us who have been baptized and to help others prepare themselves for it and for full communion with the church. Today I want to reflect with you on Lent’s baptismal character through the lens of "allegiance." I owe this to our Elect preparing for full communion with us. Already initiated? Feel free to listen.

We are baptized into Jesus’ dying and rising. Our confirmation seals our baptism, that is, the sacrament confirms to all that we have died and risen with Jesus; and it graces us to conform more closely to our dead-and-risen Messiah. This relationship without peer, which baptism began, the eucharist nourishes day by day. Baptism, confirmation and eucharist aren’t disconnected. The sacramental trio initiates us into the church.

We get our word "initiate" from two Latin words meaning "to go in." An initiate is one who begins. Begins what? A first thought may be to begin membership in a group. The Sacraments of Initiation do admit us to membership in the church. I can’t imagine my life without the church and being part of it. I don’t say that because I’m a priest. My holy orders, after all, mean that the christian community has ordered me to serve that same community. To say that I can’t imagine my life without the church suggests the church is not one more association of like-minded people or an elite group.

The church is more than its hierarchy, who are in service of all the faithful and even the rest of the world! The church is a living network of relationships with the risen Messiah Jesus, and the church is a servant of the world to enlighten
it and to pave its way to Jesus. The church, “a kind of sacrament...a sign of intimate union with God,” calls itself to reflect the light of Christ to all nations.”/1/ By no means another human association, the church is a holy mystery.

Mystery to us Christians is not a who-done-it, nor is it a problem to be solved. Mystery for us is a Person, our dead-and-risen Messiah Jesus. At baptism you Candidates were not introduced to a new group, a new field, a new interest, skill or activity. You were introduced to Risen Jesus himself! Now you desire to live your union with Jesus in the Roman Catholic Church. Your initiation will begin a process of lifelong relationship with Jesus as he abides with you and with his church in every age, his Mystical Body.

In our relationship with our risen Jesus we do not favor him with our worship or even our fasting, praying and acts of charity. Our relationship with Jesus is a daily opportunity to deepen our allegiance to him. Allegiance means fidelity. It is characterized by steadfastness: abiding with Jesus in season and out, when Jesus challenges us as well as when he consoles us.

We may wonder how the people Israel could so quickly grumble against Moses and the Lord when the Lord had led them out of Egypt. Did their allegiance to their saving Lord evaporate? Thirsty they were, but they let their hearts harden, which always weakens relationship and woos one away from steady fidelity.

Jesus thirsted in his human nature which he received from us. The Samaritan woman came to the well for some water that day. Though she was astonished at first--a man, a Jewish man spoke to her; unheard of!--and even suspicious and reluctant, she resisted hardening her heart.

Perhaps you, chosen for the Easter sacraments, resisted completing your initiation. Many of us can tell you we resist giving ourselves to our initiation, to Jesus. We want to slake our thirsts on our own. We’ve tried and failed. Yet Jesus never loses his allegiance to us; he is water and nourishment on our pilgrim way through life.

In your 15 minutes with Jesus this week, speak to Jesus your thirsts, your hungers--your physical ones as well as those of your spirit. Notice how patiently Jesus loves you. Express your gratitude and your wonder to him. Resolve to live more in his orbit of loving care. Close by slowly saying the Lord’s Prayer to strengthen your resolve to show Jesus’ care to others.
/1/ The Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 1.

Flickr Photo by daedalicious used under Creative Commons Attribution license; Wikimedia image of Christ and the woman at the well is in the public domain.

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