Saturday, March 25, 2017

St. John Vianney and The Annunciation

Many of the older parishioners who gathered in the parish church that day could remember a time when their parish was spiritually dead and the confessionals of the church were home more to cobwebs than to penitents. They likely could recall their parents and others whispering about the peculiar new priest who had recently arrived and how he would be spotted praying in the church at all hours of the day and the night.  Now, decades later, their saintly priest lay dying in the rectory, and their once empty church was filled with souls whose lives had been converted through his ministry.  At the conclusion of the Mass, the church bell began to toll and a procession made its way to the rectory in order to bring--for the last time--the Eucharist to Fr. John Vianney.  

As he heard the bell tolling, John Vianney began to weep.  His tears were not the tears of sadness or fear. They were the tears of a man who was completely taken up into the Sacred Mysteries. They were the tears of a believer. They were the tears of a saintly priest who had given his entire life to preparing souls to receive the Sacraments and preparing the for heaven. His tears are best interpreted by his very own words.  As the priest carrying the Blessed Sacrament arrived at the threshold of John Vianney's room, John Vianney said in his typically pure and penetrating way, "How good the Good God is! When we are no longer able to go to Him, He Himself comes to us."

John Marie Vianney was a man who lived the Mystery of the Annunciation. When, through sin, man was no longer able to go to God, God Himself came to us. Through the instrumentality of the Blessed Virgin Mary, God entered into the home of humanity, bringing with Him all that is needed to bring man back to God.  Mary was filled with wonder at such a proposition, "How can this be?"  John Vianney--the patron saint of priests--spent the entirety of his life living from this exact same wonder. "How good the Good God is! When we are no longer able to go to Him, He Himself comes to us!"

Whether it was daily at the altar, offering the Holy Sacrifice or whether it was in his daily imprisonment in the confessional where he would spend most of the day hearing confessions, or whether it was in his teaching catechism, bringing the Sacraments to the dying, or long hours of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, John Vianney was caught up in wonder at the Mystery of the Incarnation. God had come in search of those whom he loved.  

In the Mystery of the Incarnation, the Blessed Virgin was filled both with profound wonder and with profound humility.  John Vianney was a true son of Mary. He shared in her wonder and humility.  How could God be so good to us? How could this thing happen? Why would he choose me to be his instrument? How is this possible? How could this poor young girl become the Mother of God? How could this simple man command bread and wine to become the Body and Blood of Christ? How could this sinful man absolve the sins of others? 

Today, on the Solemnity of the Annunciation, I think of those whom the Lord is calling to be his priests. He is calling them to be men who are caught up in the Mystery of the Annunciation. He is calling them to be like the Blessed Virgin Mary who put her whole life--body and soul--at the service of her Son. Through her, God drew close to man. Through the priestly ministry of St. John Vianney, sinners were visited by the mercy and love of God. They received healing, strength, and forgiveness.  In every age and in every place, God draws close to man through the Sacraments. All of those who are lost, who are immersed in the darkness of sin, who experience profound alienation from God, all of those who are unable to go to God because of the weight of their sins; to them, God draws close to them through the ministry of the priest. 

Today, as we rejoice on the Solemnity of the Annunciation, we do so because we recognize our desperate was humanity's plight. We were unable to go to God. But He Himself came to us.  For any man considering a vocation to the priesthood, I hope that this calling fills you with profound humility and with wonder. We are servants of the Incarnation. What pure joy it is to think that our whole life could be completely placed at the service of such a great Mystery: "How good the Good God is. When we were no longer able to go to Him, He Himself came to us."

Monday, March 20, 2017

Freedom Is To Leave Your Water Jar Behind

Every day the woman from Samaria went to the well to draw water. Every day, she thirsted. St. John tells us that she came there at around Noon. Presumably she went there at that time because she could avoid others. She had lived a scandalous life. Already she had had five husbands and the one she was living with now was also not her husband. She went alone to the well. She was ashamed. While others probably went to the well during the cool hours of the day and maybe socialized a bit, she avoided others. But, she was still thirsty.

We too are like this woman. All of us are wounded. We search for love, for meaning, for respect. We thirst to be satisfied. On this particular day, the woman of Samaria was confronted with the truth of her life. Like her daily trips to the well, her whole life had become a constant search for happiness.  These many "husbands" of hers, were they not a desperate search to be loved? A search for respect, a search for someone who cared deeply for her? A search for someone to satisfy her profound desire for someone who loved her in truth?  Every day, she went to the figurative well of sin. Hoping that this man might finally be the one to love her the way she desired to be loved. 

All of us are deeply wounded. Every day, like the woman of Samaria, we bring our bucket to the well. Typically, there are four wells from which we tend to seek to satiate the wound within us. We drink either from the well of pleasure, power, possessions, or prestige.  Daily, in our emptiness--our loneliness--we travel to the same wells, hoping that they will give us what they never do: the healing of our spiritual wound.

Some are inclined towards going to the well of pleasure. Whether it be through food, alcohol, drugs, pornography, fornication etc. People bring their empty buckets to this well in the hope of being satisfied, but they always leave emptier than when they arrived. Their wound only deepens. They feel more lonely, more used, and less loved.

Some take their bucket to the well of power. Forcing their will upon others. Their life is marked by antagonism and anger. They drink from the well of control, manipulating others and caring only about getting their own way. It is an exercise in total frustration. One only need look at the political climate of our day. People who drink from the well of power are never satisfied until everyone holds their political beliefs. They are willing to sacrifice civility and even friendship in order to win the argument. But, they will never be satisfied. The well of power lacks the power to heal the wound.

Some go daily to the well of possessions. "If only I buy this one more thing, then I will be happy." People arrive daily at the well of possessions with their empty buckets. The ability to buy things without ever leaving our homes certainly has its benefits, but it also leads people to seek to satisfy their longing for love through the acquisition of things. Online shopping, cable stations dedicated to home shopping etc, are all designed to convince wounded people that possessions will make them happy. How many profoundly lonely people become increasingly more isolated and lonely buried beneath amidst an endless pile of worthless possessions? They keep filling their buckets with "the thing that will really make them happy," but they are back again the next day, because their bucket is empty again.

Some go to the well of prestige.  They seek happiness in appearing to be successful. They attempt to fill their emptiness by filling their bucket with the esteem and praise of others. Whether it be by their physical appearance, their grades, their talents etc, they thirst for approval and applause. But, like all of the other wells, it is never enough. When others do well, they become sad and envious. They need all of the approval for themselves. The wound only deepens.

The woman at the well, she went there every day. Always thirsty. Always empty. Until this day. Jesus told her that he would give her living waters and that she would never be thirsty again.  One of my favorite lines in the Gospels comes from today's Gospel: "The woman left her water jar . . . ."  All those years that she had come to the well with her water jar. All of those years of emptiness and the exhausting and useless efforts of attempting to satiate her thirst!  All of that had now come to an end. She encountered Jesus and he gave her living waters. She would no longer be thirst again. She no longer needed that water jar. She left it behind. 

What heals the wound in us--what heals our profound thirst for love and for meaning--is what St. Paul says in today's Letter to the Romans: "The Love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."  It is the Holy Spirit who heals our wounds and frees us from the drudgery and slavery of going to the wells of sin. Our desperate search to heal our wounds, to satisfy our thirst, is over. It is only in Christ and in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that we are free to surrender our water jars.

I propose that this week, we all spend some time asking the Lord to show us our wound. What are the wells that we go to day after day, hoping to find satisfaction? What are things that we do day after day that are really desperate attempts to satiate our profound emptiness? Do we see that these trips to the wells of pleasure, power, prestige, and possessions are only deepening the wound within us and making us even emptier?  Then, invite the Holy Spirit to enter these wounds. The Holy Spirit--the unction of God--heals the deep wounds that are present in all of us. There is good news today. If you've been going to the well of sin repeatedly day in and day out--feeling increasingly ashamed, lonely, isolated, empty etc--there is a way towards freedom. Christ came to pour the Love of God--the Holy Spirit--into your heart. And when he pours the Holy Spirit into our hearts, we are free to leave a water jar behind.