Saturday, March 26, 2011

High Noon at the Well!

Third Sunday of Lent (Year A)
Exodus 17:3-7
Romans 5:1-2.5-8
John 4:5-42

“Through our Lord Jesus Christ by faith we are judged righteous and at peace with God, since it is by faith and through Jesus that we have entered this state of grace in which we can boast about looking forward to God’s glory.” (Romans 5:1ff.)
I am reasonably sure that my Lenten reading is what triggered a reflection on particular judgment in the light of the great Gospel we just heard about Jesus’ exchange with the Samaritan woman at high noon at Jacob’s well. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains what we believe concerning the particular judgment:
1021  Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ…
1022  Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven – through a purification or immediately, - or immediate and everlasting damnation…
1058  The Church prays that no one should be lost: “Lord, let me never be parted from you.” If it is true that no one can save himself, it is also true that God “desires all men to be saved” (1 Tim 2:4), and that for him “all things are possible” (Mt 19:26).
What provoked this thought about the particular judgment we must all face at the moment of death, I think, were Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman:
“If you only knew what God is offering and who it is that is saying to you: Give me a drink, you would have been the one to ask, and he would have given you living water.”
Lucky woman! As she admitted, He told her everything she had ever done. Jesus laid her life out before her eyes like a book and offered her an exchange which allowed her and many others of the town with her to come to faith in Jesus as God’s Anointed. Even among us with the best possible Catholic upbringing we might have reason to be envious of the opportunity Jesus provided her to know Him Who is our Hope and our Salvation.

Particular judgment! Most of us would not be so presumptuous as to brag or boast that we will die as the equivalent of canonized saints. Even those who talk about their saintly Irish mothers know enough to pray for dear Mom, to have Masses said for the repose of her soul, that she might quickly move from Purgatory to the glories of Heaven.

What about those who were estranged from the faith of their Baptism, perhaps because no one ever taught them their prayers as children, no one ever took them to Mass on Sunday or saw to it that they got to catechism and confession on a regular basis? What about those who were never baptized and their life’s journey kept them far from faith? What about all those who have never heard of Jesus? From India, St. Francis Xavier wrote to St. Ignatius of Loyola talking about the work to be done in the mission fields to save souls and how he was tempted to come home and run up and down the hallowed halls of Europe’s Catholic Universities and challenge all those men to put their preoccupation with schooling behind and come join him in proclaiming the Gospel.

Are all those who never hear of Jesus, who don’t accept Him because they’ve never really encountered Him, are they all lost for eternity? What happens to them at the moment of particular judgment? Is it a “near death experience” of a cozy white tunnel and then nothing?

I’d like to think that for all those who have been deprived of the opportunities given to you and to me that there would be a kind of pre-particular judgment, a high noon experience at Jacob’s well, bright light and no shadow, with Jesus sitting there and opening up that conversation with a request for a drink of water from the well. If they botch the encounter? Well fine, then off with them to oblivion. God did not spare His only Son, but delivered Him up for the many and not just a few. Our failures in handing on the faith cannot be laid at the doorstep of those who have been deprived.

Granted, the Samaritan woman did not get her “home free card” that day, but she met Jesus, she knew the Savior of the world. Her life was different and she was empowered to make the choices such that when her earthly life had ended she knew what was coming. I am sure that when indeed she drew her last breath and opened her eyes on eternity that there was more than a bright light. She recognized her Lord and He welcomed her into His Reign. Did she go in as a canonized saint or did she have some time to do in Purgatory? It’s hard to say. Certain however is that fact that the exchange at Jacob’s well held her in good stead for the rest of her life and for what was to come.

“Through our Lord Jesus Christ by faith we are judged righteous and at peace with God, since it is by faith and through Jesus that we have entered this state of grace in which we can boast about looking forward to God’s glory.” (Romans 5:1ff.)

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