Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 3rd Sunday in Lent

Readings: Ex 17:3-7; Rom 5:1-8; Jn 4:5-42 The story of the Samaritan woman is one of the first classic "conversion stories" of the New Testament. This woman with a sinful past hears the word of Jesus, takes it to heart and becomes one of his followers. She also becomes one of his first apostles, telling of him to her Samaritan townspeople. She begins what will become a classic pattern in Christian history: a staunch sinner who has a deep conversion of heart and becomes an ardent follower of the Christian way. We can think of St. Paul and also of St. Augustine, famous because he wrote about his own struggles and conversion so powerfully in his Confessions. In our own time we can recall Dorothy Day and all that she subsequently accomplished in the Catholic Worker movement. Those are well-known examples. But it’s good for us to remember that there are lots more that very few people know about. Those stories of deep personal conversion are sitting in church pews every Sunday in just about every Catholic Church. Let me tell you about one example that moved me very deeply. One Sunday, when I was at Holy Rosary parish in Nashville, TN, after the 10:30am mass a young woman with a baby in her arms came up and asked if she could see me sometime. I said "Certainly" and we set a meeting time. At that meeting she told me her story. When she was sixteen in high school she became pregnant; then both she and her seventeen-year old boyfriend dropped out of high school and began living together. They lived in squalid conditions and both of them continued to drink and use drugs. One evening about a year later she and her boyfriend were having a party with some friends; a lot of drinking and drug use was going on. At one point the baby began to cry in the next room. She went in to see the baby, but inside the room she just crumpled to the floor in her dazed condition. She lay there in half-consciousness while the baby continued to cry. Then the thought appeared and kept flowing through her mind over and over: "If my baby was really hurt, I couldn’t do a thing to help him." Later, when she came to her senses, she promised herself that she would never use drugs again, drink or smoke. Her boyfriend said OK, but he wasn’t going to stop. So she moved out and found a place to live; got a job, and began making a life for her baby. She decided that she needed some religion for support. Her own parents didn’t practice any religion, so she started visiting various churches to find one that she felt comfortable in. She liked it best in the Catholic Church and that brought her to me. In time I gave her instructions and baptized her and her baby in the Catholic faith. She became a regular member of Holy Rosary parish. She’s known to very few, but a dramatic conversion story nonetheless. It’s good for those of us who don’t go through such a dramatic conversion to remember that they are all around and among us. That should help all of us to have a deeper appreciation of human weakness and failing, of unknown strength that is discovered, of the grace of God still acting very strongly in our world. Where did that thought come from when the young woman was lying on the floor in a drunken and drugged state? It’s the same grace of God that the Samaritan woman heard. It’s that grace of God that the season of Lent asks us to sharpen our awareness towards. The story of the Samaritan woman takes us to the heart of the Christian gospel: the grace of God changing a human heart. p.s. Six or seven years after I left Holy Rosary parish, I returned for a visit. I decided to call the young woman and see how she was doing. Quite nicely. She had gotten her boyfriend to give up drugs. He got a job and they got married. They had a second baby. Like the Samaritan woman, she too had become an apostle.

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