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Is God in our Midst?

March 20, 2022

A reflection for the 3rd Sunday, Lent, Year A. The readings are Exodus 17:3-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-2, 5-8 and John 4:5-42.

Vanessa DeSilvio, as the Woman at the Well, opposite Jonathan Roumie, as Jesus, in The Chosen; from IMDB.

This week we listened to the readings from Year A, because of our Catechumate Elects are doing the Scrutinies and those are the readings that correspond to that. But it’s good ’cause we got to hear one of my favourite Gospel stories: the Samaritan Woman at the Well. I love this story not just because it invites us to consider that all of us are thirsty and long for an abundant life and Jesus offers us living water, so that we can have life abundantly – that’s what the living water represents – but because I can imagine this very real, down-to-earth conversation between Jesus and this woman.

But I want to talk about the first reading because there was one line that really struck me, reading it this time: The Israelites tested the Lord saying, “is the Lord in our midst or not?” The Israelites didn’t know whether God was in their midst. Even after all the miracles, the 10 plagues, the parting of the Red Sea; even after rescuing them from the Egyptians, the Israelites questioned whether God was in the midst. Things were difficult and they were thirsty and they wondered if God was in their midst or not.

 I find that so incredible, but it’s true, because it happens to us too.

I just returned from Alberta, because, as many of you know, next weekend, Canadian bishops are travelling to Rome with a delegation of Residential School Survivors, Elders, Knowledge Keepers and Indigenous youth, to meet with Pope Francis. Because of my work at Salt + Light Media, I will be traveling with the group. And so I was out in Alberta meeting some of the delegates that will be going. One of the people I spoke with is wonderful man: he’s a former chief, an elder, much respected; he was one of the commissioners for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He’s a devout Catholic and also a Residential School survivor. He told me about his experience in the school. His story is similar to the many stories we’ve all heard. Like many survivors, he was abused, physically and sexually, but not by the adults in the school; by other students. Despite all these things that he endured, he told me that the worst thing was that he was disconnected from his family. He lost all his familial bonds. Even though his sisters attended the same school, he didn’t get to know them. And so, when he left the school, he was homeless. Not literally homeless, but spiritually, culturally homeless; he didn’t belong to this community and didn’t belong to that community. He didn’t speak his language. He was lost. Imagine how much we suffer when our own children don’t get along or the bond that we have as a family is broken? That’s what the Residential School did to him and to so many others. In many cases, the schools were successful in “killing the Indian in the child”, but what’s more, the schools also killed the Christian in the child, because so many of these children came from Catholic families. This man who I spoke with came from a Catholic family. Indigenous people were Catholic for about 200 years before the first Residential School ever opened and the schools took away their faith. I came to realize that one of the biggest failures of the Residential School system was that they failed to give the students a real and powerful experience that God was in their midst. They took away their belief that God was in their midst. Many kept their faith, they stayed Catholic; many came back to the faith later on; many, many have found a home with traditional Indigenous spirituality, where they truly believe that God is in the midst of everything created. But when they came out of the schools, they were homeless because they had lost that sense that God was in their midst.

I feel the same about you. If we, the clergy, ordained ministers of the Church, have failed in helping you have a deep and powerful experience that God is in your midst – I am deeply sorry. Jesus today sits with us, at the side of a well and encounters us in our homelessness – that Samaritan woman was lost; she had had 5 husbands and the one she was living with now was not her husband. She had lost the sense that God was in her midst; and he was sitting right there in front of her! That’s what that conversation was about. It’s not really about water and being thirsty. That’s why they talk about how the Jews worship in Jerusalem and her ancestors have worshipped in this mountain… She is asking, “Where is God?” Is God in our midst?

I don’t know why God doesn’t make it more obvious that He is in our midst. But I do know that it is in those times of difficulty, of trial, of pain and suffering; when we are thirsty and feeling homeless; that’s when we begin asking “where are you, God?” And God is right there with us. You wonder if God is in our midst? You want to know where God is? God is in the people of Ukraine; God is in the inter-generational trauma suffered by Residential School survivors; God is in your wounds, in your suffering, because wherever you need healing, that’s where God is, offering you living water.

 There’s a lake in Alberta called Lac Ste. Anne. The Nakota Sioux people, in whose land the lake is, call it Wakamne, God’s Lake. The legend goes that a thousand years ago a Sioux chief from down south had a dream about this lake and travelled around for years in search for it. When he found it, he said that he could hear a song, as the wind blew through the treetops that told him that Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit, was in that place. Since then, the people have known that to be a holy place – a place of power. After the late 1800’s when the Oblate Priests came and renamed the lake in honour of the Mother of Our Lady, Saint Anne, it has become a place of Catholic pilgrimage, where people go for healing. They wash in the waters of the lake and there have been healings; not just spiritual healings but actual physical healings. The living waters of God’s Lake are healing, because God is in that place. I was there, and you do feel that, God is, in a very special way, in your midst.

If you ever wonder whether God is in your midst or not, don’t doubt it. Ask him to sit next to you at the well; ask him for that living water that only He can give. Ask him for his abundant life, and He will give it to you. He will strike the rock of your doubts, the rock of your fears, and his water will flow, so that you will heal and never be thirsty again.

To learn more about the Indigenous Delegation to Rome and Residential Schools, visit A Journey Toward Healing and Reconciliation, Understanding the Indigenous Delegation to Rome and the Healing and Reconciliation page of the Archdiocese of Toronto.

From → English, Reflections

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