The encounter which unmasks our heart’s deep desires

Fr Paolo Consonni, MCCJ

03 Sunday LENT Year A

During the long pandemic, we often complained about having to wear a mask in public places. Over the past few days, the Macau Government has finally dropped the COVID- related mask requirements for most locations. Many sighed in relief when they heard the news.

However, many of us surprisingly continue to wear a mask. Some feel that Covid is still a threat and that it is better to be cautious before discarding the mask. Others think that the face mask is effective in guarding against pollution and other sources of infections.

Some people might simply have got used to covering their own faces in public. The face mask offers a sense of privacy, of anonymity and therefore of security. I must admit that the first day I went around in public without a mask I experienced a sense of vulnerability. The same could be said about social distancing: it will surely take time to feel comfortable again in very crowded places. There are many advantages to keeping some layers of protection between ourselves and others.

The Samaritan woman we read about in the Gospel of this Third Sunday of Lent (Jn 4:5-42) had many reasons to choose privacy and to find ways to go around unnoticed. Her five marriages all failed and she ended up living with a partner who was not her husband. So many failures led her to the conclusion that true and eternal love did not exist. To avoid the judgmental gazes of the other women of the village, she chose a self-imposed social distancing and went to draw water from the well in the hottest hour of the day, when the chance of meeting someone was minimal.

Unexpectedly, tired out by his long journey, Jesus sat there, almost waiting for her. Against all social conventions (he was a male and a Jew, enemies of the Samaritans), he was daring enough not only to ask her for some water to drink, but also to start a deep conversation regarding her private life and her personal relationship with God.

Winning her trust with a genuine interest in her situation and without being judgmental—something this woman was surely not used to— Jesus peeled off, layer by layer, all the masks she wore on her soul. He helped her to see with clarity how useless her behavioral pattern was to quench her thirst for love by simply changing partners. She realized that what her heart truly desired was something different and deeper: “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because we are created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw us to himself. Only in God will we find the truth and happiness we never stop searching for,” says the Catechism (CCC 27).

Her encounter with Jesus revealed the true face of God who never ceases to look for us, no matter how lost we become. A God who wants to be adored “in spirit and truth” (v. 23), not merely in a superficial rituality. The first sentence of the Encyclical Letter “Deus Caritas Est” by Benedict XVI well expresses what happened to the Samaritan woman: “being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. [..] Since God has first loved us, love is now no longer a mere ‘command’; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us”.

Probably for the first time in her life, that woman felt she was understood — and not used, or condemned— in her deepest longings to which Jesus offered a concrete answer: the Gospel. She felt liberated from her sense of shame and failure. She did not need any more masks to hide her true face. Overcoming her self-imposed isolation, she left behind the water jar (which represented her past lifestyle, unable to satisfy her inner thirst for love), and went straight to the village to invite others to come and meet Jesus in person (vv. 28-30).

Each one of us has the possibility to meet Jesus in the same way, especially in Lent, in the reconciliation which is offered to us in the Sacraments and in our life of prayer. As the Catechism says: “”If you knew the gift of God!” The wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water: there, Christ comes to meet every human being. It is he who first seeks us and asks us for a drink. Jesus thirsts; his asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him”. (CCC 2560).  During this Lent, by unmasking our hearts in front of Jesus, we too, like the Samaritan woman, might become the catalysts of this never-ending encounter between God and humanity.