Sunday Sermon for March 23, 2014, the Third Sunday of Lent, Year A

Readings: Ex 17:3-7; Rom 1-2, 5-8; Jn 4:5-42
In the first reading today we hear about the events that took place at Meribah in the desert where the people of Israel tested God and grumbled against Him because they did not have water to drink. Any of us could understand that if we were in the desert and we were out of water, we might be tempted to grumble against the Lord as well.

Sadly, for so many people today it does not require being out in the desert and suffering from thirst before we complain against God. We complain about the smallest and most ridiculous things. We, too, seem to test God on a regular basis. As things continue to get worse in the world and more and more people abandon their faith in God for something secular, selfish, or occult, we hear more people asking the same basic question as the Israelites: Is the Lord in our midst or not?

St. Paul, in the second reading tells us that through faith we have been justified and through this same faith we have access to the grace of God in which we stand. He goes on to speak of the hope that does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

Even though it may seem like the Lord has removed Himself from us, our faith tells us that He is with us, our hope looks forward to the day when we will feel that union once again, and our love for God continues unabated in the midst of the darkness and dryness. This is the way God has purified the Saints throughout history. Today, we are among those whom He wants to be saints. Are we willing to cooperate?

The real question we have to ask as individuals and as a people is not whether or not God is in our midst, but whether or not we are with God. St. Paul reminds us that Jesus died for us while we were helpless and ungodly. In fact, he says that God proves His love for us by dying for us while we were still sinners.

If God came into this world when the world was opposed to Him, then we can have complete confidence that He has not removed Himself today when people have turned against Him. If He came to us when we were not justified, how much more can we count on His love now that we are His children?

In the days before telephones, people did not doubt the love of their parents just because they had not seen them or heard from them for a while. God has proven His love; it is not necessary for Him to do so again. Beside that, He has promised to remain with us all days until the end of time. This He continues to do in the Eucharist where He is truly present in our midst.

God wants our faith to be purified so that in times of trial we will not doubt or turn away. In fact, when our faith is being purified it grows. We see an example of this in the Gospel today when our Lord is speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well and then speaks to the whole town. The Samaritans, recall, did not believe in the Messiah. They believed only in the Prophet spoken of by Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy because they rejected all of the Scriptures except the first five books. So the woman begins by acknowledging Jesus to be a prophet, but then she speaks of Him as the Messiah and the Christ. Our Lord tells her that He is the Christ.

She next goes into the town and tells the people about Jesus and suggests that He might be the Christ. After the people hear our Lord speaking, they believe, not because of the woman’s words, but because of our Lord’s own words. They then profess their faith in Him as the Savior of the world.

This occurred very quickly, but the faith of these Samaritans, like ours, would have to be purified. It started out more on the surface level, but God wanted that faith to go deep so that it would not be shaken in times of difficulty. Imagine how difficult it must have been for those who believed Jesus was the Messiah when He died.

We have the grace of knowing and believing in the resurrection, but still we waver when times get tough. Right now the Church is going through some very hard times and those are bound to get worse. God is allowing it so that our faith, hope and charity can grow. In the midst of the turmoil, remain with God and do not doubt the presence of God among us.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit