Fr. Tom Bartolomeo
The way of the cross: passage to conversion
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By Fr. Tom Bartolomeo
March 24, 2014

When good things happen unexpectedly accept them without question. When Jesus and his Apostles were returning to Galilee from Jerusalem and were passing through Samaria they stopped at Sychar for food and supplies intent on continuing their journey home. Samaritans were after all long standing enemies of the Jews who had separated themselves from the kingdom of David. (cf. John 4: 5-42)

The trip would have taken Jesus and his Apostles a week or so to make, and they were half way home when they stopped at Sychar in Samaria, "down-time" to regroup before continuing. They arrived at midday. Jesus stopped at the town's well to rest while his Apostles went into town for some provisions. Ordinarily, the women of the town would arrive early in morning at the town well and leave before the heat of the day when Jesus arrived and met a woman who had come in the afternoon to draw water from the well. It was, however, Jesus' good fortune. He was thirsty and needed someone to draw him some water and he asked the woman for a "drink." At first, she was taken back when she saw a Jew speaking to her sitting by the wall of the well. His Jewish clothes were a give-away but she needed water and had avoided the other women when she came to the well. When Jesus asked her for a drink he understood why she came after the other women had left. She had been married five times and was then living with a sixth man whom she didn't manage to marry. What was the point, she may have thought?

Jesus deals with issues we avoid – never shying away from the truth no matter how shameful while respecting a person's basic human dignity. All God requires is our honesty. When Jesus surprised the woman with a gift of "living water" she replied sarcastically, "Sir, give me this water so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water, a constant reminder of her isolation in the town. Jesus then extended his invitation to her, saying, "call your husband and come back." Jesus would have waited, but she told Jesus the truth, could have simply said, "I'll be right back." But she told Jesus the truth,"I do not have a husband" which Jesus already knew. "You have had five husbands," Jesus told her, "and the one you have now is not your husband." Most of us simply avoid speaking about such issues with others, marriage, divorce, remarriage and anything else to do with sexual relationships. Jesus did not. In Jerusalem where he had just come from some Pharisees, experts in the law, they had asked Jesus about divorce which they condoned as we do today. At his Sermon on the Mount before thousands of people Jesus condemned their evil practices which they had become accustomed to: anger, revenge , hatred of their enemies and their hypocrisies along with divorce and adultery. "I say to you," Jesus told the crowd, "that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery." (Matthew 5: 31-32). The Pharisees then objected, "Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?' [Jesus] replied, 'It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but at the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.' (Matthew 19: 7-9).

Citing his authority from Sacred Scripture which the Pharisees and the people knew all too well Jesus added, "Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female', and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate. (cf. Genesis 1:26- 2: 25). It was out of the hardness of your hearts that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but at the beginning it was not so." (Matthew 19: 3-9). Jesus was fulfilling what he had promised on the Mount of Beatitudes for all the world to hear: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished." (Matthew 5: 17-18) Jesus could not have spoken more clearly about God's law. Jesus would be the first to say that God's law and human law, church law and state law, may be separate but God's law does not bend to human civil law.

All the woman at the well needed was someone to acknowledge the hypocrisy of her life inviting her to change her ways and accept "a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

Long ago stripped of all her romantic notions about marriage – married five times and then cohabiting with a sixth man – Jesus awoke in her soul what she had learned long ago as young girl raised under Mosaic Law, what the prophets had taught. Jesus did not condemn her but moved her to repent her life of adultery when she accepted Jesus as a prophet and her teacher – turning her mind and heart to her own salvation and inviting her to worship God who alone "in Spirit and truth" could save her. "I know that the Messiah is coming, [she said] the one called the Christ and when he comes, he will tells us everything." Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one speaking to you." (John 4:24-26). Seen from our vantage two thousand years later Jesus' intention is clear, "I am the one speaking to you . . . who came in Spirit and truth" from God. (ibid.). To the Apostles' surprise Jesus and his disciples stayed two days in the town of Sychar. A convert now and his first missionary, 'the woman at the well' led Jesus to all the townspeople telling them that Jesus is the Messiah who "told me everything I have done" and they, the woman at the well and the townspeople together came to accept the law which Jesus had came to fulfill. (John 4: 27-42).

No one can compel or force another person to be morally or spiritually good even to save his own soul. The notion of "freedom of choice," however, so readily bantered about by those who want to be 'a law to themselves' should know that the choices they make have consequences, some bad. Personal "feelings" are not licenses for bad behavior. "Feelings" by their very nature change from moment to moment without some guidance "in Spirit and truth." Imagine relegating the important matters of marriage and sexual behavior to feelings of the moment like a child pulling a pedal off a daisy one at a time, saying, "He loves me. He loves me not. He loves me. He loves me not." Being ruled by a "feeling," a passion of the moment – is exactly what many people do. At our core, however, we are intelligent willful human beings not born and subjugated to our feelings which are so often misaligned and out of sorts with reality. Why we are so protective of small children whose undeveloped powers of reason can not distinguish what feels good from what is bad – that we do the thinking and choosing for them, thank God. Watch out for all those objects they put in their mouths, the chief sensory faculty they developed from infancy. Unlike dumb animals whose behavior is predictably programed by nature to certain physical responses – adult rational human beings can decide the course of their lives which no one or nothing in nature can decide for them. It explains why we are so unpredictable.

Animals are ruled by their senses and feelings in near perfect harmony while we human beings are often "out of order" and out of sorts with our "feelings" especially when we shut down our minds and wills for some passing "feeling." Perhaps this explains why pets today outnumber children four to one. Trained pets are easier to relate to and require much less attention than children until they are 'grown up' which for some may continue well into adulthood.

This amalgam of animal and rational spirit bound in one person is either ruled by its feelings and body or ruled by its intelligence and willful spirit. Put simply, animals act and react without thinking. Man can act and react with or without forethought, and the difference is evident to all. "The devil made me do it" is no excuse, but it certainly affirms something is wrong. Animals have no regrets, but we do when we act irrationally.

Feelings in our culture rule the day often without restraint. How do you feel about this or that rather than what do you think. There is no feeling more maligned than love, more whimsical than love. The mere assertion of love, the 'feeling' of love for some excludes every objective, rational and legal basis for marriage and all its personal and social outcomes. Does a 'no fault marriage' lead to a 'no fault divorce'? And what is the objective, rational and legal basis for same-sex marriage? Sexuality in nature – plant, animal and human – serves principally the purpose of reproduction. Animal sexuality in nature performs as intended without love or any rational 'feeling' at all. Homosexual behavior merely satisfies the pleasure of a sexual encounter. As much as sex can be perverted so can love. How many books, dramas and movies must we read or see to understand the human tragedy of "star crossed lovers" which lead to the death of many a Romeo and Juliet? The principal characters in the television series, "Breaking Bad" and in the "Godfather" films are motivated by distorted feelings 'in the name of love' – bringing to mind Diana Ross' song and complaint: "Stop! In the name of love . . . . Think it over . . . think it over."

© Fr. Tom Bartolomeo

 

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Fr. Tom Bartolomeo

I am the founder and director of the Families For Families Retreat House, a refuge for anyone who wants to rethink his or her life in a quiet non-demanding environment in an historic house c.1709 when life was less complicated. I am also and primarily a Catholic priest having been a college and university teacher, business-owner and executive among other things. I received my Bachelor's and Master's degrees in English literature from Saint John's University, Jamaica, New York and completed post-graduate studies at Kansas State University. Contact me at FatherTomSays@gmail.com.

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