Bodily Strength and Strength of the Soul
I hope you ate your breakfast this morning because the readings today area all about food and water. In the first reading we pick up on the story of the Israelites as they are led by Moses through the desert to the Promised Land. As you can imagine, there wasn’t much water in the desert. The Israelites became so dehydrated that, instead of asking God what He was doing by leading them through this, they began to complain. They questioned Moses and dreamt about the life they had left behind in Egypt as they feared dying of thirst in the desert. Moses prayed to God and the Lord told him to strike the rock and when he did streams of water miraculously gushed forth. The Lord provided for their thirst.
In the Gospel, something similar occurred. Jesus was sitting at a well when a Samaritan woman came to draw water. He asked her for a drink and then went on to tell her that if she had asked him, he would have given her “living water.” The woman misunderstood what Jesus was trying to say thinking he could provide another source of water so she wouldn’t have to drop her bucket down the well each day. Jesus went on to tell her that if she were to drink his water, she would never be thirsty again.
Both of these accounts reflected the interchange between thirst and water. On a human bodily level, we may understand them well, but Jesus strives to show us something deeper. The message of today’s readings is that just as our body needs water and food to survive, so to does our soul need nourishment to live.
We were made to have a Big Body AND a Big Soul
I think that God must get a real kick out of us sometimes; knowing everything it must be humorous how we react to things. Many of us today have big bodies, we are tall and strong. Yet, the same people with big bodies have very small souls. There is a huge discrepancy between the two. Imagine it this way, a young man wants to impress a girl in school so he decides to work out and build a lot of muscle. He goes to the gym for months and then steps in front of the mirror to admire his success. However, when he flecks his muscles he realizes that something is wrong, that this whole time he was only lifting weights with his right arm. As a result, one bicep is huge and strong and the other is tiny and weak. Looking at it now, it looks ridiculous. It’s important that there be a healthy balance and that we build up strong bodies and strong souls.
God’s Grace Strengthens our Souls
The proper nourishment for our souls is the grace of God. He can strengthen us in ways that go above and beyond something natural with greater determination, conviction, charity, hope, courage, peace, and patience. On Easter Sunday we will renew our Baptisms, the moment when the Blessed Trinity came to dwell inside of us and united himself to our souls. It is from this source that we receive special graces and throughout our whole lives we strive to deepen that connection so that the two truly become one and all of our thoughts and actions flow forth from God. In this regard, one of the things that I have noticed in my own life has been that when I am close to God, everything seems easier. I’m more at peace and happy as the day goes along. But when I am far away from God, when I miss my prayers or put them off, I find that I get frustrated and irritated much more quickly and things just don’t seem to run as smoothly without the presence of God.
The Witness of St. Maximilian Kolbe
An example of someone who had the strength of God inside of him and who had a conviction like few others was St. Maximilian Kolbe. He lived around the time of the Second World War and was a Catholic priest. Like many priests and religious he was quickly marked as a threat to the Nazi’s and was captured and thrown in prison, which soon led to a transfer to the concentration camp in Auchawitz. At one point, three prisoners escaped and as a punishment for that crime and to discourage any other hopes of freedom, the guards lined up all the prisoners and chose ten of them who would be killed. St. Maximilian was not chosen. One of the men who was chosen began to plead with the guards, “I have a family. I am a father and a husband.” As much as he begged for mercy, the guards laughed at him. At this point, something totally unexpected happened, St. Maximilian stepped forward and said, “Let me take his spot, let me switch places with him.” The guards were shocked and allowed the man to step back in line and St. Maximilian to take his place.
In this St. Maximilian demonstrated the greatest act of charity, “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” but there is more to come, there is more to see regarding the soul of this man. After being chosen, the ten men were taken to a starvation bunker, where it was the experience of the guards that death came quickly with no hope or food and water. Yet this is not what they saw when they passed this bunker each day. With St. Maximilian leading them, the prisoners were seen praying and singing, they had a sense of hope and joy, and the priest of charity made sure that each of them died a good death with a friend by their side. Finally, after two weeks, only St. Maximilian remained and each time the guards passed by they were irritated, frustrated, and angry. In this man they saw physically a body that was weak and dying, yet beneath that they saw an interior strength that was more powerful than anything they had ever seen before. In St. Maximilian we can see the promise of Jesus of “living water,” the kind that if you if you drink of it, you “will never thirst.” Jesus says, “The water that I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” St. Maximilian Kolbe did not die of starvation in the Auschwitz concentration camp, the guards gave up on that, and injected him with a poison that quickly brought his life to an end.
During this time of Lent, by our prayers, fasting, and sacrifices, we strive to strengthen our souls, so that like St Maximilian Kolbe, they will be strong. By drinking the spiritual water that Jesus offers we can develop an interior strength that no one can break or destroy. We can become like the saints, who shocked and inspired many with their heroic and God-like conviction, patience, charity, determination, courage, hope, and peace.