“Is God in our midst or not?” What a provocative question in today’s first reading! Especially when confronted by the pain we see in our world today.
To understand today’s gospel story, we must appreciate the history of Samaria and Israel. After being conquered by Assyria, Samaritans worshiped Assyrian gods while continuing to worship the God of Israel. Because of this, Jews hated and rejected Samaritans and wouldn’t set foot in their territory. It’s in this context that Jesus and his disciples traveled through Samaria.
When stopping to rest, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman. As a woman and a Samaritan, she’s an outcast in Jewish society and is surprised when Jesus, a Jew, speaks to her. He asks for a drink of water, even though drinking from her vessel would make him ritually unclean. Jesus tells her that God is doing something new, and a day is coming when Samaritans will worship God in Spirit and truth. The woman returns to her village, shares this good news, and her neighbors believe. Early Christians who heard this story understood Jesus as proclaiming the new Kingdom of God where outcasts are welcomed, hatred is no more, and all are ruled by the law of love.
Sometimes it takes eyes of faith to see where God is doing something new. For example, my home state of Maine has many unhoused people who others choose not to see, walking around them or driving past. This winter, however, the congregation of a historic church in a nearby town decided to write a new history by converting an unused part of their building into an emergency overnight shelter for those who otherwise would be sleeping on cold streets. Their leap of faith and act of hospitality inspired others to also respond. Within a month the YMCA opened on Sunday mornings for hot showers; another church opened its space for hot breakfasts; volunteers from numerous churches and even the town’s entire city council pitched in to help. No longer were church folks and town leaders taking the long way around people they encountered on the streets. Instead, they were sharing their lives with one another. With eyes of faith, we can see how God used the game-changing faith of the congregation of a single old church to do something new!
I believe that the work of Catholic Charities is game-changing in many people’s lives. Whether it is working with refugees or providing food or addiction counseling, the work of Catholic Charites assures that people are seen, treated with dignity, and no longer avoided or walked around. Catholic Charities reminds us that God is active and alive in our midst, and always doing something new.
Kathy Brown is a Board Member of Catholic Charities of Maine. In over 40 years of ministry she served with Catholic Relief Services, the Diocese of Phoenix, parishes, the RCIA national team, Caritas North America as Regional Coordinator, and Catholic Charities USA as Senior Director of Mission Integration and Catholic Identity. Kathy and her husband Scott live in Gardiner, Maine, where she serves on the city council. Kathy has a MDiv and MA in Theology from St. Paul University, Ottawa, Canada.