Director of Catholic Studies Michael Baxter shares Lent Reflection

In the story of the encounter in the town of Sychar, at Jacob’s well, both characters are thirsting. The Samaritan woman is thirsting for water, the kind that will never leave her thirsting again. Jesus is thirsting for the faith she lacks and needs, and, as she discovers, actually wants.  

The Samaritan woman discovers what she wants amid the encounter and dialogue with Jesus. She’s been in a string of relationships, none of which has been obviously satisfying, none of them bringing her what she truly desires. She is thirsting for more. And in this thirsting, she is each one of us. We in turn, each one of us, are her. We’re all looking for God. Chesterton wrote that a man knocking at the door of a brothel is looking for God. We might add to Chesterton’s well taken point, the young people scrolling through Instagram—and the middle aged and older folks too—are looking for God too. So are the influencers on social media. So are the Wall Street traders buying and selling on the market to make a quick $1,000,000. We all are looking for something to excite us, move us, give us meaning, purpose. Only God satisfies our desires.  

St. Augustine, the great bishop and theologian of Hippo in North Africa, says as much at the beginning of his Confessions, when he writes, “You have made us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You” (Bk. 1, 1).  That is to say, the very structure of our being is such that we are never satisfied unless and until united with God. St. Thomas Aquinas, the thirteenth-century Dominican theologian, offers the same message when he asks and answers a series of questions about human happiness. Does it consist in wealth? No. Does it consist in honors? No. Fame or glory? No. Power? Any bodily good? Any good of the soul? No. no. No. Does it consist in any created good? No. Human happiness consists only in God. (Summa Theologiae, I/II, 4).  

When Thomas Merton went to live the life of a Cistercian monk at the Abbey of Gethsemane in Kentucky, he took note of the words chiseled into the stone above the gate leading into the cloister: “God Alone.” 

This is the lesson we learn and re-learn each Lenten season. This is the lesson we learn and re-learn in life itself. The Samaritan woman learned through all the loves she pursued that only one love would bring her the happiness she sought. So too we, pursuing al the possible loves of our lives, learn the same lesson. This is the context in which the liturgy places those to be baptized: the ones who have found living water—water that wells up into eternal life.  In the Letter to the Romans,  St. Paul uses similar imagery: the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts (Romans 5:5).  In the desert, the Israelites grumbled about no water, and Moses struck the rock out of which flowed water. In the story of the Samaritan Woman, we see that the rock is Christ, and thus proclaim, with her, “we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world” (John 4:42).  

— Director of Catholic Studies Michael Baxter