Third Sunday in Lent at Mississippi Abbey

Kallistos Ware started out as an Anglican vicar and was received into the Greek Orthodox church in 1958. He became a Bishop in 1982. As Bishop he was a teacher of the Orthodox faith and a Shepperd guiding the people in the ways of the Greek church. Speaking of Bishops one time Archbishop Kucera told me he was celebrating a first communion service in some small rural parish is Iowa. At beginning of Mass, he stood before the children with his miter and crozier and asked, “Do you know who I am”? One little girl hollered out, “Little Bo Peep”!

Back to the Shepperd. I think Kallistos was guiding his flock in the ways of interior prayer. He and the Fathers of the Orthodox church speak of effortless prayer. Let the prayer speak, you yourself must be silent. He goes on to say to be still and silent is the hardest thing for modern people to learn. What does effortless prayer mean or let the prayer speak?                      

I think today’s Gospel can help us understand this. Jesus tells the woman at the well, “the water I will give will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life” within him. Sir give me this water so I will never thirst and have to come here to draw water ever again. Jesus was using symbolic language and the women was taking him literally. The same thing happened when the disciples returned with food and Jesus said I have food to eat of which you know not.

Those who listen to Jesus speaking whether they are physically in his presence or people like us who listen to him speak to us through the Gospels – there is really no difference between the two, it is Jesus speaking to us using words we understand – food and drink. But he is using them in a metaphorical sense to help us understand a spiritual reality that he is offering the woman at the well who represents all of us and for that matter the Church itself. Water and food are at the source of human life. Jesus is teaching us about the source of our spiritual life, the life of our soul – our eternal life. That life within us that will never die. The source of this life, the water it needs to live, is prayer. Prayer is to our spirit what water is to our body. The Gospel today quotes Jesus as saying, “God is spirit and those worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” St. Bernard uses this in one of his sermons on the Canticle. He says, “The Word is a Spirit and the soul is a spirit. They possess their own mode of speech and presence in accord with their nature” Cant. 45:7.  Our nature is human and Jesus is Divine. He is bound to us in his human nature and at Baptism we share in his Divine nature. Our life then becomes like a tabernacle erected round a sacred mystery. To be silent in prayer means to listen to the voice of prayer in our inmost heart and understand that the voice is not our own, but that of Another speaking within us. As we take our place listening to Jesus with the Samaritan woman, he tells us that the source of our life is in him and that out of this oneness comes our worship of God in Spirit and Truth.

St. Benedict tells us at the Office there should be a harmony between our mind and our voice. One way of understanding this is to say at the Office our soul is speaking using human words. Prayer lets our soul breath, lets it express itself hidden though it be. The Office is divine words in our human voice and human words from a divine source. This could be one meaning of the words “a fountain of water within us welling up to eternal life”

Sisters and friends, go often to this fountain within you – go to the source of your life – go to your inner self where God’s life flows into your life like a fountain. Be the first to drink from the spring within you.