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Finding Eternity

Gospel Commentary for 3rd Sunday of Lent

By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap

ROME, FEB. 22, 2008 ( To the Samaritan woman, and to all those who in some way find themselves in her situation, Jesus makes a radical proposal in this Sunday’s Gospel: Seek another “water,” give meaning and a new horizon to your life.

An eternal horizon! “The water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Eternity is a word that has fallen into disuse. It has become a type of taboo for the modern man. It is believed that this thought can distance us from the concrete historical commitment to change the world, that it is an escape, a “wasting on heaven the treasures destined for the earth,” as Hegel said.

But what is the result? Life, human suffering, everything becomes immensely more absurd. The measure has been lost. If the balance of eternity is missing, all suffering, all sacrifice seems absurd, disproportionate, it “unbalances” us, it crushes us. St. Paul wrote, “This momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” Compared to an eternity of glory, the weight of tribulation seems “light” to him (to him, who suffered so much in life!) precisely because it is “momentary.” In fact, he adds, “What is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

The philosopher Miguel de Unamuno (who, moreover, was a “secular” thinker), responded to a friend who reproached him that his search for eternity was prideful or presumptuous with these words, “I don’t say that we deserve a beyond, nor that logic demonstrates it. I say simply that we need it, deserving it or not. I say that what happens does not satisfy me, that I thirst for eternity, and without it, I don’t care about all of this. Without it the joy of living no longer exists […] It is too easy to affirm, ‘It’s necessary to live, it’s necessary to resign oneself to this life.’ And those who don’t resign themselves?”

It is not the one who desires eternity who shows that he doesn’t love life, but rather the one who doesn’t desire it, given that he resigns himself so easily to the thought that this must end.

It would be of tremendous benefit, not only for the Church, but also for society, to rediscover the sense of eternity. It would help to re-encounter balance, to relativize things, to not fall into despair before the injustices and the suffering that exists in the world, even while fighting against them. To live less frantically.

In the life of each person there has been a moment in which he has had a certain intuition of eternity, even if hazy. One must be attentive to avoid seeking the experience of the infinite in drugs, in unrestrained sex and in other things in which, in the end, only remain disappointment and death. “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,” Jesus told the Samaritan woman. It is necessary to seek infinity in that which is above, not that which is below; above reason, not below it in irrational intoxications.

It is clear that it is not enough to know that eternity exists; it’s necessary as well to know what to do to get there. To ask oneself, as the rich young man of the Gospel, “Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Leopardi, in the poem, “The Infinite,” speaks of a wall that hides the ultimate horizon. What is this wall for us, this obstacle that impedes us from gazing toward the ultimate horizon, toward the eternal? The Samaritan, that day, understood that she should change something in her life if she wanted to obtain the “eternal life,” because shortly thereafter, we find her transformed into an evangelizer who tells everyone, without shame, what Jesus had told her.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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Father Raniero Cantalamessa is the Pontifical Household preacher. The readings for this Sunday are Exodus 17:3-7; Romans 5:1-2,5-8; John 4:5-42.

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