As I write this post [March 15th] more than 80 Diocesan Bishops have granted a “Corned Beef Dispensation” for Friday, March 17th — the Feast of St. Patrick. [By the 16th — increased to 114 Dioceses.] Recognizing the tradition of many of the faithful enjoying food and beverage on the annual feast — which tends to fall on a Friday once each decade — and to, perhaps cause qualms of conscience, these bishops have freed Catholics from the Lenten practice of not eating meat on the Fridays of Lent.
In other words, the practice is important — the tradition is important — community customs are important ——— but, none of these are “written in stone.” There is something beyond the practice, the tradition, community customs are important — but something must be bigger.
In the Gospel [John 4:5-42] Jesus visited with a Samaritan woman — He, a man, a Jew — visited with a woman, a Samaritan, a woman — married five times and living with a man, not her husband. Wow — talk about breaking custom and tradition!!
The disciples were amazed that he was talking to a woman. Yet, no one asked why he was talking with “her“.
What Jesus did was more than grant a dispensation from eating meat on a Friday in Lent. What Jesus did was to go BEYOND the social customs, to go beyond the accepted PRACTICE, to go beyond what was thought to be RIGHT —- to see a person, to see her need, to see her goodness, to see her potential.
Many of the Samaritans of the town, the scripture tells us, came to BELIEVE IN JESUS because of the WORD of this woman who testified —-somehow — in someway the power of who she was and the power of her experience caused others to see and hear beyond what people THOUGHT OF THIS WOMAN — what people believed her to be — a sinner.
Imagine if Jesus had said: You know, I see her over there by herself. I want to talk to her, but I am afraid of what people might think of me — for talking to her, because of what people think/know of her.
Imagine if Jesus had said — You know, I think you are valuable — your are worthwhile and I would like to spend some time with you —- BUT FIRST, YOU BETTER GET YOURSELF RIGHT WITH THE FATHER — CONFESS YOUR SIN TO THE PRIEST, DO YOUR PENANCE — and then, we will talk.
Imagine if Jesus had said, I am sure you have a lot of good qualities — but this lifestyle you are living separates you from the body. And BEFORE I GIVE YOU ANY WATER, you better get that annulment —- actually you might need a few annulments — and THEN, I will give you some water.
I cannot imagine Jesus saying any of these things.
Yes, the law is important. Order is important. Law & Order are both important. But, if the law is not giving life, something is wrong with the law. Jesus — bishops who are dispensing from Friday abstinence on St. Patrick Day — saw that the “Sabbath was made for ‘man’ and not ‘man’ for the Sabbath.”
People — Churches — that focus on Jesus — and that embody Jesus —- radiate Joy and Life. The law doesn’t, in itself, give life or bring joy.
St. Paul [Romans 5:1-8] reminds us that we have been justified by faith [in Jesus] and not by any law. Jesus gives us access to grace — which gives us a hope that will not disappoint. Faith in Jesus — not adherence to the law — brings the fullness of life we so desperately crave.
In the Book of Exodus [17:3-7] the Hebrew community had not come to faith in God. So, when things got hard, they grumbled. The folks began to wonder if slavery would be preferable to being thirsty — if going BACK TO WHERE THEY WERE might be better than possibly dying of thirst.
For the forty days of Lent — we do what we can — THROUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT — UNDER THE GRACE OF GOD — to come to Jesus and to drink of the life giving water he alone can give. We go beyond the law to the giver of the real law. We go beyond the practice of religion — to the person we worship. We stand in tradition in order to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.
In recent days, Cardinal Tobin of Newark, NJ stood with an immigrant who lacked legal status in our country. He went to court with a man from Mexico who came here 21 years ago seeking a better life for his family. Cardinal Tobin “sat” with a good man offering him the love of Jesus and the hope of faith. He went beyond what the majority of our people think is the right thing to do to do what, I believe, Jesus would have done.
I pray that the 80+ bishops who have given a dispensation from eating meat would have sat with the Samaritan woman. I pray that my faith goes beyond the minimum and the external. I pray that I see the good in every person and in every situation. I pray that I not grumble with the going gets tough because I walk with the ONE who goes beyond even the laws of nature — to rise from the dead.