One of the most glorious experiences in U.S. history, took place in the summer of 1984, in Los Angeles, California.
Politically, the United States found itself in the midst of great tension as a result of the Cold War.
President Jimmy Carter had announced that the U.S. would boycott the Summer Olympics in Moscow in 1980. The Soviet Union likewise, decided not to participate in the 1984 Olympics on U.S. soil.
Competitive gymnastics brought with it this tension. Eastern Europe had dominated competitive gymnastics. Between the 1976 Summer Olympics, and the olympics of 1980, Romanian gymnist, Nadia Comeneci, had won a total of five gold medals,and her coach, Bela Karolyi, had just defected from communist Romania, to Texas in 1981.
The girl he would now coach, Mary Lou Retton, could not have had any real understanding of the significance of her participation in these Olympic games on the world stage in 1984. She was only 16 years old. Nevertheless, she found herself behind the acclaimed Romanian gymnast, Ecaterina Szabo, and would have to score a perfect 10 on her final vault in order to win the All-Around gold medal, which the U.S. had never won.
But she had great confidence, not only in her coach, but also herself. And she walked up to Bela Karolyi and whispered in his ear, "I'm going to stick it!"
And so Retton bolted down the runway like a cannonball, and sprung fourteen feet in the air combining a back somersault with a double-twist, with her feet stuck firmly to the floor, perfectly balanced, reached her arms up and arched her back, and that infectious cry and smile of elation - the fruits of relief, joy, and the satisfaction of victory.
Gymnastics is a sport that requires impeccable balance in order to achieve perfection. For most of us, the closest we come to being a gymnast is climbing the monkey bars on the playground, or walking on the curb like it's a balance beam.
Our God, the Creator of the universe, is the ultimate source of perfection in balancing our lives.
Our readings today point to the truth that faith in Christ and in his resurrection will bring us the fruits of relief, joy, and the satisfaction of victory, represented in the Scriptures today by “living” water.
In today's first reading, we see evidence of how God tested the Israelites regarding their physical needs, throughout their wanderings in the desert. Basically the testing involved for the most part, food and of course, water, the basics for sustaining physical life. God always provides, and is the source of relief.
The first test is at Marah in Ex 15:22-25, which is the western side of the Sinai Peninsula, just after Moses had parted the red sea. The Israelites were thirsty and cried out since the water there was too bitter. God shows Moses a piece of wood and Moses then threw it into the water, and the water becomes fresh. God provides relief from their suffering.
The second test takes place in chapter 16 of Exodus, in Rephidim, further south on the Sinai penninsula. The Israelites grumbled about being fed better in Egypt than under Moses’ care. God provides quail in the evening twilight, and manna in the mornings. Certainly, this feeding foreshadows God’s providing of His flesh to us in the Eucharist, represented by the manna, or bread. God gives relief then as He does now.
The third test has to do again with a thirst for water. The quarreling begins in the southern part of the Sinai Peninsula, and The question again surfaces, “Has God abandoned us?” "Is the Lord in our midst, or not?" Moses is instructed to strike the rock in Horeb, and water flows abundantly. God provides relief to satisfy their thirst.
Eventually the Israelites would survive the desert, and feel the fruits of relief, joy, and the satisfaction of victory in the promised land.
This is a foreshadowing of the true promised land that leads us into heaven.
The Gospel reading with the Samaritan woman concerns this reality.
St. Augustine has a beautiful symbolic interpretation of this passage in John's Gospel. He explains Jesus as the New Adam. We are familiar with how Adam's bride is formed, by God taking a rib from him and fashioning Eve out of the rib while Adam was asleep. Augustine says that Christ, the New Adam, goes through a deep sleep on the cross, and the resulting bride of Christ is the Gentile church. No longer are only Jews accepted in the church, but the Gentiles as well. In other words, all people of all ethnicities.
Augustine says that the woman’s five husbands represent the five books of Moses – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. As great as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses were. They are not the true spouse of the church. Jesus us the true spouse of the church.
The Samaritan woman's encounter with Jesus in essence, represents her arrival to the promised land. Jesus becomes the true husband for the Samaritan woman, not in a physical sense, but in an analogical sense, representing the Gentiles who are now able to enter completely into the church, otherwise known as the bride of Christ. And what does Jesus offer the Samaritan woman? Living water.
The Holy Spirit essentially is the "living water" that Jesus offers for our spiritual sustenance, or our spiritual life.
Now it most certainly would be nice in this life, to have our picture on a box of Wheaties, to be acclaimed by healthy breakfast eaters throughout the world. However, Mary Lou Retton most probably would not consider this to be her greatest accomplishment.
She would probably say her greatest accomplishment is to be a wife and mother of four girls, and raising them to be Christians.
We don’t have to win any worldly titles or high positions to receive the greatest accomplishment – eternal life.
Lent is a season where we are reminded that our joy comes not from a high rank in society, but from avoiding sin, and choosing Christ. We focus on the simplicity of the desert. No distractions. And humble ourselves whenever possible.
And we pray for those who live lives that never leave the desert. Those who suffer more than we do.
We know there are those that are experiencing the pains of divorce, and seek relief from their suffering. We know there are those who suffer from having a child that has fallen away from the church, or imprisoned, or addicted to drugs. There is a man out there who has just gotten his leg amputated as a result from complications with diabetes. The desert wanderings may not end in this life. We need to pray for each other.
Let us not forget that we are pilgrims in exile as poor banished chioldren of Eve.
If we can live each day in Lent and throughout our lives, disciplining ourselves to become better disciples of Christ despite the difficult circumstnces, we will all receive the fruits of relief, joy, and the satisfaction of victory this Easter.
Not our victory, but Christ's victory over sin and death.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!