Today, Catholic Christians celebrate the Third Sunday of Lent.
The most obvious theme that emerges from the Scriptures today is that of water, its life-giving properties, and the foreshadowing of the sacrament of Baptism. However, we also learn much about God’s call to each of us to be missionaries, to spread his good news to others.
In the Old Testament reading from Exodus, for example, we read how God delivered the Hebrew people from Egypt (Exodus 17: 3-7). Instead of being grateful, however, they were grumbling because they had no water. Therefore, God had Moses strike a rock from which water flowed to show that he was still with them.
And in the Gospel for today, we hear the story of Jesus encountering a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4: 5-42).
In this story, Jesus came to a Samaritan town and sat down by Jacob’s well. There, he encountered a Samaritan woman who had come to get some water. Jesus asked her for a drink, and she expressed surprise, for the Jews and Samaritans usually avoided each other.
Then, Jesus told the woman that he had a type of water, a type of water that will give people eternal life. Needless to say, the woman was very intrigued. She was even more intrigued when she learned that Jesus knew her life story. Then, she knew he was a prophet. And although she knew Jesus was very special, she did not know that he was the Messiah, the Christ. However, she did suspect that this might be the case.
After speaking with Jesus, she left her water jar and went to tell people in the town about this special man and invited them to come to Jesus to see for themselves. She said, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?”
Many people did accept the Samaritan woman’s invitation, and they began to believe in Jesus. The Samaritan woman had been successful in her role as a missionary.
Over 2,000 years have come and gone since the meeting of Jesus with the Samaritan woman, and the missionary activity the woman exhibited continues even today.
One woman of our time who followed the missionary mandate of Christ was Maura Clarke.
Maura was born on January 13, 1931 in the Bronx, New York City and grew up in the Rockaway section of Queens.
In addition to learning about her Catholic faith, Maura also learned much about Irish history and how her family and their friends fought valiantly against oppression in Ireland. Maura knew that she came from people who believed in, and fought for, equality and dignity for all people. This love of the underdogs of society would be a recurrent theme in her life.
When she grew up, Maura became a Maryknoll Missionary Sister. After serving for a time in the Bronx, New York City, Maura was sent to Siuna, a remote town in Nicaragua in 1959. Most of Sr. Maura’s missionary life would be spent in Nicaragua.
Maura fell in love with the people of Nicaragua, and they fell in love with her. Maura loved teaching about Jesus, and she loved helping the people. She was thrilled by the Second Vatican Council’s call for Catholic Christians to return to their ancient roots. Part of this call was for the laity to be full members of the Church, and to engage in the social justice mission of Catholic Christianity. Maura loved empowering the people.
As the years went on, Nicaragua became more and more brutal. Government forces became hostile toward the poor, and they killed tens of thousands of peasants. Fortunately, however, the peasants were successful when they overthrew the dictator who had been so brutal.
Following peace in Nicaragua, Maura felt a call to El Salvador, which was on the brink of suffering the same nightmare that Nicaragua had just experienced. Though her friends begged her not to go to El Salvador, she said, “We’ve won here [in Nicaragua]. They [the poor] haven’t won in El Salvador.”
In August of 1980, Maura went to El Salvador to serve the people, just five months after the Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero, was martyred. And just as her Irish ancestors fought for justice, and just as Maura had fought for justice in Nicaragua, she was now ready for El Salvador.
After serving the people of El Salvador for only a few months, however, government forces murdered Maura and three other women in early December of 1980. Along with Maura were three other American martyrs: Maryknoll Sr. Ita Ford; Ursuline Sr. Dorothy Kazel of Cleveland; and Lay Missionary Jean Donovan from the Diocese of Cleveland team in El Salvador.
Maura’s story reflects today’s Gospel beautifully. First, Maura was a woman, and it was women that Jesus frequently chose to be his missionaries.
Second, one of the goals of missionaries is to make themselves no longer needed. That is what we see in Maura’s story; liberation of the common people had been achieved in Nicaragua, so now it was time to move on to help the people of El Salvador where the poor were being routinely slaughtered by the government.
As we continue our life journeys this week, it would be a good idea to reflect on how we meet our mandate from Jesus to carry his good news to others.
And that is the good news I have for you on this Third Sunday of Lent, 2017.
Story source: Eileen Markey, A Radical Faith: The Assassination of Sister Maura. New
York: Nation Books, 2016.