Many times, I have been approached by people (mostly young people) who are bothered by doubts about their faith. They feel guilty when they start questioning God and his existence. Much as they want to hold on to their faith, they find their questions seemingly valid and their doubts disturbingly convincing.
I respond by telling them not to feel guilty about their doubts and to allow their questions to lead them to find the answer. Why have they suddenly become critical of their belief and of the teachings of Jesus and the Church? I explain by saying that since childhood, they were provided with ready answers by their parents, elders, priests and teachers. Now that they have matured and have a mind of their own, they become critical and want answers that come, not from what others tell them, but from what they themselves discover.
Today’s gospel tells of a Samaritan woman who encounters Jesus and discovers him to be the Messiah. She tells the whole town of her discovery. The people listen to Jesus and believe in him. After Jesus leaves, the people turn to the woman and tell her, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”
The doubts about our faith are an invitation for us to deepen it and to own it, not just as something handed on to us, but as something we have discovered ourselves. It is an invitation to know and personally experience the God we believe in.
How can we know God personally? The gospel vividly illustrates the dynamics and elements of every encounter with God.
“Give me a drink,” Jesus asks the Samaritan woman. Every encounter with God is an initiative of God. Jesus is at Jacob’s well before the woman arrives. God is always ahead of us and waits for us. He initiates the conversation.
“How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” The conversation leads the woman to an awakening of her deeper need. “Give me this water that I may never be thirsty.”
“The water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Jesus reveals himself as the answer to everyone’s inner quest.
Then he tells her, “Go call your husband and come back.” She replies, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answers, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.”
Before Jesus reveals himself to her, he makes the woman face her true self. This reminds me of the beautiful prayer of St. Augustine, “Domine Jesu, noverim me, noverim te.” (Lord Jesus, may I know myself that I may know you.) I come to know God when I come know myself. I recognize him as “my God and my All” only when I recognize my own nothingness. I accept Christ as my savior only when I accept myself as a sinner.
The story ends with the Samaritan woman bringing the whole town to Jesus. It can truly be said that she is the first apostle of Samaria. Because she meets Jesus, she is converted from a woman of ill-repute to an evangelizer. Every encounter with Christ ultimately leads to conversion and mission.*