scrutinizing the soul

Each year on the middle three Sundays of Lent we observe the scrutinies, ancient rites which, while familiar to most, may seem strange to many. Most simply have little understanding of their significance, their importance, or their purpose. The scrutinies are profoundly rooted in our human experience for they are moments of deep reflection and introspection, periods of time when we scrutinize all that we are: the good and the bad, our successes and our failures, our strengths and our weaknesses.

Living Water

Living Water

The scrutinies rightfully focus on the Elect, those who have been on and continue to travel their own personal journey toward baptism and full communion with Christ and his church, a journey which will culminate with their baptism at the Easter vigil. Yet the scrutinies are not, and ought not to be, solely for the Elect for no one is ever immune from the temptations of sin. We are, each of us, on our own personal journey toward full communion with Christ, and must therefore never cease to scrutinize our own lives if we truly hope for eternal salvation in heaven.

On each of the three Sundays on which we observe the rite of scrutiny, the Elect are asked to reflect on a different aspect of their spiritual journey toward Christ and to let Christ fill their hearts: to quench their thirst for God with his living water, to open their souls to the light of God’s truth and love, and to recognize that Jesus Christ truly is the resurrection and the life. And ought not each of us be doing the same?

Traditionally the church has suggested that the readings for each of the scrutinies be taken from Year A, replacing the readings read at any Mass where the rite is observed. The Gospel for the first Scrutiny is from John, Chapter 4, which describes the encounter between the Samaritan woman and Jesus at the well; while the Gospel heard today is from Luke, Chapter 13, which recalls the parable of the fruitless fig tree.

Likewise, the first reading for the first Scrutiny comes from Exodus, Chapter 17 which recounts how when the people of Israel complained of thirst, God commanded Moses to strike the rock at Massah and Meribah from which water flowed; while the first reading for today is from Exodus, Chapter 3, which recalls Moses encountering the Lord God in the burning bush. Different readings, yet from either set we can find much to lead us closer to God and assist us in scrutinizing the depth and quality of our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Even though God had a covenantal relationship with the people of Israel, they often strayed, turning away from God to worship false gods. Several thousand years later and not much have changed, has it? Perhaps we don’t worship a golden calf but we bow to the idols of greed, possessions, and selfishness; we forge idols to the false gods of power, domination, and oppression; we dance before the idols of hedonistic pleasure and self-adulation. And in doing so we break our covenant with the one God who is truth, the one God who loves us unconditionally, the one God to whom we owe our very existence and especially our love. This worship of false gods is what the magisterium has called the “prime sin”.

The prime sin in so much of the biblical tradition is idolatry: service of the creature rather than of the creator, and the attempt to overturn creation by making God in human likeness. The Bible castigates not only the worship of idols, but also manifestations of idolatry, such as the quest for unrestrained power and the desire for great wealth.”[1]

It is far too easy and much too common to be lured away from God. Seldom do we realize at the time that we have strayed for what tempts is often clothed in simplicity and innocence, and adorned with the glitter and glamour of goodness and light. All we have to do is succumb to the allure and suspend our reason. If offered all the kingdoms of the world who among us would refuse? Yet Jesus did, for he saw it for what it was: a temptation from a false idol.

And yet, when we do stray, we can always turn back to God and be welcomed with great love and complete forgiveness into his arms. We are never lost to God, never. That is the message to be taken from the parable of the fruitless fig tree. Although it had produced not a single fig, the gardener wants only to feed it with living water in the hope that it can yet be saved. Sin stains the soul and breaks that intimate bond forged between God and his creatures. Even though we may have turned away from him, he will never turn away from us.

Few would dispute the fact that water is essential for life. Two-thirds of our body weight is water. Water is the primary building block for cells; it acts as an insulator and a lubricant; and serves as a cleansing agent. Lose one percent of your hydration and your mental and physical performance will be impaired. And yet it is only after losing two to three percent that you will begin to feel thirsty.

Small wonder the Israelites began to complain for lack of water. Where they went wrong was in blaming God for their thirst. Their attitude and lack of gratitude still resounds through much of our society today. They were God’s chosen people, they were entitled to being given water, and God had failed to meet their needs, they had a right to not be thirsty! Sound familiar?

Jesus provides living water, water not to quench the thirst of the body but that which will quench the thirst of the soul, the thirst for God’s love and mercy. “St. Augustine wrote that the very one (Jesus) who asks for a drink promises a drink (to the Samaritan woman). The very one (Jesus) who seems to be in need. hoping to receive, is the one who is rich, wanting to give, wanting to satisfy our deepest thirsts. …Receiving his truth, the woman’s thirst was quenched. Believing him, yielding to his word, her desires were finally met…” The “great truth is God’s thirst for us, even in our sin. Remember, it is Jesus who asked the confused and searching woman for a drink. It is he who reached out to her.”[2]

As each of us continues our journey toward full communion with God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let us pause and reflect on those occasions where we have strayed, where we have succumbed to the temptations of the devil, when we have bowed to the temptations of the false idols that are all around us. Let us recognize and admit that we are broken creatures yet God loves us and will always forgive us when we thirst for him. Sin may parch the soul but the love of Christ, his living water, will wash away our sin and quench our thirst. Amen.



[1] U.S. Bishops, Economic Justice for All, 1986: 33.
[2] John Kavanaugh, SJ, Temptations.

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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