Thoughts for the Third Sunday of Lent from Fr Willie Doyle

Make your prayer simple, as simple as you can; reason little, love much, and you will pray well.

COMMENT: There is perhaps a danger in presenting this quote from Fr Doyle today. I am not exactly sure who Fr Doyle was writing to when he wrote these lines, but almost certainly it was somebody in religious life, probably a nun.

The spirituality of 100 years ago was somewhat different from today. There were numerous manuals on prayer. They had the great advantage of providing some sort of framework for the spiritual life, but they perhaps also came with the disadvantage of making the entire process too formulaic, at least for some people.

Today’s Gospel in the Ordinary Form of the Mass recounts Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well. Let us read again Christ’s words:

If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, `Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.

And later:

Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

In his message for Lent, Pope Benedict comments as follows on this Gospel passage:

The question that Jesus puts to the Samaritan woman: “Give me a drink” (Jn 4: 7), is presented to us in the liturgy of the third Sunday; it expresses the passion of God for every man and woman, and wishes to awaken in our hearts the desire for the gift of “a spring of water within, welling up for eternal life” (Jn 4: 14): this is the gift of the Holy Spirit, who transforms Christians into “true worshipers,” capable of praying to the Father “in spirit and truth” (Jn 4: 23). Only this water can extinguish our thirst for goodness, truth and beauty! Only this water, given to us by the Son, can irrigate the deserts of our restless and unsatisfied soul, until it “finds rest in God”, as per the famous words of St. Augustine.

Simple prayer, based on love, will bring us this living water. As St Teresa of Avila, commenting on prayer, tells us:

The important thing is not to think much, but to love much.

This, of course, is easier said than done! The Gospel for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass today gives us some further insight. Jesus tells us:

Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation.

How often our hearts are divided. We say we want God, but yet we indulge in sinful habits, often without the necessary struggle against them. We cannot find that living water with a weak, divided will. We cannot succeed with only simple, loving prayer unless we try to control our conflicted heart.

St Teresa, Fr Doyle, and presumably the nun he was writing to were all capable of this simple prayer of love because they struggled to conquer their divided hearts. That is one of the secrets of Lent. We should wage a battle against our sinful habits so that we can find Christ, the Living Water, and love Him with an undivided heart.

Let us not squander the opportunity that Lent presents to us.