When I was in the seminary one summer I took the whole summer and I drove across the country just to go see the great national parks and explore the country. It was the time in my life that I will always treasure. One of the greatest memories I have was hiking down the Grand Canyon. At the same time, Father Mike McCandless, who’s a priest from this parish and a good friend of mine, was driving somebody’s car across the country and we met in the Grand Canyon. He’s a big hiker; we love to hike so we decided we were going to give it a try and hike down the Grand Canyon despite all the signs that said do not hike if you are not prepared. I wasn’t prepared, I was just driving across the country and I thought well, I mean we can hike anything right?
So, we begin to hike down the Grand Canyon. We took a bottle of water with us and some protein bars and stuff like that. As we start hiking down the Grand Canyon some people are coming up from their hike and they look horrible. They were exhausted and dirty and disheveled and I’m like man what’s wrong with these people? Is the hike so hard? We began to hike down the Grand Canyon; I don’t know if you know this but as you go down the Grand Canyon the deeper you go the hotter it gets. We went on a night hike. We went overnight because it was a little bit cooler but we could feel the heat every time we descended a little bit. You would feel the heat as you began to descend in the Grand Canyon.
Once night set in and it began to get dark, we were talking about survival, you know like what would happen if something happened. And as we’re walking all of a sudden, we hear the sound of a rattlesnake right next to us. When you hear the sound, you know the sound of rattling and we had a flashlight so we pointed the flashlight over to where it was. We didn’t see it but we saw the hole that it went into. And so, we started talking about what would happen if one of us got bit by a rattlesnake. We’ve got a lot of time to talk. So, we’re talking about what if one of us got bit by a rattlesnake. Now, father, Mike is big, he used to play football and was just a huge athlete. I’m a little bit lighter and so we concluded that if I got bit by a rattlesnake, he would just put me up on his shoulders and carry me back. But if he got bit by a rattlesnake no way was happening. So, I told him, I said I’ll either stay there with you or I’ll go and get some help; it’s your call. Whatever you want to do. We’re having this whole debate about rattlesnakes even though neither one of us got bit but we’re just planning it.
As we begin to go deeper and deeper into the Grand Canyon there are water stops along the way where we fill up our water and take a drink. And as we continue to go along the way there were fewer and fewer water stops and so we began to get a little bit concerned about not having enough water. We got almost towards the bottom, we’re probably about a mile or two from the bottom, and we hiked I don’t know how many miles already to get there. So, we decided we thought, well, what if we get to the bottom and there’s not any water? We began talking and you know both of us took the prudent route. We decided well, since we’re almost out of the water and we know there is a water spot the next leg up the hill we’ll just stop. This will be the end of our journey and we’ll go back home. I was disappointed to find out years later that there is water at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. There are campsites and little places where you can get food and water.
But anyway, so we started walking back home and back to the top and we got about halfway. We were both really tired, it’s probably about three or four in the morning and so we decided to sleep. We found a couple of rocks, so we slept on the rock and I’ll never forget I woke up in the morning, I opened my eyes and there are a couple of elk right in front of me like 10 feet away. I just kind of pretended that I wasn’t awake and watched them. We start walking up the rest of the Grand Canyon and as we’re getting to the top and I’m tired, I slept on a rock all night. I’m exhausted and I looked like one of those people that was coming up the Grand Canyon. I understood why they looked that way now. But the interesting thing is I went to the gift shop afterward and I was looking through. There was a book out it was called, Deaths of the Grand Canyon, and it was about different ways people have died in the Grand Canyon over the years, and so I began flipping through the book and as I’m going through and I’m like, wow I didn’t think of that one you know.
So, I’m going through and finding all these ways that people have died in the Grand Canyon and then I found the number one cause of death in the Grand Canyon, that we had experienced. Does anybody know what it is? Not rattlesnakes. By the way, you don’t die of a rattlesnake bite, the worst that could happen is an amputation, amputation of a leg, but you will not die from a rattlesnake bite. The number one cause of death, I heard somebody say it, is dehydration. Dehydration is the number one cause of death. That’s why the signs were all saying be prepared, take water. It never occurred to me that dehydration would be the number one cause of death in the Grand Canyon. A lot of the time it would be if people got dehydrated and there wasn’t enough time to come and pick them up. Another reason is when you get dehydrated you get a little delusional and so there are a lot of people who end up falling into the Grand Canyon because of dehydration.
So, it speaks to us of the importance of water that we need to stay hydrated and so we hear this in the first reading and the gospel. So, in the first reading with Moses, the people are grumbling and they say you’ve left us here to die and they talk about their thirst for water. They’re out in the desert and they’re thirsty for water and because that is the number one way to die out in the desert, Moses does something miraculous. The Lord speaks to Moses and he says go to the rock and hold the staff in which you had in the river and strike the rock and water will flow for the people to drink. So, Moses goes to the rock, strikes it and water begins to flow. So, God works this miracle to give his people water.
In the second reading from Romans, we hear hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured into our hearts. Water is a sign of the Holy Spirit. The love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. And finally, we hear in the gospel today, Jesus goes to the well and He says something interesting. He goes to the well and says to the woman, “give me a drink,” and He said this because He’s thirsty. It also says that He’s tired. So, Jesus has been traveling this long journey when he gets to the well. He’s thirsty and he’s tired. The woman looked at him with confusion and says, “why are you, a Jew, asking me, a Samaritan, for water?” And then says to Him, “you don’t even have a bucket for this water, how am I supposed to give you water?” And then Jesus said something profound. He says, “Everyone who drinks this water from the well [or the water bottle that I had going down the Grand Canyon], will be thirsty again,” meaning this water supply will end and we’re going to have to get more water, we’re going to be thirsty again. And Jesus says here, “but I have water; it is the wellspring of eternal life.” So, Jesus is telling us about this wellspring of water of eternal life that once we have, we will never be thirsty again. And so, she said, “Sir give me this drink always, or do I have to keep coming here to draw water,” and Jesus said to her, “I am He who is speaking to you; I am the source of water.”
And as our catechumens and candidates come here today to receive their first scrutiny, they’re going to begin to experience this relationship with Christ who is the water. Jesus goes on and not only to talk about water but then to talk about food, so food is the other essential thing when you go into the Grand Canyon you better have some food with because you’ll be burning a lot of calories going down and coming back up. But Jesus again says something very interesting. He said my food, is not a protein bar, my food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish His work.
So, I’d like to talk to us all about this water of internal life, this wellspring that Jesus gives us in the Holy Spirit and also what true food is and how our is just like Jesus’ food, our food is to do the will of the one who sent us. I want us to hear that again: our food is to do the will of the one who sent us. So, our water is the Holy Spirit; our food is to do His will.
I want to talk a little bit about fasting because fasting is something that we not only do during lent but it’s one of the precepts of the church; there are five precepts of the church, the 4th is you should observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the church. And so fasting is ultimately a way for us to realize that we do not live on bread alone, as Jesus says, “I do not live on bread alone but every word of the Father.” So, we live not by bread alone but by doing the will of the Father. I just want to get an idea of fasting from all of you. So, fasting technically means not eating; you can drink water but fasting means not eating. I want to see how long you have gone without eating, like what’s the longest time. The hardest one for us as Catholics on Good Friday and Ash Wednesday is two small meals and one big meal.
If you go to Africa and you work, which I have with children there, they would be ecstatic if they had two small meals and one meal a day. But I want you to think about the longest you’ve gone without eating. So, we’ll start with one hour, raise your hand if you’ve gone at least one hour without fasting or without eating. By the way, you’re supposed to go an hour before mass before you receive communion, so that’s a practice of our church that we fast for one hour before mass so that we are hungry and we receive Jesus into our lives. How many have gone half a day without eating? Raise your hand. Alright, very good. How many of you have gone one whole day without eating? Raise your hand. Awesome. How many have gone 48 hours without eating? Raise your hand. Alright, how many have you got have gone three days without eating? Raise your hands. Four days? Have you? Five days? Six days? I think you’re just holding your hand up.
So, Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights and when he got to the end of his time, He was hungry, He was physically hungry. But His true food was to do the will of the Father. So Lent is a time for us to recall to do this, to recall to fast and I just invite you to try to do that, to try to go a little bit longer each time and to see how long you can go without eating. When we go without eating something amazing happens. So, I think the most I’ve gone is 2 days, but something amazing happens, we start to realize that we can go without food, that we can go without food and be ok. The second thing that happens is it brings us into a heightened awareness of the presence of God because normally we are preoccupied with the next meal, we’re always thinking about what am I going to eat next, what’s the next snack. When we’re fasting, we don’t even think about that; we are completely focused on Christ and our time with Christ. Lent is a time for us to practice that, so I would encourage you if you haven’t been fasting during Lent, to try to do it, to try to fast for a few hours, try to fast for half a day, try to go a day, try to go a couple of days. See what you can do to sacrifice and to do that because you’ll grow dependent on the Lord. Jesus said, “my food is to do the will of the one who sent me.” That’s the purpose of fasting: to discover the will of God. He also says that the living water, the wellspring of the water comes from Him; He is the wellspring and so He brings us that water, that gift to the Holy Spirit.
So, our dear candidates and catechumens, as you prepare for these final few weeks of Lent and prepare for coming into full communion with the church, I just invite you to consider that for yourselves as well so that when you receive the Eucharist you will be planned, you will eat his precious body and the precious blood symbolizes the Holy Spirit that we drink that is one with the Eucharist. This fasting and all that we do during Lent, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, is to prepare ourselves to receive Jesus whose will and his strength and his food is to do the will of the heavenly father.