Extra ecclesia nulla salus, as the Latins say.
The Fifth Paschal Sunday, known as The Sunday of the Samaritan Woman.
The Holy and Just Job the Long-suffering. A Postfestive Day of Mid-Pentecost.
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4:34 PM 5/6/2012 — Given that the Sunday's of Pascha are always the same, we have the fortunate—or unfortunate, depending on your point of view—opportunity to look at these post-Resurrection Gospels from a variety of perspectives. And, over the years, we've looked at Photina,* the Samaritan woman our Lord meets at Jacob's Well, in two different ways.
We've considered the conversation our Lord has with her, on his ability to see the wretchedness of her soul, and the rather stern lecture he gives her about the immorality of the life she is living. While we don’t know if she, in fact, experienced a complete conversion as a result of her meeting with our Lord, we do know that she gave witness about him to the Samaritans, causing many others to be added to our Lord’s disciples.
On alternate years we've used her simply as a launching pad to reflect on the placement of this Sunday in the middle of the Paschal season, where it seems to be out of place. There is no post-Resurrection miracle that occurs here, no specific witness to the Resurrection of Christ, but there is a strong reference to the Holy Mystery of Baptism. We noticed that this Sunday occurs right after that mysterious feast on our calendar called Mid-Pentecost, on which we read about our Lord going up to the temple in Jerusalem in the middle of the Jewish celebration of Pentecost, where he says same thing he says today to Photina: “He who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks of the water I shall give, will never thirst again; for the water I shall give will become in him a fountain, springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13,14).
This week of Mid-Pentecost, culminating in the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman, leads us to Jacob’s Well, where Jesus announces for the first time the doctrine of Baptism, the sacrament of Water and the Spirit, which, incidentally, is what the whole Paschal cycle is about. Our Lord’s resurrection from the dead and his ascension into heaven—which we have yet to celebrate—opened the gates of heaven and made salvation possible for us; and the feast of Pentecost, which ends the Paschal season, commemorates our Lord sending his Holy Spirit, which makes this sacrament of Baptism work in the first place. By receiving the Holy Mysteries of Baptism and Chrismation, we receive the same Spirit that Jesus gave to the Apostles in the upper room in the form of tongues of fire. Hence, we become a part of the Body of Christ and heirs to the Kingdom of Heaven.
So, we've approached this Sunday from both a moral and a theological perspective, with both having practical applications for our daily lives. Those lessons dovetail nicely with the lesson from the Acts of the Apostles, in which Barnabas is sent out to search for Saul, brings him to Antioch, the Church that Peter founded before he settled in Rome, where the two of them make a great many converts to Christ, and where we learn that the followers of Jesus were called “Christians” for the first time.
So, what conclusions can we make? Well, for one thing, we learn that what we have received as Christians we must pass on to everyone we meet. Spreading the Gospel is not a choice, and baptism is not an option. The Church exists to spread the Gospel and extend itself to every nation on earth, because without the Gospel one does not know the truth, and without baptism one cannot be saved. That is very easy to forget in this age of celebrating diversity and respecting everyone’s religious sensibilities; and it seems, sometimes, that we ourselves are just a little too anxious about not offending people who don’t share our faith.
But the Gospel is quite clear; and our duty is quite plain. The old Latin maxim of the Fathers is still true, which is why it is still in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: extra ecclesia nulla salus—apart from the Church there is no salvation. That is not a statement of self-righteousness or arrogance, it is a warning; and it’s a warning not to non-Christians, but to us. If we do not teach all nations—if we do not baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit—then we have failed to bring them the salvation that our Lord died on the cross to provide. We, then, become guilty of making our Lord’s death and resurrection irrelevant.
This is, in fact, what our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, is talking about when he speaks to us about what he calls the “new evangelization”: simply put, it's time for us to liberate ourselves from the political correctness that has stifled the spreading of the Gospel; not that we would advocate forcing someone to become a Christian, but as our Lord himself has said, “How can they believe who have not heard?”
But in recognizing this, we can't ever forget the first lesson we took from this Sunday, which was the moral lesson. Our Lord's rather harsh scolding of Photina at Jacob's Well was not done to shame her, but to save her. It isn't enough for her to know the truth; she also has to live it, and so do we. How can we honestly preach to others about our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ, if our lives do not reflect what he taught us? Remember, if you will, the line I've given you time and time again from St. Jose Maria Escrivá, the Spanish priest, who said that, whenever we meet someone for the first time, they should be able to say of us, “There is someone who has read the life of Jesus Christ.”
Father Michael Venditti
* The Holy Martyr Photina, sometimes called Svetlana in the Slavonic Churches, is commemorated by a few Eastern Churches on March 20th, along with her sons Victor (Photinos) and Josiah, and their sisters Anatolia, Photo, Photida, Paraskeva, Kyrakia and Domnina.
As usual in these cases, there is little actual evidence to substantiate the legends on which the feast is based, and it is not celebrated at all in the Ruthenian Church in which this is the feast of the Fathers of the St. Sabbas Monastery killed by the Saracens in 796. The fact that all Photina's offspring seem to have Slovak names, while she herself is clearly a Samaritan, would tend to indicate that the legends originated in Eastern Europe.
These legends posit that Photina lived in Carthage with her younger son, Josiah, fearlessly preaching the Gospel there, while her older son, Victor, fought against the barbarians as a member of the Roman Legion before being appointed military commander of Attalia in Asia Minor. The story of the family's persecution by the emperor Nero is long and detailed,—much too detailed for the time in which the events supposedly took place—culminating in the entire family being martyred, with Photina herself being, ironically, thrown down a well sometime around the year AD 66.