One of the founders of psychotherapy Carl Jung, was once asked to see a young woman of Jewish origin who was suffering from severe neurotic symptoms. Sh had been to see several psychiatrists but none was able to help her. Jung began by asking her about her family background and early life and could find no cause for her neurosis. Then, as he sometimes did, he asked, “Tell me about your grandparents.” Softly the woman began to weep as she recalled how her grandfather, who was a Rabbi, took her on his knee and taught her the Jewish prayers, later taking her to synagogue and preparing her for her coming of age ceremony. But as she grew up, like many youngsters, she lost touch with her faith and forgot all about it. When she had finished Jung gave his diagnosis: “I am not a theologian but a doctor,” he said, “but I can tell you with certainty that if you can rediscover your Jewish faith in a way that makes sense to you as an adult, you will get better; if you do not, you won’t.”
The season of Lent originated, as I’m sure you know, as a time of preparation for those who would be receiving the sacrament of baptism at Easter. Over the next three Sundays the Church gives them, and all of us, three portraits in the Gospel stories of people who needed a new start in life, like that Jewish woman, and who were open to receiving it. Today we have the beautiful story of the Samaritan woman who’d got through five husbands, next week the Prodigal Son, and finally Lazarus whose case was extreme in that he had actually died.
All of these people were in a bad way, but unlike most of us who keep up a brave appear-ance and so can easily miss out on what Christ offers us, they admitted their need of God, and encountered his grace in powerful ways.
We can see that especially in the case of this Samaritan woman. Perhaps we should take her as a kind of patron saint of people suffering from addictions, because like them and like the Jewish woman who went to see Jung, the problem she seemed to suffer from actually masked a deeper one. Apparently she was addicted to men, who no doubt got fed up one after the other, with her intense personality and divorced her, but by patient listening and entering into dialogue with her, Jesus discovered that her real thirst was for the living God. She was so open to what he offered her that he did something he practically never did to anyone: he told her outright that he was the Messiah, and she became a living witness among her own people to him.
Lent is a perfect time for us to face our own addictions, whether we suffer from classic symptoms such as alcoholism, drug use or pornography, or just like most people, have habits which we recognise are not helpful or life-giving. Just as in the physical world, as we say, nature abhors a vacuum, so in our souls also: if there is an emptiness, it cannot remain empty for long, but something will surely rush in to fill it. If we are not full of the Holy Spirit, we will probably look for some other kind of spirit, alcoholic for example, to fill it. If we do not find our faith gives us joy and excitement, we will look for excitement in drugs or sex. Let us take this woman as an example and come to Jesus in all simplicity believing that he has the answer to any problem we may have, for he is indeed the Saviour of all.