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The Mystery Woman-Who was she, anyway?

She must have been important, because according to John’s Gospel (John 4:5-42) she was the one to whom Jesus first admitted that he was the Messiah. Is it really plausible to think that Jesus just blurted out this important news without knowing what he was doing?

Who was she? The Scriptures never even give her name – we just know her as “the woman at the well.”

Why did Jesus choose to speak to her? – after all, a Jewish man was never supposed to address an unaccompanied woman; and the Jews of that time had not been getting along with Samaritans for over 800 years. The conversation took place near midday, when the woman chose to come to the Well of Jacob alone – we’re led to believe she was there to avoid the social opprobrium of her peers. The other village women would have gathered at the well earlier in the day to fetch the water they needed and to socialize. But not this gal…whoever she was, she was an outsider.

The Bible doesn’t exactly overwhelm a reader with a lot of female voices – yet this woman is quoted at length, talking to Jesus, challenging or even contradicting him, and being in turn, challenged so very deeply, herself.

We’re never told why she had had five husbands. The point is, in the account we’re given here, Jesus didn’t condemn her: the conversation that started out as an acknowledgement of right and wrong was really designed to show her that he already knew all about her – and yet still chose to engage with her, in spite of all the religious, cultural and racial barriers.

Jesus saw something in that woman – and moved the conversation to a deeper level.

I think Jesus knew exactly who this person was, just as He knows exactly who each of us is. I think He also knew exactly who she could be – and knows exactly all that we could be, too

More about the Mystery Woman

On this year’s World Day of Prayer, I found myself in a United Church, and the Minister asked if any of us had ever heard of Saint Photini. We were from many Christian traditions – but none of us had heard of her.

I guess we could all be forgiven if we don’t have an icon of Saint Photini hanging from our rear view mirrors…but if you look her up on the internet, you’ll find her all over, and you might discover a new female heroine.

You see, among the Orthodox Churches of the East, it is said that the woman at the well, this woman who went on to evangelize her entire village, was baptized by the Apostles and given the beautiful name Photini, which means, “The Enlightened One.”

In the Eastern traditions, Photini is revered as “the first to proclaim the gospel of Christ.” Even though I had never, ever heard of this anonymous woman, I’ve been trying to reflect on how Photini’s story might give us food for thought this Lent.

You know, it occurs to me that this Gospel story wants us to understand Photini as an example of someone whose encounter with Jesus changed everything.

It seemed that yesterday, the village mocked her…and today, they all listened to her words about Jesus Christ.

This is a story about someone who, by receiving the gift of “living water,” was able to break down the barriers she previously faced. She was given “new life.”

It seems to me that what Photini did after meeting Jesus was much more interesting than what she did before. Isn’t that what Pope Francis is trying to have us understand when he refuses to condemn, but rather asks, “Who am I to judge?”

Every saint has a past; every sinner has a future. If we really believed that, and acted as if we believed that – how different would we, and our faith community, be?

Guest Blogger: Joe Gunn

Text from the Sunday Reflection given at St. Joseph’s Parish & Sanctuary, Ottawa, ON by Joe Gunn.




April Showers

Remember singer Al Jolson (40’s-50’s)? “Though April showers may come your way / They bring the flowers that bloom in May. / …… So keep on looking for the Bluebird, and listening for his song. / Whenever April showers come along.”

Never heard of Al Jolson – your loss!  You may not know the singer, but listen to his song. So full of hope, yet realistic about the fact that there must be some watering and of course fertilizing. This winter has dragged on and on and on, even rain showers will be graciously welcomed. 

There are many showers in our life, sprinkles, splashes, down pours. Oh yes, we complain about them too – someone cuts us off in traffic or while we are in a line – someone keeps us waiting for an appointment – we misplace something – we catch a cold – we may not be able to wear our Easter Bonnets – and the beat goes on and on and on!

But if we don’t experience these showers, there will be no May flowers! The Bluebird may be pretty to look at, but just like the Blue Jay its song may leave much to be desired – true again, God’s wonderful sense of humour – combining beauty and irritation. Can’t seem to have one without the other.

Flowers are the evolution of beauty. How are you blooming? One Sunday while sharing with the parish congregation, I posed the question “What kind of flower are you?” Immediately came a response from a four year old boy sitting beside his father. “My daddy is a snapdragon!” Spontaneous applause broke out from the congregation, and a big blushing smile from his father. You may think you smell like a “rose”, but ask others for their opinion! Have you had enough showers to bring forth your flowers?

Keep looking for your Bluebird and listening intensely for its song. That Bluebird may be sitting right there on your shoulder – “zippity doo dah – zippity day…”

Welcome April showers!

Barbara Vaughan, CSJ



Weekly Pause & Ponder

"We believe that the movement, from Cairo to New York, from San Francisco to London, that is being called “Occupy” is a movement of spiritual democracy.... What is at the heart of spiritual democracy is a beautiful shift from relying on institutions to relying on your own inner teacher, and then living from there in a way that is uniquely your own.... Spiritual democracy challenges politics because it enables us to interact with other human beings and other beings in a way that is democratic and that respects that grace that is coming to all and through us and others. Circles rather than ladders demarcate the basic dynamic of spiritual democracy applied to politics. Leadership, yes. But preferably leadership in circle settings, not a top-down hierarchy. And in the end, it invites us to build institutions and cultures that are based on universal principles. The principle that “all men [and women] are created equal” is not a bad beginning. The term “spiritual democracy” almost parallels a term that symbolizes what the future could be: the “Kingdom of God,” in Jesus’s words."
Occupy Spirituality:A Radical Vision For A New Generation by Adam Bucko and Matthew Fox, pp. 207, 214, 217.



Electing the Electors

In a democracy citizens have an equal voice in electing those who make the rules. Canada has a well-earned reputation for fairness in running elections and for the wisdom of our current legislation in ensuring that fairness. So, why has Democratic Reform Minister, Pierre Poilievre introduced questionable changes in a bill entitled “The Fair Elections Act”?  Some of the proposed changes appear to threaten rather than enhance the fairness of our elections. And why is the Conservative majority ramming this bill through parliament by reducing the time to examine and discuss the huge 252 page document in committee to less than a week. Some have observed that Mr. Harper’s dislike of Elections Canada, the attempts by Conservatives to sway voters through illegal or questionable practices such as deceitful robo calls or transfer of donations from ridings to the central office, and the tendency of younger, elderly, or aboriginal voters to not support the Conservatives has something to do with the content of the misnamed “Fair Elections Act.”

As individual citizens we have a role to play in evaluating the proposed bill and using our voices to influence the decisions of the MP’s representing our riding and Parliament as a whole. We need to sort through the language Mr. Poilievre uses to understand what is really affected by the bill.

Mr. Poilevre states that prohibiting the use of vouching to the identity of another and discontinuing the use of voter identification cards will crack down on voter fraud. This change particularly affects aboriginal people living on reserves, university students, and elders living in senior’s residence who lack the kind of documentation required by the changes. Although 120,000 persons were vouched for in the 2011 election, there is no evidence to support Mr. Poilievre’s assertion of widespread voter fraud in this practice. However, we do know that the population who used vouching are less likely to vote for the Conservative party.

The proposed “Fair Elections Act” purports to strengthen enforcement of electoral law by separating the enforcement role from Elections Canada. Currently the chief electoral officer appoints and manages the commissioner of Canada Elections, a person who acts independently and reports to Parliament. This person is charged with enforcing the rules – and he has, much to the embarrassment of the Government. The new Act would have the commissioner appointed by the director of public prosecutions, who answers to the member of cabinet who is the attorney general. The new rules also prevent the commissioner of Canada elections from revealing that an investigation is being conducted – so we will not know if election fraud has been reported and is being investigated or not.

The proposed “Fair Elections Act”  prohibits the chief electoral Officer from engaging in public education or democratic outreach to groups that are less likely to vote, i.e.,, the groups less likely to vote for the Conservatives. Mr. Poilievre uses false cause and effect logic in stating that public education programs have been ineffective and therefore advertising should be done by the Government. 

There are other changes in the proposed new Act which are also of concern. Perhaps we all need to become more informed and act as good citizens in questioning or challenging this legislation.

Pat McKeon, CSJ



Turn-it-off for Earth

It’s beautiful to recognize that Earth Hour has reached its eighth year. This coming Saturday, March 29th, it is scheduled as usual for 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. In the neighbourhood of 153 countries are committed to this act of consciousness raising. The Philippines has been a remarkable supporter topping its own records every year. Millions of people around the world will be honouring the earth in this hour. Even though we haven’t solved our carbon problems, it is heartwarming to know that this many countries are participating with hope, at the same moment, on the same night. In our fractured and individualistic world this is indeed cause for celebration.  

The date chosen, the second-to-last and last weekend of March is quite close to the time of the Spring and Autumn equinoxes in the northern and southern hemispheres – and allows for near coincidental sunset times in both hemispheres. In so doing our efforts are psychically connected one with the other.

In the United Kingdom, Wembley Stadium, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace and the London Eye will dim outside lights. Over 400 monuments in France, including the Eiffel Tower, will also take part in the turning the switch off. Here’s to some other good earth news:

  • In Uganda, half a million trees will be planted in the world's first Earth Hour Forest in a fight against the 6000 hectares of deforestation.
  • by 2020, Vancouver aims for all new buildings to be carbon neutral in their operations; citizens to make over 50% of trips by foot, bicycle or public transport; and the number of green jobs to have doubled.
  • 3.4 Million hectares of sea are being protected, raising the level of protection of Argentina’s seas from 1% to more than 4%.

Even to shut off the lights for one hour tells me there is a deeper truth resonating in our collective hearts. In our very plugged-in world, for one hour we actually disconnect. And then we connect to the wonder of our humanity, to candlelight and to starlight. We are one in caring for our earth, our children and our future. In the dark we have found our true selves and our earth soul.


Linda Gregg, CSJ



Copyright 2013. Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada.