Reflection: “I Thirst”

At the beginning of Lent, I was invited to share a meditation on one of Christ’s seven last words at today’s Good Friday services at my parish, Holy Family Cathedral – Jesus’ Fifth Word: I Thirst.  What follows is that mediation.

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After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said,

“I thirst.”

There was a vessel filled with common wine.  So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth.

John 19:28-29

 The torment of thirst is one of the worst a crucified person has to undergo.  The amount of blood lost, combined with the climate of the East, created a horrible thirst in the sufferer.  The suffering Jesus underwent, beginning the night before with his agony in the garden, when his sweat fell as drops of blood, would have increased his dehydration more than we can imagine.  But the soldiers had a jug of vinegar with a sponge at the ready.  Earlier Jesus rejected wine mixed with gall, thought to be a poison that would ease his voluntary suffering and hasten death.  Now, he suffers from immense thirst and for relief, he was given vinegar, which he accepted. 

 In Psalm 69, we read, “Thou knowest my reproach and my shame and my dishonor; my foes are all known to thee.  Insults have broken my heart, so that I am at the end of my strength.  I looked for compassion, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.  They gave me poison for food and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.”  [Psalm 69,19-21]   How many times have we joined with the crowds in casting insults and offering Jesus the poison and vinegar of our sins?

 This is not the first time we have heard Jesus say he was thirsty.  You may remember the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman.  Jesus was waiting for his disciples by a well in Samaria, a land avoided by most Jews.  During the middle of the day, a time when “respectable” women would not be drawing water, a woman approached the well.  Then Jesus does the unthinkable for a Jewish man of that time – he talks to her.  He asks her to draw him some water because he is thirsty.  The conversation that followed shows Jesus was not simply thirsty for water, but was thirsty for her – for her salvation.

 Likewise, the saints and spiritual writers throughout history tell us the thirst of Christ on the cross is not simply a physical thirst.  Thomas Aquinas wrote that Christ’s thirst expresses his “ardent desire for the salvation of the human race.”  It is a thirst for the salvation of souls.  Our souls. 

 When you look upon a crucifix, when you hear Jesus say, “I thirst”, first remember it is for you.  Jesus thirsts for you.  Our Catholic faith is immensely personal – Jesus desires to have a personal relationship with each one of us.  Blessed Mother Teresa, reflecting on the words, “I Thirst”, wrote the following as something Jesus speaks to each individual:

 I know you through and through.  Nothing in your life is unimportant to Me.  I have followed you through the years, and I have always loved you – even in your wanderings.  I know every one of your problems.  I know your needs and your worries.  And yes, I know all your sins.  I know what is in your heart – I know your loneliness and all your hurts – the rejections, the judgments, the humiliations, I carried it all before you.  And I carried it all for you, so that you might share My strength and victory.  I know especially your need for love – how you are thirsting to be loved and cherished.  But how often you have thirsted in vain, by seeking that love selfishly, striving to fill the emptiness inside you with passing pleasures – with the even greater emptiness of sin.  Do you thirst for love?  “Come to Me all you who thirst…” [John 7:37].  I will satisfy and fill you.  Do you thirst to be cherished?  I cherish you more than you can imagine – to the point of dying on a cross for you.

 I thirst for you.  Yes, that is the only way to even begin to describe My love for you.  I THIRST FOR YOU.  I thirst to love you and to be loved by you – that is how precious you are to Me.  I THIRST FOR YOU.  Come to Me, and I will fill your heart and heal your wounds.  I will make you a new creation and give you peace, even in all your trials I THIRST FOR YOU.  You must never doubt My mercy, My acceptance of you, my desire to forgive, My longing to bless you and live My life in you.  I THIRST FOR YOU.  If you feel unimportant in the eyes of the world, that matters not at all.  For Me, there is no one any more important in the entire world than you.  I THIRST FOR YOU.  Open to Me, come to Me, thirst for Me, give me your life – and I will prove to you how important you are to My heart.

 Jesus’ death brings us life.  From his pierced side blood and water flowed, the fountainhead of the sacraments of the Church.  It is in baptism that we are washed clean from sin and become an integral part of Christ’s body, the Church.  It is in the sacrament of reconciliation that, like the prodigal son, we turn away from our sins, are reconciled with God and the Church, and are strengthened to avoid sin.  It is in the sacrament of confirmation that we are sealed with the Holy Spirit and given the grace to live a mature life of holiness.  It is in the Eucharist that we partake of Jesus himself – the source and summit of our faith – this is where our thirst finds satisfaction.  It is in the sacrament of marriage that two become one flesh and are an example of the bonds of sacrificial love.  It is in the sacrament of the anointing of the sick that we are brought to the Great Physician in our times of greatest weakness and frailty.  And it is in the sacrament of holy orders that a man is uniquely bound to Christ himself.

 Do you desire to satisfy Jesus’ thirst?  Then pray for the grace to answer the universal call to holiness you received at your baptism and live the life for which you were created.  St. Catherine of Siena wrote, “If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire.”  It does not take great actions to set the world on fire; rather, it takes great love.  And great love, true love, is something our world desperately needs.  Pray for the grace to know what God has called you to do and for the grace to persevere in doing it.  He knows our true heart’s desire and will not lead us astray. 

 To see what truly great love looks like, we turn our eyes again to Jesus on the cross.  Jesus told us, “I am the way, the truth and the life…”  But the crowds surround him, taunt him, saying, “Come down!  Save yourself!  Then we will believe.”  Jesus looks at them and knows, despite his love, his thirst, some will insist on a means of salvation other than His Passion and cross.  They are looking for a display of power.  Jesus reveals the greater power is in sacrificial love.  It was in obedience to His Father’s will that he stayed fixed to the wood.  “He humbled himself, obediently accepting even death, death on a cross.” 

 Each of us has a cross we must bear.  United with Christ, by his grace, we can bear them with His strength and be victorious.  But to do so, we too must follow in his example and humbly obey the will of our Heavenly Father.  St. Francis de Sales wrote there are several kinds of obedience.  The first is speculative, that is lip service.  It is holding the virtue of obedience in great esteem, but never putting it to action.  That is not enough.  We must put it to action in the small and great things in life.  Even then, some want to obey, but only if nothing too difficult is asked of them.  Others will obey so long as no one questions them in their impulses and whims.  How many of us find ourselves willing to obey in only what we want, but not necessarily in what God wants?

 Jesus exemplifies the obedience that pleases God.  We must be faithful to do God’s will in small and great things, remaining firm, without accepting or admitting any condition that would make us come down from our cross.

 Some are called by God to marriage.  The saints tell us that it is one of the most demanding crosses because of the almost continual activity and frequent occasions for suffering.  Nonetheless, following the example of the Holy Family, families are the foundation of society and the cradles of all other vocations.  We need fathers and mothers to protect and nurture their families, to be an example of God’s love, to bring forth life for the next generations and raise their children to be holy men and women of God.  It is lay men and women who are specially called to bring the love of Christ and the hope of the Gospel to our neighborhoods, workplaces, and the public square.

 Has God called you to consecrated life?  We need men and women to wholly give themselves in consecrated life, for it is in that vocation we glimpse heaven, “where none shall marry or be given in marriage.”  Those called to consecrated life are called to be set apart for God alone – they are a reflection of the Church dedicated to her Bridegroom, Jesus.  Whether living an active apostolate as a sister or brother or a hidden life of prayer as a nun or monk, these men and women satisfy Christ’s thirst with the great love they have for Him and the salvation of souls. 

 And, young men, those of you who are eligible to be priests, consider whether you are called to join with Christ himself in this unique way of satisfying his thirst.  For it is priests whom God calls to shepherd his people.  It is through priests that the sacramental life of the Church continues.  It is priests who bring souls to Christ through the saving waters of baptism.  It is priests who offer the forgiveness of Christ in the sacrament of reconciliation.  It is priests who care for the dying and bury the dead.  And it is only a priest who may offer, consecrate, and communicate the precious gift of Christ’s own self in the Eucharist, which is the only way we may have our thirst satisfied. 

 Look on the Cross of Christ.  Listen to Jesus’ word: I Thirst.   Remember the great love He has for you – He has called you His beloved and desires to cherish you as His own.  How will we respond?  Are we ready to bring souls to Christ?  Then let’s act on that readiness.  Pray for the grace of your vocation, whatever it may be.  Do not just think about it.  Pray and then simply obey.  God does not ask anything else of us.

 Finally, in the words of Blessed Mother Teresa, “Jesus is God, therefore His love, His thirst, is infinite.  He, the creator of the universe, asks for the love of His creatures.  He thirsts for our love.  His words, “I thirst”, do they echo in our souls?”

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