Saturday, April 3, 2010

Seven Last Words of Christ: "I Thirst."

Happy and blessed Easter to all!

Below is a reflection that I recently wrote for Good Friday on one of the seven last "words" (phrases, really) of Christ and I thought that I would share.

A couple of weeks ago, I had an opportunity to visit my family in Illinois to celebrate my sister’s birthday, a rare treat for me since entering the seminary. Although it wasn’t an official three-day weekend, it worked out that my classes for Monday were cancelled, which allowed me an extra day before returning to the seminary. Prompted by the amount of work I had waiting for me at the seminary, but moved by an interior conviction that felt strangely outside of myself, I decided to leave on Sunday instead. Throughout the six-hour drive back to southern Indiana, I sat with an aching in my heart, a longing for that denied opportunity to spend more time with my family. I had every reason, it seemed, to stay at home and enjoy them for another day. As the miles rolled away I came to see that it was God that had asked me to leave, and in doing so to feel a great longing for more. As I prayed the rosary while driving, I began to see the connection between my longing for my family and Christ’s longing on the Cross when he said, “I thirst.” It was then that I could connect this very tangible sense of longing for my family to the longing that my soul feels for God, and I began to understand what the Psalmist means when he says, “As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God” (Ps 42:2)

In Lent we purposely make a hole in our lives – we leave an urge unfulfilled. In other words, we thirst. We allow ourselves a tiny bit of suffering not to punish ourselves, but rather to awaken in us an awareness of the spiritual thirst that is constantly raging in our souls.

When we cover up our physical thirsts by satisfying them, we cover up our inner emptiness, and pursuing worldly satisfaction becomes our never-ending concern. When we subject ourselves to fasts for the sole purpose of penance, it seems senseless because it doesn’t point to the spiritual thirst that arrests each of our souls. However, if we allow our fasting and abstinences to point to the longing that our souls have for God, then we learn to tolerate, what spiritual writer Henri Nouwen calls, the sweet pain of that longing because our inner emptiness becomes filled with promise.

Jesus, in His physical agony on the Cross, did not long to satisfy his physical thirst, even though it was immeasurable. Rather, the thirst that he proclaimed from the Cross was a spiritual one. His thirst was that in and through his agony humanity might be made new, and that his prayer that we may all be made one might be fulfilled.

Today we have a great opportunity to come to a deeper understanding of this thirst of Christ. As we sit with our physical thirsts throughout the day, let us allow them to draw us to recognize the deep groaning inside each of us that echoes the words of the Psalmist when he says, “My being thirsts for God, the living God” (Ps 42:3), for it is when we acknowledge our inner emptiness that we also find the promise that fills it. Then we will be able to say with the Psalmist, “Why are you cast down my soul? Why do you groan within me? Wait for God, whom I shall praise again, my savior and my God” (Ps 42:12).

Given at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Church – Carmel, Indiana
Good Friday, April 2, 2010