Both the joy of living the vows as well as infidelities related to the vows are intrinsically related to the integration of our desires which are ultimately oriented to God. In a joyful and integrated religious, the longing for love, security and power take him/her to rest in the Love of God who is the true wealth and find strength in weakness and fragility. Unintegrated desires drive the person to disordered affective adventures, selfish use of resources and abuse of power. In this module, we shall reflect on the longing of body and mind as experienced in our “thirst”, both physical and spiritual.
Consecrated life is intimately related to the experience of an inner thirst. Certainly it is not possible to embrace religious life to meet just physical satisfaction. You join religious life because of a thirst which the world cannot quench. A life of closer following of Crist has to do with the “I thirst”, the final cry of the Master.
It is significant that when Jesus was dying on the cross, He said “I thirst”. He was not thirsting for water, but for souls, for love. Saints and mystics read this passage with deep meaning about Jesus’ life which had a transforming effect on their own lives. In our times the vocation of Mother Theresa was associated with the thirst of Jesus . Consecrated life which is a closer following of the life of Christ embodies this mystery of the cross.
The meaning of Jesus’ Thirst
Nowhere in the gospel accounts we come across Jesus complaining of his physical discomfort. In fact, at the beginning of crucifixion when Roman soldiers offered Jesus a mixture of wine and myrrh to relieve his pain (Mt 27:34), Jesus would not drink it. Towards the end of crucifixion, his physical thirst reached its apex with the loss of blood, and became an inner thirst that surpassed the physical thirst. John’s Gospel alone narrates “I thirst” as the words spoken by Jesus on the cross followed by the final words “it is accomplished”. Note carefully how John narrates it as a summary of Jesus life and mission.
“ After this, Jesus knew that everything had now been completedand, so that the scripture should be completely fulfilled, he said: I am thirsty. A jar full of sour wine stood there; so, putting a sponge soaked in the wine on a hyssop stick, they held it up to his mouth. After Jesus had taken the winehe said, ‘It is fulfilled’; and bowing his head he gave up his spirit” (Jn 19: 28-30).
Evidently it is not merely physical thirst that Jesus experienced in the narration of John. He embodied the thirst of humanity for God on one hand, and the thirst of God for humans on the other in a single event. Hence the thirst of Jesus is intimately connected with his life and mission which he “knew” has been “accomplished” and the scriptures were completely fulfilled.
John gives a double preface to Jesus’ words, “I am thirsty”. First is “knowing that all had now been completed”. It shows that Jesus’ words are an expression of completion, a summary and a crowning statement of his life and mission. He is aware of the completion of his mission as he has accomplished al that the Father had sent him to do. His words of thirst is like a title, a label to the master piece of love accomplished to give glory to the Father. The second phrase, “so that the scripture should be completely fulfilled” gives us an insight into the meaning of the words “I thirst”. It was spoken not only in view of all having been accomplished, but also to “fulfill the scripture”. Everything God wanted to reveal about Himself in the Scriptures is summed up in Jesus cry of thirst.
Biblical narratives allude to two kinds of spiritual thirst. In the event of the cross God’s “infinite longing to love and be loved” is revealed and man’s misdirected thirst is finally redeemed and redirected towards God. Both kind of thirsts which Jesus embodied in himself find their resonance in those who seek to follow Him closely. Jesus unites both dimensions of biblical thirst, both human and divine thirst, as God’s great gift (Jn 4: 10) and as man’s great need (Jn 7:37)
Human thirst for God
Psalm 22 which Jesus prayed on the cross express the longing for God, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. Jesus heart beats of the longing for God. Most of the human misery is born from misdirected thirst for happiness and fulfillment. At physical level thirst leads man to seek water that quenches it. For the Hebrew mind the same word nefesh stands for both “thirst” and “soul.” The soul, even more than the bodily throat, was seen as the “seat of thirst”. There are many biblical passages referring to the longing for water and the condition both of abundance of water as well as that of parched land and throats when there is no water. Here are a few examples:
- Is 12:3.With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
- Is 41:18. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.
- Ps 63:1. O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
- Ps 42:1: As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
- Ps 143:6. I stretch out my hands to You; My soul longs for You, as a parched land.
- Jer 2:13. They have abandoned me, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that hold no water.
Unfortunately human history is full of human infidelities and misdirected searches for happiness. In the frantic search for happiness and fulfillment, humans tend to go away from the true source of living water: God.
God’s thirst for Humans
Bible is the story of God’s love for humans which transcend all forms of rejection. Jesus cry of thirst is God’s infinite longing to love and be loved. It is not a thirst out of wanting nor lack on God’s part, but of overflowing love to reach out, to cleanse and to save. Read the following passages meditatively.
- Jn 7:37. On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.
- Jn. 7:38. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
- Jn. 4: 14. But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
- Is 55:1. “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
- Is 43:21. for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.
- Rev 22:17. The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
- Rev 7:16-17. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
We take one passage cited above (Jn 7:37) for a closer look. Jesus words, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink” was said on the last day of the feast of Tabernacles which celebrated the annual harvest as the fruit of God’s life giving waters. It also commemorated Israel’s time in the desert and the flowing of water from the rock. On each of the seven days of the feast the priests with music to draw water from the spring of Siloe followed by a multitude of worshippers. As they reach the stream, they sang, “With joy you shall draw water from the well springs of salvation (Is 12:3). The water drawn from the spring was poured out upon the alter of burnt offering with chant of praises. In this context of the symbols of thirst and water, Jesus’ words are a fulfilment of the feast’s promises and foreshadowing. He is the rock from which flows living waters to quench the thirst of man.
The psalms Jesus recited on the cross (Psalm 22 and 69) bring out the dimension of the suffering and future glory of the Messiah. Jesus fulfilled the scripture by living it as written, “in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” (Ps 69:21). Ps 69 combines Messiah’s selfless love for the people as well as the rejection he endures in receiving vinegar in the place of water for his thirst. Jesus is offered vinegar mixed with wine, a mix used to clean up the dirt and blood from the tools of crucifixion. He sips it. He embraces human sin and rejection. Jesus drinking the vinegar manifests that the Son of God does not pull away or reject us, when we reject him. God’s love revealed in Jesus remains unconditional, free and constant.
John concludes the scene of the cross built around Jesus’ cry of thirst with the piercing of Jesus’ side, “One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (Jn 19:34). Human rejection has broken open the source of divine love, the thirst of his heart, opening the flood gates of the promised Living waters to satiate the human thirst. On the cross Jesus revealed the Father’s thirst and opened the fountains to quench the human thirst for God. Paul rightly states about God’s people who “drank the same spiritual drink, since they drank from the spiritual rock which followed them, and that rock was Christ (I Cor 10:4). The water from the side of Jesus marks the birth of the Church and the alludes the baptismal water. Consecrated life is grounded in the baptismal consecration and brings it to fullness. The spiritual thirst and quenching of it in the baptismal font has intrinsic relationship with the dynamics of living consecrated life.
The theme of God’s thirst in the spirituality of saints
Reflect on the following quotes and think of how these saints were impressed by the thirst of God and thirst for God.
- “God thirsts to be thirsted for”.- Augustine
- “By his thirst, the Lord Jesus places before us the image of his ardent love for us… – Bernard of Clairvaux
- “Our Lord said, “I thirst” in the same sense in which he addressed the Samaritan woman, saying, “Give me to drink”- Robert Bellarmine
- “Oh sweetest, boundless, beloved charity! It was your infinite hunger and thirst for our salvation that made you cry out that you were thirsty” –Catherine of Siena
- “Jesus’ words “I thirst set aflame n me a lively and unknown ardor… I wanted to satiate my Beloved, and felt myself devoured by His same thirst for souls”- Theresa of Lisieux
- “My heart feels as if it were being drawn by a superior force each morning just before uniting with him in the Blessed sacrament. I have such a thirst and hunger before receiving him that it’s a wonder I don’t die of anxiety. – Padre Pio
- “For this is Christ’s spiritual thirst, his longing in love, which persists and always will… to gather us all into him, to our endless joy – Julian of Norwich
- “We carry on our body and soul the love of an infinite, thirsty God. – Mother Teresa
- “Jesus himself must be the one to say to you “I thirst” Hear your own name, not just once. Every day. If you listen with your heart, you will hear, you will understand. – Mother Teresa
Meditate of the following quote of St. Augustine (confessions, X, 27)
Too late have I loved You, O Beauty ever ancient, yet ever new, too late have I loved You! And behold, You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there I searched for You.. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you.
Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
Consecrated life as the thirst for God and God’s thirst for his people
After reflecting on the spiritual meaning of thirst with its two dimensions, you may find your consecrated life resonating with both the thirsts described in this module. The metaphor, “there is a God-shaped hole in the human heart which only God can fill” is pertinent here. Your consecrated life is a visible sign that only God can quench your inner thirst.
Take a pause now and introspect how the “thirst” in your life for love, security and power are handled? Which desires are you comfortable with and which ones drive you crazy?
People tend to fill the emptiness of the heart trough the abuse of power, wealth and sex which further creates greater vacuum and more cravings. Many of the issues in religious life seem to be related to misdirected search to quench the thirst of our souls. Evangelical counsels aim at safe guarding the space within the human heart for God and his people and enable the right use of power, resources and relationships to serve God and fellow humans. Our mission flows from the experience of God’s thirst for humans which we experience in our own body and soul, as experienced by Mother Teresa.
Evangelical counsels make more sense when you see then in relation to the thirst for God and God’s thirst for us. Poverty prepares an empty space within us to be filled by God. Things can never quench the thirst of your soul. Obedience is your response to God’s loving design for your life. Chastity leads you to quench the thirst of soul from the Living waters. On the other hand the evangelical vows conform us to Christ who embodied God’s thirst for his people. In poverty we empty ourselves to give space to his people in our heart. In obedience we are willing to be sent to His people and in through chastity, selfless love flows out to reach out to His people.
EXCECISE – MEDITATION ON THIRST
Take a comfortable posture with your backbone erect, eyes closed or half open. Become aware of he presence of the risen Lord in whom you live, move and have your being.
Begin to observe the movement of your body particularly the chest as you breath in and breath out. Notice the expanding and contracting movement of your lungs and the chest region as air moves in and out. Now become aware of your inner thirst for God, the longing of your soul for fullness, joy and together with it the longing of all humanity while the lungs are expanding as you breath in…. and feel the relaxation and satiation as you breath out with the awareness of God’s response to fill the void of your soul.
Do the cycle of breathing 3 times with the above awareness
Now as your lungs expand while you breath in, feel in your body the thirst of God to reach out to the humans as implied in Jesus’ word, “I thirst” and as you breath out, feel yourself a channel of quenching the spiritual thirst of all those whom you are assigned to serve, your students, parishioners, patients, community members and others.
Do the cycle of breathing 3 times
You may alternate the breathing with the two thirsts mentioned above as long as you like to stay in this meditation.
A Story to ponder on
A young man went to a sage and asked, “Master, how can I truly find God?” The sage asked the man to accompany him to the river which ran by the village and invited him to get into the water. When they got to the middle of the stream, the teacher said, “Please immerse yourself in the water.” The man did as he was instructed, whereupon the sage put his hands on the young man’s head and held him under the water. The young man began to struggle for breath. The master held him under still. The man was thrashing and beating the water and air with his arms. Finally, he was released and shot up from the water, lungs aching and gasping for air. The sage gazed at him and asked, “Son, when you were under the water what did you want more than anything?” The young man said, “ Air, Air, Air”. The sage continued, “Son when you want God as bad as you wanted air, You will find Him!”.
– Mathew Vattamattam cmf