Love better

After hearing a popular song in various places, some of the lyrics made me start to ponder how a person could love “better.” Instead I discovered a different definition for sin.

While I tend to listen to Christian music rather than the mainstream popular music, there’s been a song I’ve noticed in videos on Facebook and Instagram. I had no idea what it was called or who sang it until I happened to watch a YouTube video that was reviewing the quality of popular music from a musical composition perspective. The mysterious song was uncovered to be “Flowers” by Miley Cyrus. It is quite a catchy tune, but the main lyrics give a list of superficial actions that are supposed to equate to love, with the main message/refrain being “I can love me better than you can.”

Earworm is the term used to describe a song or part of a song that keeps repeating in one’s mind. And the chorus of this song was fully entrenched in my brain. It felt like a bad game of whack-a-mole, only it was wack-a-song — everytime it popped up in my brain, I would try thinking of another song, which quickly reverted back to the unwanted one. The more I thought about it, the sillier the song seemed to be. If the writer is only seeing things like flowers, dancing, and holding hands as love, then no wonder the relationship is failing. It is a pop song, so I know I can’t take it too seriously, but some simple songs can convey great meaning; this is just not one of them. 

While I’m not quite sure about the thought process that led me from thinking about the lyrics of the song to a relationship with God, somehow my brain ended up wondering about the attitude of that song as a response to God. That’s when the ton of bricks fell on my head and I realized that’s EXACTLY what sin is! There can be many definitions of sin, most of them from a negation perspective like not doing God’s will or turning away from God. However, sin is choosing ourselves over God, like the song says, we say to God that we can love ourselves better than He can. It’s almost painful to write that and to see it in black and white. It’s totally not possible for us to love ourselves better than God can. We don’t even know ourselves as much as God knows us, as He knows our full story since He exists outside of time and space. We can only know our present and our past, our future is still a mystery for us. Everything we have comes from God: the world around us, our family and friends, our talents and personality, every breath that we take, and every beat of our heart.

Our human nature wants to be in control. Love is risky as we need to open ourselves up and trust another. Yet God has proven Himself over many generations, throughout the Scriptures, through the lives of the saints, and even within our own lives. The only way we can love ourselves better, is when we let God love us. When we open ourselves to trust Him, His will, and respond to that love by showering others with the love He shows us. We can all try to love better, but no one can love better than Love Himself, who came to earth, proclaimed the kingdom of God, gave His life for us, all so that we can have a personal relationship with Him. 

God is the perfection of Love. Perhaps the next time we examine our conscience, maybe we reflect on the ways that we’ve told God either in word or deed, that we love ourselves more than He. It may be painful at first, but through the merciful love of God, we may be able to love better by loving as God does.

Power of the Word

Language is a powerful tool that we take for granted every day. It’s the bedrock of our communication with God, each other, the world around us, and even ourselves. It can be used to divide or to unite. Yet, it is Jesus who IS the definitive Word and the ultimate power of communication.

All creation has a language. Many are vocalized. Others can only be understood after years of study and observation, but even then, we can only guess at what another creature’s language truly means. Human communication can be expressed  through gestures and facial expressions in addition to the spoken word.  Our language has put a label on what something is: a cat, a dog, a table, etc., but the name of something doesn’t  describe its nature or purpose. You can ask another person what a cat is, and they may point to a cat, but if you ask them what is the difference between a cat and a dog, words are needed to convey the differences. We can get philosophical about asserting the differences between two things to the point of arguing about anything and everything. 

As early as the first verse in John’s Gospel, Jesus is identified as the “Word of God.” It is through Jesus that we see concretely that words have the power to heal — physically and spiritually. In forgiving sinners, Jesus often healed their physical maladies as an outward sign of what had taken place internally. The words of Jesus conveyed life, sometimes even in the physical reversal of death. Perhaps most spectacularly, the words a priest uses daily to consecrate the bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus were the single most powerful words He ever uttered. Only God has the power to transform and transubstantiate anything as Divine. Yet Jesus not only did this, but also gave His Apostles the ability to do the same. 

Humanity, in its fallen nature, wants to separate and divide everything. But God’s plan is one of unity. At Pentecost, the birthday of the Church starts with the preaching of the Apostles, who most likely had only traveled from Galilee to Jerusalem, and were heard to be speaking in languages from around the known Roman world. The core of the Good News is meant, not just for a chosen few, but for everyone. Even to this day, everyone has an opportunity to know and worship God in their own language. 

Jesus continues to speak to us today in the Gospels, the sacraments, and in our daily lives. Do we listen for Him? Do we allow His powerful Word to shape and transform us? Or do we use our own language to push Him away so that we can forge a path of our own making, separating ourselves from God as well as one another?

This Sunday as we celebrate Pentecost, let us recognize that the conclusion of the Easter season is not just another day. Let us invite the Holy Spirit into our lives and our very selves, asking for the Word of God to be alive in our hearts, our minds, our words, and our actions. Let our participation in the Eucharistic feast help sustain our relationship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

What goes up

The Easter season does not merely wind down and drift away, rather the celebration is completed with two solemnities that make a glorious exclamation mark to the liturgical calendar.

The Ascension of Jesus from a scriptural perspective, provides a unique expression in the Mass readings. In any of the epistles, when the author quotes Jesus, it is more about referencing a teaching and not a recounting of a narrative that took place. However, the Acts of the Apostles begins, or should I say continues, the Gospel narrative in that it describes the Ascension of Jesus in the first 11 verses of chapter 1. This is the only time the Mass readings contain a narrative with Jesus addressing His apostles in the first reading. When you consider the Gospel is the finale from Matthew reiterating Jesus’ message just as He was about to ascend into heaven, the two readings seem to form a literary bridge between Jesus’ ministry while He was on earth and the mission of the Apostles to spread that same ministry throughout the world. 

Have you ever watched a balloon that has been let go rise up into the sky? Perhaps it is our human nature to be in tune with gravity, that we expect something that has risen up in the air to only go so far before the inevitable happens. And at some point in time, that balloon will, indeed, fall back to earth minus the helium gas that took it high above the clouds. Of course the Apostles would watch Jesus ascending into heaven; they were expecting something fabulous, fantastic, and wanted to see what would happen next. Can you imagine how jarring it must have been when the angels chided them for watching the sky? It’s so very easy to think them silly for doing so, but we have the benefit of what all God has done through those same apostles and their successors. Good things come to those who wait, and the apostles had to wait ten days for the fulfillment of the Advocate that Jesus had promised. 

The apostles had three years of traveling with Jesus to absorb the message of the Kingdom of God. They had 40 days after the Resurrection where Jesus demonstrated His Divinity in a deeper way. Lastly, they watched Him go up into the sky, but now what? He walked on water before His death, He was able to come into a room despite the doors being locked, but the rising up so far that they could no longer see Him was different. The angels directed the perspective of the apostles back to the world around them. The last questions they asked to Jesus seem to have them still searching for an earthly kingdom. What were those ten days like for the Apostles? Did they continue to reflect on Jesus’ teachings or did they start to think about their future and if it was even possible to proclaim Jesus to the whole world? How many times have we had to wait to put into practice what we have learned? 

Like a fireworks show, the last celebration in the Easter season seems to be the biggest, loudest, and most colorful of all the explosions. Pentecost is, indeed, an explosion of faith, trust and courage in God. It reverberates down the millennia in all that the Church does in sacraments and community. Yet it is not an ending, but rather a beginning. A fireworks show in one perspective is a poor analogy, as the light from the fireworks fade into the inky blackness of the night sky. Pentecost is more like divine fireworks that not only stay bright, but continue to increase in intensity until the whole world is bathed in the illumination, brighter than the sun itself. 

We celebrate the Ascension of Jesus going up into heaven. We celebrate the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven and filling the world with the presence of God. What goes up indeed comes down, but when God is the cause, the results are transformed beyond our expectations and comprehension. All we can do is give God the glory and praise for love He showers on us in and through the Trinity. 

Through the ages

While time travel is still the stuff of science fiction, this past Saturday on May 6, 2023, the world witnessed a rare event that is as close to traveling back in time as it gets. 

The last coronation of a British monarch took place 70 years ago. For the majority of those alive today, this is the first time we have had the ability to see the event live. That in itself makes it a historic event. However, my fascination with the coronation is not just because I do enjoy a bit of royal watching, but because of the Catholic-centric liturgy in which it takes place. The roots stretch way back in Israelite history — back to the anointing of King Saul and King David. Each of these men, though deeply flawed, were chosen by God to be the earthly ruler of the people, not because God wanted there to be a King of Israel, but because the people demanded it. (1 Samuel, chapter 8) When God agreed to allow it, He chose the person who would fulfill the role and requested, first Saul and then David, to be anointed, a physical action that indicates the presence of the Holy Spirit as these men performed their kingly duties. But the kings are just like any other human, capable of both listening to God, or turning away and doing their own thing, which have been captured in the Scriptures for all time. 

In ancient Israel there were three roles that were anointed: priests, prophets, and kings. Jesus is all three combined and thus is referred to as The Anointed. The words Christ and Messiah derive from the Greek and Aramaic (the everyday language of the Jews in Jesus’ time) words for “anointed.” In the Catholic sacraments, we participate in Jesus’ mission as priest, prophet, and king since we, too, are anointed at Baptism and Confirmation. One Catholic sacrament, however, has a parallel to the coronation: holy orders. At a priest’s ordination, they are anointed so they can receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit as they live their priestly vocation. But the similarities don’t stop there. After the anointing, King Charles was then dressed with several layers of clothing. First, he was clothed in a sleeveless, white, linen tunic, which could be loosely be compared to an alb that a priest wears. Next is the “super tunica” which is a golden, long sleeved tunic which is then belted. This could be compared to the priest’s cassock. On top of that is a stole, which is just like those the priest wears under his Mass vestment or when hearing confession. Lastly, at least from a clothing perspective, is the coronation mantle which is also made of gold thread and could be compared with the chasuble of the priest. 

So why all these priestly-type vestments at a king’s coronation? Much like a man who receives the sacrament of holy orders, the king has been consecrated, or set apart, for the duties of a king. Dressed in these special garments, the king now is visibly changed, he is no longer just any other man named Charles, but has become the King Charles III. Every deacon, priest, and bishop after being ordained wear, not the latest fashion trends, but the priestly garments while executing their faculties and celebrating the sacraments. Although the king only wears these garments at his coronation, he will wear a crown at the state opening of Parliament each year, one of his duties as the government figurehead.

I’ve heard a number of commentators refer to the coronation as a ceremony, and perhaps that would be accurate in the terminology of the Anglican Church, of which the king is the head. However, the how-to manual for coronations, the Liber Regalis, dates back to the 14th century, a time when England was very much a Catholic country. While the prayers have been translated into English and tweaked over the centuries to fit the time and culture, the events that take place are mostly the same. In addition, the whole rite takes place within what the Anglican Church calls a communion service, which to me seemed like a pared down version of the Mass. 

In its essence, the coronation is the spiritual investiture of the king as Head of State, Head of the Church of England, as well as being a role model of service to the community. It is saturated in history and historical context while slowly adapting based on the current profile of the time in which it takes place. It is both a time capsule, bringing continuity to the event, and giving a peek at the future as it is refreshed to begin a new king’s reign. After watching the coronation in all its pomp and pageantry, I stumbled upon a video from a Colorado priest who gives an excellent commentary on everything Catholics need to know for the coronation: Enjoy! 

Stay the course

It’s been almost two years since God blessed me with a new job. And while I still believe that there is a purpose for me to be where I’m at, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t challenges that make me question why I am here.

I know that a life of living out the Catholic faith will not be all sugar and sprinkles. Jesus didn’t say that we’re going to breeze through to heaven, but reminded his disciples on multiple occasions that His life on earth is an example for all and that we all need to pick up our crosses to follow Him. A life of faith is not only comprised of going to Mass to meet the Sunday and Holy Day obligations, but permeates throughout my daily activities. Somehow it seems a lot easier to praise God and thank Him for when things are going well, than to trust Him and His guidance when the opposite is true. It’s almost like I’m happy He’s at “the wheel” in good times, but in difficult situations, I want to take control. From a faith perspective it makes absolutely no sense, as God has a better perspective on the rough patches and what’s needed than I do. Somehow I feel like it’s my testing moment and I’m cheating on the test if I ask for His assistance. 

Recently at work I made a recommendation that ended up being passed over. My initial feelings were of anger, as I felt responsible for this particular activity. But when the leadership deemed not to abide with my suggestions, it was a blow to my motivation, trust, and ego. They brought me in because of my familiarity with the system and here they were making judgements as if they knew better than I did. Why should I bother any more? Am I really needed there, if they won’t listen to me? Or am I just being possessive of what I think I’m responsible for and do I need to allow others to “play in the sandbox with me” so to speak? I struggled to get my feelings sorted out and to be rational and reasonable about the whole situation. 

I get emails from different places about different job openings on a regular basis, although very few interest me. I mostly delete the emails without even reading them. Yet during this trial, I did start reviewing them, trying to see if one sounded like a good fit for me. However, I couldn’t help but get a sense that I still have a purpose at my current employment. I started remembering how this opportunity seemed to just drop in my lap, like a gift with a big bow on top, especially since I wasn’t even looking at the time! It can be hard to stay the course when the bumps in the road seem like they’re going to shake the car to pieces. Is it any different from the occasions recorded in the Gospels where the disciples were terrified during strong storms on the sea? In one account Jesus calms the wind and the waves and chides the disciples for not having faith, in another Jesus invites Peter to walk out on the water to Him. In both cases, Jesus does take control and they stay the course to their destiny. 

After much reflection, I realized that while it is important for me to give my recommendations, I also need to let leadership take responsibility for their decisions as well. I may not like it, but it’s one less thing for me to stress about if I let it go. I found it a bit incredulous how easy it was to blow up over one thing that didn’t go my way than to appreciate the many times that I have brought valuable knowledge and perspective based on my experience. 

This time the challenge happened within the realm of my employment, but it could have easily been a situation within a relationship with friends, family or even a complete stranger. Challenges and trials are part of life, but those of faith are called to seek out the assistance of God. It doesn’t mean that the difficulties will go away, only that we will have the accompaniment of God as we move through them. And no, it’s not cheating, it’s a way to get closer to God and see His handiwork close up. What could be better than that?

Finding God in the movies

What does a good movie mean to you? For me, it’s something that I can relax and enjoy, taking me away from my everyday challenges, and simply fun. It’s okay if it challenges me a bit, causing me to think, just as long as it’s not hitting me over the head with a message. To my surprise after watching Disney’s live action movie, Jungle Cruise, the thoughts that came to mind were about Jesus!

Perhaps it’s because I watched it just a few weeks after Easter, but when the main character insisted on sacrificing himself for the benefit of the others, it seemed to take on a Christological perspective. It’s not the first movie that I’ve seen that concurs; the Harry Potter saga springs to mind quickly, although I’m sure there are plenty more in the cobwebs of my brain and many more that I have not watched. It’s almost like there is some sort of subconscious need to have these types of stories end with some sort of resurrection of the sacrificed character. I wonder if these stories are the result of 2,000 of Christianity? Have the Passion, Death, and Resurrection been so ingrained in humanity, that it can’t help but to be reflected in the entertainment of the day? Or is it that the peace that the resurrected Jesus brings makes this type of story ending so perfect? 

I must confess there was a part of me that was disappointed when the character was brought back to life. It seemed rather contrived without much creativity: the two main characters argue and in the process fall in love so when the man dies and is restored to life, the two go on to live happily ever after. It was a “nice” finish to the movie and for a relatively family-friendly film, it makes sense for the events to happen as they did. Maybe this ending was best because it has a strong comedy component that it couldn’t have any other ending. 

With all this pondering, it brings to mind a summary of the 17th century philosopher, Blaise Pascal, who referred to humanity as having a “God-sized hole” in their heart that only God could fill. Perhaps this is why resurrection endings are so attractive to writers. In their quest to tell a story, they end up showing a spiritual need for God. It almost seems that the more fanciful, more over-the-top and unbelievable the scenario, the more it makes sense. Is it because, deep down, the truth of Christ’s resurrection fills that longing for God, so that when we encounter it in a comedic movie, it does make us feel like there is a happy ending to life? Or is it because I am a Catholic Christian who is pursuing a closer relationship with the Triune God, that I can see these parallels and these endings do bring me peace because they remind me of Jesus’ resurrection? After all, Jesus did say, “… seek and you will find…” (Matt 7:7)

God never ceases to amaze me in all the different places He can be found. In nature, in art and entertainment, and even in other people, God shows His love in so many diverse and unexpected ways. We can always find God in Church, but let’s not leave Him there; let’s bring Him with us in all we do every day of the week. 

A fuchsia wool world

Some people may see the world through “rose-colored glasses” which is seeing the positive in all they view. For me, I think the lesson is looking at the “fuchsia” colored wool.

During a recent spinning guild meeting, I was happily spinning some lovely merino wool on my spinning wheel in the beginning process of making yarn. My fellow guild member next to me commented on  what a lovely “purple” yarn I was making. While I appreciated her compliment of my skill, my mind got caught on the color. “You think this is purple?” I asked her rather incredulously. An interesting conversation regarding color ensued, but it left me a bit agitated. 

At one part of our gathering, we did go around the room stating what we were working on or showing off any completed projects. At my turn I asked the other members what color they thought the wool was. Many different answers were suggested: wine, plum, and purple. At my dismay, they asked what color I thought it was. “Fuchsia,” I replied. It was a very vibrant shade, deep and rich, so I could understand the suggestions of the wine and plum. But for me, it was a bit too much on the pink spectrum to be called purple. One wise spinner suggested I look at the single-strand yarn I was collecting on the bobbin. By taking the “fluff” and spinning it into a single strand, I was changing the way the light reflected on the fibers, making them darker. I began to watch as the spun yarn passed through my fingers and wound onto the bobbin. Some of it was very dark and rich in tone, while other areas were lighter and more of a pinky-red than the purple suggested. I started to wonder if I was seeing the wool as fuchsia because I wanted to see it as fuchsia.

During the Easter season, we get a number of Gospels recounting the reactions of the disciples to the risen Jesus. Even the closest of the chosen Apostles, Simon Peter and John run to the tomb, not because they believe the women’s account, but rather to try and figure out why they are causing such a commotion. In ancient times, women were considered unreliable witnesses and could not give testimony, so while one can sympathize with the two, Thomas didn’t even believe his fellow ten Apostles when they told him. The Apostles had seen Jesus raise others from death, yet they did not understand how it was possible for Him to die and rise again, despite Jesus telling them in preparation for what would happen. Were they too afraid of the consequences if a risen Jesus was the truth? What was it in their perspective that kept them from believing in Jesus’ resurrection? 

Two thousand years later as we play Monday-morning quarterback to the events of that first Easter, we — who know the history that followed after it — find it pitiful that the Apostles didn’t believe. Yet we do know how the Holy Spirit equipped the Apostles to be brave and face martyrdom in order to spread the Good New of Jesus Christ. We know of the persecutions of the early Church and how their bloodshed was the seed of Christendom. We profess at weekly Mass the beliefs of the Catholic Church, but what challenges do we face in our faith? Do we look at the world in the same way that Jesus does, ready to love and forgive others? Or do we choose to look from one perspective only? 

I found the band that had been attached to the wool I was spinning after returning home from the guild meeting. The color was “red-violet.” However, looking up the definition of fuchsia, it is “a vivid reddish purple.” While it seems that we were both right in describing the color, being challenged as to how I saw the color made me think about how I looked at the world. Easter is a powerful season to dig deeper into our faith. As we listen to the beginning of the Church with the readings from the Acts of the Apostles, let us be open to where our weaknesses are, so that we can pray and reflect on the Scriptures, leading us closer to Christ. 

Revived, renewed, and refreshed

Happy Holy Easter! We’ve spent 40 days on our Lenten journey, celebrated the holy Triduum and are now basking in the octave of Easter. Now is the time to take a look back so that we can move forward. 

Our Lenten practices are tools that have helped us prepare for Easter as well as revealed an aspect of ourselves that we usually overlook. For those who gave something up, how well did it go? Do you feel that you now have mastery over that or are you so thankful that Easter has finally come that you can go back to enjoying that which you have been deprived? What about those who instead of giving up something, added an extra practice or activity? Does it now seem so routine that you can’t imagine not doing it? Whether it’s giving up social media or being extra charitable in donating, they have all had an effect on us. Some may have faltered, others may have barely braved it out, and still others may have felt they could have done more. We take the opportunity, now that Lent is complete, to identify how our spiritual lives have been stirred. Our Lenten practices, along with the sacrament of reconciliation, revived our spirits and made them ready for Easter.

We can only receive the sacrament of Baptism once, however, each Easter, the Church in her wisdom asks us to renew our baptismal vows. As the sacrament washes away the stain of original sin, being the disobedience of Adam and Eve based on Satan’s twisted encouragement, the renewal of baptismal promises begin with assenting to reject Satan, his works, and his empty promises. We are then asked to confirm our belief in the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and the articles of faith usually professed in the creed. Having prepared ourselves, we are ready for this renewal of faith.

While it took 40 days to get ready, the Easter celebration lasts for 50; the first eight days are the Octave of Easter, celebrating as if each day is Easter itself, and the remaining days are the Easter season, which includes the solemnities of Jesus’ ascension into heaven and Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles. Revived in our spiritual life by our Lenten practices and renewed in our baptismal promises, we combine these to be refreshed in our daily lives, bringing together all that we have learned about ourselves and our faith. We don’t return to the way we were before Lent, but strive to move forward with fresh eyes of faith. We have drawn closer to God and now is the time to continue on that road, rather than letting the little things in daily life distract us away. While we may not be called like the Apostles were to spread the Good News of Christ to other places, we are called to be a witness to what we’ve experienced this Easter. 

The Lenten journey and Easter season bring us to new life each year. Each year we learn a little more about ourselves and our relationship with God. This yearly practice is getting us ready for what’s yet to come: resurrection. As in all things, Jesus leads the way by His example. He IS risen, Alleluia!

The holiest of endings

In previous postings, I reviewed five of the seven last words or sets of words attributed to Jesus on the cross. As this is holy week, the last two sets will be reviewed: one from Luke and the other from John. 

Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Luke 23:46

According to Luke’s Gospel, these are the words of Jesus before breathing His last. Similar to the first set, these are directed to the Father, illustrating that God is receiving His sacrifice. While the Pharisees believe they are putting an end to an annoyance, the reality is that Jesus is The Lamb whose blood is being shed for all sinners. The religious elders of that time were very familiar with the sacrificial lamb used in the Passover supper, like the one that was just celebrated the night before. But they expected an earthly king who would wipe out all of their enemies, namely the nations that were oppressing them. Jesus challenged what they knew and understood about God. They may have practiced the theory, but it was more about stubbornly following tradition as if it was a legal obligation rather than having a relationship with God. 

This is a model way to die — to entrust ourselves to God. It’s also the best way to live. All too often our human nature whispers the ancient enchantment that we should know all and decide all for ourselves; basically playing god to get what we want. Only we find out that we spend way too much time and energy chasing after things that do not satisfy us. It’s the paradox that people still need to be convinced of, that when they give up their desires and seek God’s will, they become freer and more of themselves than they ever would have been by controlling their lives. Jesus’ final moments continue to be one of instruction and example. It expresses the mission of every person across the ages: to turn to God, making a sacrifice of their life to do His will. 

“When Jesus had received the wine, he said, It is finished.”

John 19:30

The Gospel of John attributes slightly different words at the end of Jesus’ crucifixion. Paired with the fifth set of last words, “I thirst,” these words not only convey the finality of death, but seem to be stating the obvious rather than imparting wisdom. Yet the coupling of these phrases paints a picture of a Passover that has taken on a whole new meaning, a new covenant. This Passover started just like most others did, but completely deviated from the traditional celebration when Jesus changed the bread and wine into His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity — and in the process consecrated the Apostles as the first priests who would “Do this in remembrance of me.” The need for the traditional Passover feast of the lamb had been completed. Jesus had created a continuum from the Last Supper through to the Crucifixion, to be re-presented at every Mass that followed. These two events are not merely linked, but intertwined; the Eucharist requires the sacrifice of the cross and vice-versa. 

In this new covenant, Jesus restores what sin ruptures. It was the purpose of His life on earth. He is a model of how to be human and have a relationship with the Father. His last words, in whichever Gospel version you review, point to who He is (the Son of God) and summarizes His mission. As we remember and honor these last words during the holiest time of the year, may the ending of Jesus’ life on earth bring a rebirth of our relationship with the all-loving and all-merciful God.

Drought of love

The fifth set of Jesus’ last words are two brief ones, comprising seven letters in total. Yet they may be the most poignant spoken on the cross. They drip with a powerful meaning that one could spend a lifetime pondering.

After this, aware that everything was now finished, Jesus said, “I thirst.”

John 19:28

If one reads this through a purely logical and human perspective, it makes sense for Jesus to speak these words after all the hardship He has endured. He has probably been thirsty for quite some time. And from a human point of view, it can be a cry for compassion and mercy, tugging on our heartstrings at the most basic of levels. After all, haven’t we all experienced what it’s like to be thirsty?

But these words, captured by the evangelist, are not meant to be read solely in a secular way. The spiritual meaning of these words is much more significant. To understand them, however, requires a bit of knowledge of the Passover meal itself. 

Ironically the Gospel of John does not include the institution of the Eurcharist as told by the other three Gospels. Each of them contain some sort of direct phrasing as Jesus passes the cup, He says, “Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Mk 14:25) Dr. Scott Hahn, a Catholic theologian, explains that there are four “cups” in the Passover meal. The third one is the one used for the Eurcharist. It is the fourth cup, as indicated in the synoptic Gospels, that Jesus does not “partake of” during the actual meal. 

A Google search on this topic reveals many options that are similar in nature. However, I found one particular document from a Catholic parish in Maryland explaining the four cups used in the Passover Meal in light of the Last Supper recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke. The four cups are:

  • Sanctification
  • Judgment or Deliverance
  • Redemption
  • Praise or Consummation

These four cups are based on the promises that God made to Moses to bring the people out of Egypt, save them from slavery, and take them to be His own people. The third cup, the one used for the Eurcharist, would be that of Redemption, leaving that fourth cup — the one not consumed by Jesus — to be the cup of Praise or Consummation.  It represents God’s promise to “…take you as my own people, and you shall have me as your God.” (Ex 6:7)

So what do these cups have to do with these last words? It is here that Jesus is indicating His thirst, not just for physical drink, but the spiritual wine that is the fourth cup, consummating God’s promise. Jesus is at the point where He will go the farthest that a human can go from God, into death. Yet even death itself cannot be beyond God’s grasp. From the events of the Last Supper through to the resurrection, Jesus repairs the breach that the first sin, and all those subsequent, causes. Jesus thirsts, and He drinks. 

This thirst, however, has not been quenched. On Sept. 10, 1946, while riding on a train to Darjeeling, Mother Teresa felt Christ’s words from the Cross – “I thirst” – impressed upon her heart. This was her “call within a call” as she described it, and the impetus to serve the poorest of the poor in India. These words were so instrumental, they are painted on walls of every chapel of her Missionary Sisters of Charity. Mother Teresa was not the only modern saint to hear this calling. In March of 1937 (Holy Week), St. Faustina had a vision of the crucified Lord and heard the same words of Jesus, “I thirst,” and noted His words in her diary (Diary 1032).

These simple words of Jesus, almost His last ones, may have been a struggle to communicate but reverberate for us today. Do we hear Jesus calling our name, thirsting for a relationship with us? Thirsting to be loved by us? As we prepare for Holy Week, let us also prepare to respond to Jesus’ thirst for us.