St. Mother Teresa's chapel was bare, austere, and simple, yet two simple words were written on the wall where a large crucifix hung: “I thirst.” What do you think these two words meant to Mother Teresa? Is this phrase simply a statement of God’s collective love for mankind, or did Mother Teresa understand it to mean more than that?
Today’s episode begins by reflecting on this simple, yet amazingly profound phrase that reminds us of how much Jesus longs for love from each one of us. It ends with the reminder that the way to quench our Lord's thirst is by making time to encounter him in prayer.
Snippet from the Show
Jesus thirsts for you. He thirsts for your soul, your love, your time, your attention, your surrender. The infinite God begs for your whole-hearted love—how often do you make time to quench his thirst?
Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity
If you’ve ever had the chance to visit a chapel of the Missionaries of Charity, you’ll notice that they are marked by three characteristics: simplicity, devotion, and austerity. However, in every chapel the sisters have a large crucifix, with the words “I thirst” painted next to it. These words are among the last words said by Jesus before dying on the cross, and they acted as a constant reminder to St. Mother Teresa about the Lord’s love for each one of us.
The Theme of “Thirst”
The word “thirst” can be found several times throughout the Bible and within the writings of the saints, but Mother Teresa had a special way of understanding this phrase. Often times, when people think of thirst, they think of people’s thirst for God, such as in Psalm 42:
“As a heart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”
And in the writings of St. Augustine when he says:
“...our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”
However, another way we can look at thirst is through God’s love for each of us, and further, his thirst for souls. St. Mother Teresa takes this even further, explaining that it’s not just God’s thirst of souls in general, but a thirst for her soul, for my soul, and for your soul. She makes this thirst incredibly personal, saying:
“At that most difficult time on the cross, Jesus proclaimed “I thirst.” People thought he was thirsty in an ordinary way and gave him vinegar, but it was not for that thirst, it was for our love, for our affection, that intimate attachment to him. He said “I thirst” instead of “give me your love.” “I thirst.” Let us hear him saying it to me, and saying it to you.”
Putting This Into Practice
Mother Teresa would often encourage her sisters to picture themselves as the subject of the Lord’s thirst, and we can do the same. Take some time to sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament and prayerfully imagine Christ calling out your name and saying, “I thirst.” For example, I’d pray, “Edward, I thirst.”
Mother Teresa gives further advice on this prayer, saying:
“Just put yourself in front of the tabernacle, don’t let anything disturb you, hear your own name, and “I thirst.” I thirst for purity, I thirst for poverty, I thirst for obedience, I thirst for that whole-hearted love, I thirst for that total surrender. Are we living a contemplative life? Jesus I thirst for that total surrender.”
What should be our response?
How should we respond to this overwhelming thirst Jesus has for each one of us? Mother Teresa was in awe of this thirst—that the Lord, who’s so great a being, wanted her, little tiny her.
“[How bewildering] that God, who is so big, needs something from me. That he wants my love, he thirsts for my love, he begs for my love. I cannot understand it, I cannot understand it, I cannot understand it."
Have you ever been overwhelmed by God’s love? The saints realized how profound God’s love was and how he craves our love and attention.
The Woman at the Well
If you look at this story under the original Jewish context, Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman becomes much more powerful. Back then, Samaritans were seen as great sinners for their separation from Israel, intermarriage with pagans, and idolatry of pagan gods. Because of this, Jews did not have any relations or contact with the Samaritans. So Jesus spending time with a Samaritan, let alone a Samaritan woman who’s had several impure relationships, was wildly shocking.
Despite her past, however, Jesus seeks to give her a future with him. In John 4 we read that Jesus, for some reason, has a strong urge to go to Samaria, and no doubt to meet this woman. In fact, in John 4:4, Scripture tell us Jesus had to take this route to get to his destination of Galilee, saying:
“He had to pass through Samar′ia.”John 4:4
Yet, it’s easy to see on a map that there are other routes Jesus could have taken to get to Galilee. In fact, going through Samaria would have been one of the tougher and more rugged paths to take, as he would have had to go through mountains and rocky terrain, not to mention through a city as hostile as Samaria. But Jesus “had to pass through Samaria” not for geographic reasons, but because he was on a mission. Love is what drove him to that well. And what does he say to the woman when he sees her?
“There came a woman of Samar′ia to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”John 4:7
This theme of thirst again! The Lord needs something from this woman, this woman that everyone views as sinful and as someone with nothing good to offer. Yet, Jesus longs for her, he needs something from her, he thirsts for her. The Catechism points out that we become the woman at the well in our prayer. When we pray, the Lord reaches out to us, and expresses his need for us, even though we’re sinners.
Dying of Thirst
Mother Teresa spent most of her ministry serving and aiding the poor and suffering of Calcutta. There were often times when she would encounter a person dying of thirst, and would do anything she could to get them water. Taking this practical example, Mother Teresa challenges us to ask ourselves, “Do I react the same to God’s thirst of me as I would a man dying of thirst?”
How do we react when we feel God is calling us to do something? How do we prioritize our prayer? Do we view it as a chore or do we value our time of encountering God’s thirst? Mother Teresa says this about spending time with God:
“Jesus longs for you. He misses you when you don’t come close. He thirsts for you.”
Don’t think of prayer as an obligation, think of it as a response to the thirst the Lord has for you. Let’s make time to come close to him, to quench his thirst.
- God with Us: Encountering Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew by Dr. Edward Sri
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