Good Friday - Sitio: I Thirst

Source: District of Asia

Our Lord said: "I thirst." This was, first of all, an expression of His physical suffering. But when the Word makes use of words, it is like those mountain masses where range succeeds range beyond the eye's reach. "I thirst"-here there is meaning upon meaning; for we can think of the words as expressing, too, the unquenchable thirst of God for the love of man, the endless pursuit of man by the love of the Hound of Heaven. It was that thirst which was part of the agony of the Cross, but which also had led to the Cross. Beyond the physical thirst there is the sad longing of Christ's human heart; and beyond that again the deep mystery of the Godhead which the human longing expresses: the deep mystery of which Angelus Silesius spoke in bold and terrible words "the mystery of divine love becoming a beggar at the door of humanity."

God is described for us as a jealous God; but we must not interpret the words in a vulgar sense, as though it were the petty human emotion we were speaking of, as though God were jealous of the love we might give His other creatures. To love Him is necessarily to love the other things that are His handiwork and the object of His love; though indeed we should love them in the right way, the way we sometimes find very hard-love them precisely as His, so that our love of them is part of our love of Him. But terror and the joy He is a jealous God because His love is a burning and consuming fire: it demands a total response, and it will burn and consume the human heart in order to obtain it.

Terror and Joy of God's Love

The Saints know the terror and joy of that fire, which burns away all the dross from their hearts and makes their own love perfect. The souls in purga- tory, the crucible of fire, know it as they failed to know it in this world, and there are made perfect in their turn. For indeed it is all too possible to escape the knowledge of this love in this world, to live our lives on the sur- face, to serve God quite well, to persuade ourselves that we love Him, but never really to discover what love means. It feels so much safer if we can tame love, domesticate it, keep it within modest bounds. Even with our human love we may do that: either degrade it altogether and make it a matter merely of glamour, of unreal romance; or think of it as a small and placid thing, not big enough or fierce enough to interfere with the equable tempo of our lives, forgetting that this love too can be strong as death, and that many waters cannot quench it, and that it is love of that kind that makes human beings really live. And so it is too with the love of God and our response to it: we try to substitute for the raging fury and terror and loveliness of a forest fire a neat little stove in our sitting-rooms. And of course, we can, if we will, thus escape the violence, the stark demands, the burning; because though Love pursues, He does not force, precisely because the redamatio, the giving back of love to Love, must be a free gift or it will not be love at all. But to escape it all, that is far more terrifying than all that love can do to us, because it means in the end that we may be left out in the cold; we may miss life altogether; we may forge for ourselves the fate of those of whom the Apocalypse speaks, who being neither hot nor cold are worthy only of being spewed out of the mouth.

Mystery of God's Pity

But if the thirst of God is an awful thing, it is also a lovely thing; it is also the mystery of God's pity. "I thirst" and it is a thirst to give life to men, and to give it in spite of their blindness and weakness and betrayals. "Amen, I say to thee, this day shalt thou be with Me in paradise"-the man was a criminal, and yet he was to be with Christ in paradise, to be that very day with Christ in paradise. Do we wonder where, in that case, is the justice of God? For us, we may think, if we are lucky, there will be a long purgatory, though we try to live fairly good lives; and yet for the thief there was an instant paradise. But this is what Our Lord Himself had said, that the publicans and sinners would enter the kingdom before the righteous because it is better to be a sinner and yet be humble, yet be capable of love, than to be righteous and respectable and at the same time still deeply tainted with self-love and self-esteem and we know all too well, if we look into our hearts, how strong that self-love is in us. If the thief was to be taken at once to God, it was because the personality of Christ, the sound of His voice or the glance of His eyes, had brought about a revolution in his heart, had shown him the meaning of the consuming fire, had caused that fire instantaneously to take possession of him; and so in spite of his crimes, in spite of all the past, the process was complete, his heart was ready.

Love the Final Test

At the end, we are told, we shall be judged on love. That is why the thirst of God is not only awful but lovely and consoling as well. If we try to be humble and to open our hearts to love, then we need not fear. We are weak and we sin, and sometimes we sin in a far worse way, we become hard and rebellious and give ourselves deliberately to evil; but al- ways there is forgiveness, even to seventy times seven, if we turn again to God in humility and love. How foolish to worry, as people sometimes do, lest they may suddenly one day commit grave sin, and suddenly die, and so be lost in spite of a lifetime of love and faithfulness! As though God were a harsh and malevolent Judge waiting an opportunity to make convictions! "This day shalt thou be with Me in paradise." A life devoted to love would never in fact end suddenly in a grave sin, but the love of God is such that the opposite may be true, and has been true: that a life of sin can end in sudden glory.

This then is the love into which we are asked to throw ourselves; and if we hesitate at the paradox of a love which is at once so fierce and so gentle, so devouring and so patient, there is the figure of Christ on the Cross to keep us from shrinking from the fierceness, to reassure us, as again and again in the pages of the Gospel He reassures us, "Fear not"-and to show us in the agony of His own body how the fire of divine love is a fire that first of all devours the Heart of God.

Tenderness of Divine Love

And if we need further reassurance, we shall find it in those other words that He spoke from the Cross, the words in which He gave His Mother to be a mother to John and to the whole race of men. We think of God as our Father, as He told us to do; but we must not allow ourselves to think that this means a limiting of God to those qualities we associate with fatherhood to the exclusion of the qualities of a mother. Our Lord tells us precisely the contrary: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent to thee, how. often would I have gathered together thy children as the hen doth gather her chickens under her wings, and thou wouldst not!" And that final tenderness of divine love is expressed and proved for us in the delicacy of this parting gift from the Cross, whereby the Son of Man bequeaths to us the mother who had borne and fed and nursed Him, and who was there at the end to take His dead body into her arms.

Immolation of True Love

How then can we fear the thirst of God? And yet we continue in fact to flee Him down the arches of the years! Why? Because in our blindness we prefer the labyrinthine ways of our own egoism: we know that to love is to give, to love totally is to give totally, and we fear the loss of our own selfhood-never more to be able to arrange things for ourselves (as though we ever could), never more to feel that we are the masters of our fate. And so we miss the fire, we miss the fullness of life, we miss the real freedom. That is why Good Friday is not just an event in the past, but something that is to recur in us every day: it is that going down into the deep places where we see ourselves for what we really are, see reality as it is; that leaving of the conventional religious shallows to plunge into the ocean of love, that companionship of Christ on the Cross which teaches us to say with Him His final word: "In manus tuas...." That is the acceptance of reality; that is the gateway to life.

Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend this joy, this sorrow, this problem, this decision.

Into Thy hands I commend each moment as it comes, each event as Thou sendest it to me.

Into Thy hands I put each thing I have to do or suffer.

Into Thy hands I commend this love, this responsibility.

Into Thy hands I put this weakness, this failure, this wrong thing that I have done.

So, finally, into Thy hands I commend my life as a whole, all that I am: be it done to me according to Thy word!

That is the thing that is asked of us; that is the only thing that is asked of us in the last resort. And if we are trying to do this, then we need not fear; and if in the end we can succeed in doing it wholly and gladly, then we shall have shared fully in the "In manus tuas of" Christ, and so we shall be able to share also in His "Consummatum est." We shall have learnt fully the meaning of love, and so, with Christ in His glory, we shall have come home.