Louis de Caulery, “Crucifixion,” c. 1610
Each year during Lent, I remember the poor with a heart cut with anguish, and a spirit looking upwards with hope. I remember the smoky, earthy smells they carried with them, and the wrinkles in their clothes from living a homeless, vagabond lifestyle. I will never forget the looks on their faces when I had no choice but to jab at their dignity and search their belongings, for the safety of every resident, before they entered the shelter where I worked. They would look down, or look away, trying to find a way to climb up just a little from the crevice the sufferings of life had crushed them down to. Sometimes, I would find disturbing things in their purses and pockets, like drug needles, crack pipes, fake I.D.'s and “morning after” pills. But most of the time I would find nothing but the belongings of simple, struggling people, trying to live and breath on the earth, and find their way in life and a place to rest their weary heads.
Each year during Lent, I can almost feel their life's crosses splintering me once again, and the thirst of Christ for their souls hounds me – but in a way, so does their holiness. Very often, I would see well-worn rosaries and Bibles among the few things they still possessed. Poor as they were, they could still find time for God. Battered as they were by the trials of life, they would still lift up their faces to their Heavenly Father, with trust and courage.
Living among the “poorest of the poor” for nearly three years with Mother Teresa's Sisters as a shelter housemother revealed to me the awesome desperation of Christ’s thirst for souls. Now that I am living a “normal” life as a homeschooling mother — normal, that is, despite dealing with things like: sticky noodles all over my kitchen, a treadmill-like daily schedule, biannual C-sections, a toddler's febrial seizures, and the glories of teaching full-time without getting a paycheck — the raw awareness of his thirst is still burning and alive, all around me.
It is there. It is in family life, in the work place, in fatherhood and motherhood, in marriage and in friendship. But do we feel it in our bones? Do we truly know it? Do we see that Jesus is thirsting for our souls, and that of everyone around us, with a regal, magnificently intense love? Do we help our loved ones feel this thirst of God? When we receive the Sacrament of Confession, do we feel the freedom that the Son of God has won for us, his beloved children, his priestly people? Do we comprehend that our names have been grafted into the hand of our Heavenly Father, and nothing can wipe them away?
In a letter from St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, titled, I Thirst for You, she writes (as in the voice of Christ), “When you finally open the doors of your heart and you finally come close enough, you will then hear Me say again and again, not in mere human words but in spirit: ‘No matter what you have done, I love you for your own sake. Come to Me with your misery and your sins, with your problems and needs, and with all your desire to be loved.’”
As we close our Lenten journey this year, let us cast all our cares upon Him, and hear these words resound in the depth of our hearts (also from I Thirst for You):
I come longing to console you and give you strength, to lift you up and bind all your wounds. I bring you My light, to dispel your darkness and all your doubts. I come with My power, that allows me to carry you: with My grace, to touch your heart and transform your life. I come with My peace, to calm your soul. I THIRST FOR YOU. Yes, that is the only way to even begin to describe My love for you. I THIRST FOR YOU. I thirst to love you and to be loved by you. So precious are you to Me that I THIRST FOR YOU. Come to Me, and I will fill your heart and heal your wounds. I will make you a new creation and give you peace even in your trials.
Let us contemplate how humble God must be that He should bend Himself to thirst for His own creatures. How great must be His benevolence, and how endless the shimmering trails of His divine wisdom. As the celebration of the Resurrection awaits us, let us savor the mercy of our King. Like so many of the “poorest of the poor,” let us remember to whom we belong, and how much he longs to embrace us.