A crucifix silhouetted against the sunset in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka. (Credit: ‘AntanO’, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
“No matter what you have done, I love you for your own sake. Come to me with your misery and sins, with your troubles and needs, and with all of your longing to be loved.”
“Jesus is God, therefore His love, His Thirst, is infinite. He, the creator of the universe, asked for the love of His creatures. He thirsts for our love... These words: 'I Thirst' – do they echo in our souls?” —St. Teresa of Calcutta
During the years I spent living with the Missionaries of Charity, St. Teresa of Calcutta's spirituality felt like anything from the most gorgeous spiritual revelation to the most biting poke in the spine of my soul – it was, clearly, a spirituality born from the deepest, most entangled roots of Catholicism. To this magnanimous Saint and her followers, serving Christ meant answering His cry of Thirst from the Cross – even if it meant laying down one's very life in the most grueling fashion. In honor of this message, Mother Teresa made sure that in every one of her convent chapels, the words “I THIRST” would be posted next to a bloody crucifix, in bold black, serving to remind all of God's most extraordinary love. Years after her death, these words continue to show her religious Sisters and co-workers, as well as the poor they serve, that God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, is parched with thirst, longing for the simplest acts of love.
As I witnessed, each day the Sisters would seek to quench the parched thirst of Christ as they visited the bottomed-out homes of the poorest of the poor, cared for them in their emergency night shelters and soup kitchens, and befriended them when they were in the lock-down section of the prison. And, fascinatingly, they would turn to the poor to ask them to quench the thirst of Christ as well. Often when they would encounter a suffering person – whether it be because they were behind bars, or because they were breathing their last in a hospital bed – they would beg them not to waste their suffering, but to offer it to quench Christ Crucified's infinite thirst. Suffering, to them, was as gold. The one who suffered and made at least some attempt to offer it to God was laden with spiritual jewels that freed their soul and drew it towards eternal life. I remember watching the faces of the suffering and poor – most often fallen-away Protestants who had never even heard of “redemptive suffering” – as they told them this. Their words would often give them a sense of dignity and purpose, helping them to understand their part in God's mission to bring hope to the world.
“I Thirst,” a meditation attributed to St. Teresa of Calcutta in which Jesus speaks to the human heart, includes these powerful words:
I thirst for You. Yes, that is the only way to begin to describe my love for you... I thirst to love you and to be loved by you — that is how precious you are to Me. 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 all your trials I thirst for you. You must never doubt my mercy, my acceptance of you, my desire to forgive, my longing to bless you and live my life in you... If you feel unimportant in the eyes of the world, that matters not at all. For Me, there is no one any more important in the entire world than you.
This phenomenal meditation, which in many poignant ways holds within it the lifeblood of the Saint's spirituality and mission, is something worth contemplating deeply. For Mother Teresa, sharing with others about the thirsting love of Christ was at the root of evangelization. To her, practicing authentic charity meant answering His cry from the Cross. “We are not social workers, we are contemplatives in the heart of the world,” she was known to say.
Years ago, a friend who had been in one of Mother Teresa's convents for a few years told me that now, as a layperson and a mother, she had grown so out of touch with God's love. “In the convent, we heard about God's love all the time, and we were continually reminded of how much God loves us,” she said. After having lived in a convent for five years, and now being a wife and mother outside of the convent for nearly nine years, I know exactly what she means. This is troubling to me – we lay people, so burdened by the assaults of our post-Christian society and the culture of death, so weighed down by the trials and daily grind of life – why do we not hear of God's love daily? What keeps us from letting His thirsting love penetrate our innermost selves? Is it the clang and clamor of the world's ways, the demands of lay life, or is it just that we aren't taking the time to listen? Perhaps it is all of the above. Or perhaps it is because His love is so divine it is hard to speak of and to grasp. When someone tells you that God loves you, you may feel they are stating the obvious, and go about your way. But there is far more in these words – there is the deep river of His Precious Blood, waiting to submerge your heart, and the shimmering rays of His mercy, just waiting to wash your soul and heal it of brokenness and sin.
This Lent, as we go about our daily business, let's take time to contemplate the thirsting love of Christ with St. Teresa. As her meditation continues:
Whenever you do open the door of your heart, whenever you come close enough, you will hear Me say to you 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 sins, with your troubles and needs, and with all of your longing to be loved. I stand at the door of your heart and knock. Open to Me, for I THIRST FOR YOU.’