Fifth Word: “I Thirst.”

The World Speaks of Our Sins

Diego Velázquez, “Christ Crucified” (detail), c. 1632
Diego Velázquez, “Christ Crucified” (detail), c. 1632 (photo: Public Domain)

Editor’s Note: The Seven Last Words, taped at EWTN April 11, will be broadcast on Good Friday at 5 p.m. Eastern, hosted by Father Raymond J. de Souza.

The Scandals in the Church and
the Scandal of the Cross
“Father, forgive them,
for they know not what they do.”
“Today you will be with me
in paradise.”
“Woman, behold your Son.
Behold your Mother.”
“My God, my God,
why have you forsaken me?”
“I thirst.”
“Father, into your hands
I commend my spirit.”
“It is finished.

The fifth word — I thirst. — is the only time that Jesus speaks of his physical suffering and pain. It is a reminder that the Passion is not only a spiritual reality, a cosmic happening. It is a bodily act, the crucifixion of a man’s body. He suffers; he falls; he bleeds; he thirsts.

The scandals which afflict the Church are not a crisis to be endured, not so much a challenge to be met, not principally a problem to be solved, not in essence a situation to be governed. They are the suffering of those who have been violated in body and soul who desire healing, are in need of reconciliation and are deserving of justice. The scandals are the deeds of those who have given themselves over to sin and need conversion.

The suffering, sweating, bleeding, thirsty body of Jesus is not an abstraction or a principle; it is a reality. That reality puts us in touch with all of reality. In the thirst of Jesus, the Church receives an evangelical imperative as Jesus thirsts for souls; in the thirst of Jesus, the Church hears the demand for justice, as the Gospel proclaims those who hunger and thirst for justice are blessed; in the thirst of Jesus, the Church finds the roots of her diakonia or charitable mission, as the kingdom of Jesus is built up by those who give food to the hungry, clothe the naked, give a cup of cold water to the thirsty.

In April 2010, when he himself was under ferocious attack in the global media, Benedict XVI reminded the Church of the proper response: “Now under the attacks of the world that speaks to us of our sins, we see that the ability to perform penance is a grace, and we see how it is necessary to perform penance, that is, to recognize what is wrong in our life.”

The heart of man — even of the secular man who thinks that he lives distant from God — contains the seeds of the Gospel, the seeds of the Kingdom. One of those seeds is the thirst for justice. When the world speaks to the Church of our sins — even attacks her, or delights in her shame — it is in part because of the universal desire to see justice done.

That justice has a supernatural element, of doing penance. That is why last summer our Holy Father Pope Francis asked the whole Church to do penance for the scandals. That justice also has its natural component, that the guilty must be punished. Punishment is never the final word of the Gospel, but it must be part of the Gospel. The lack of just punishment has provoked a righteous indignation in the world.

“Indeed, in people’s justified anger, the Church sees the reflection of the wrath of God, betrayed and insulted by these deceitful consecrated persons,” Pope Francis said at the conclusion of the recent sexual-abuse summit in Rome. “It is our duty to pay close heed to this silent, choked cry.”

The world thirsts for justice, as it thirsts for so much more. Christ, alive on the cross, thirsts. Christ, soon dead on the cross, opens his side for us to drink, the living water and Precious Blood that satisfies every thirst.

I thirst.

Glory be to the Father …