As a hart longs
for flowing streams,
so longs my soul
for thee, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?
– Ps 42:1-2
Thirsting is linked to the restlessness of spirit, that Br Gregory wrote about previously. To continue this theme in the Year of Consecrated Life I offer a few thoughts on thirsting and the religious life.
My soul thirsts for God, the living God.
We are a thirsty people. Like the land of Israel we are dry and thirsty. Every human being longs to have his thirst quenched, and for many people this search occupies their whole lives without them having identified what it is they want or even that they want. People fill their lives with good things, and bad things, not realising that the good is meant to bring us closer to God and not be an end in itself.
For us Christians though we know that we thirst, and we know why. We know that we were made by God and for God and we thirst because we do not enjoy the relationship with Him that we were made for.
Recognition of our thirst for God is the first, and crucial step, that every Christian must take when we co-operate with God’s grace and accept the death that Our Lord Jesus Christ suffered on the cross for us and the salvation by possible by this. In recognising that we thirst, we recognise that we are not complete, we recognise that we cannot fill all our desires by a sheer act of the will. This is humility, this allows our relationship with God to flourish, and it is a pre-requisite for a life of virtue. The proud man who thinks he has everything in fact has nothing because he depends only on himself, whereas the humble man who realises the poverty of his state can have everything if he relies on the love and mercy of God Almighty. It was humility that allowed Our Lady to give her fiat, and it is only through our humility that we can be saved.
Our thirst, then, our humility, is a gift in itself and the foundation of all virtue.
Blessed are those who thirst (Mt 5:6).
Our thirst for God is a sign of our beatitude. How then do we quench it? We cannot. On earth our thirst cannot be quenched because we are not meant to reside in this world forever. Our unquenchable thirst orientates us to our eternal life, and it is this eschatological orientation that is at the heart of all religious life.
When we as religious make our vows we prostrate ourselves before God and before men. We accept that we thirst for God, and we accept that the only way we can hope to quench our thirst for God in heaven is to forsake the world and ourselves and trust only, and completely, in God. Our vows strip of us things that are good in themselves and plunge us into a life of complete reliance on God, so that we may never have our thirst quenched, or seemingly quenched, in this life. Rather, in turning our minds to the end of the world, and the end of our lives, we hope that we will serve Christ more perfectly here on earth and in His mercy He will call us home to His Father’s house.
As we are reminded often by our superior, Fr Hugh Allan, we are religious for the sake of our souls, because we could not live in the world and hope for our salvation. We need religious life, not because we are the greatest of men, but because we are the smallest of all men.
Jesus stood up and proclaimed, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.” (Jn 7:37)
I thirst (Jn 19:28).
As Premonstratensians we live the mixed life of contemplation and apostolate. We pray and live together in our monasteries, and work with zeal for the salvation of souls. We realise that in our life our closeness to the Lord in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, in the Divine Office, and in our service of the poor and needy our thirst for God deepens. As Our Holy Father Augustine wrote, “I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you.”
In our lives we hope, as do all Christians, to imitate Christ. We desire to be like our Lord, we desire to be “poured out like water” (Ps 22:14), and in so doing that we may be of use to God here on earth, or at the very least that in loving Him, in imitation of Our Lord, He might look on our little efforts and smile.
We have a strong intercessor in the founder of our order Our Holy Father Norbert. St Norbert embodied and lived humility in casting of the pomp of the world and imperial court to serve God in the sanctuary. He was docile to the will of God and the movement of the Holy Spirit, but not to the vainglories of the world and those men who set themselves against God.
It would be wrong, I think, to say that religious life will satisfy your thirst. However, I do think that the Premonstratensian life based, as it is, on the life of the apostles, and centered on the worthy celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the salvation of souls, can be a means by which God may be pleased increase your thirst for Him. The vows we make and the life we live can be judged by how much we thirst for Him, and how much we seek to bring others to waters of life.
After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfil the scripture), “I thirst.” John 19:28
Our Holy Father Pope Francis has dedicated this year as the Year of Consecrated Life so we must think of ways in which we can participate in this. I offer three suggestions:
- Ask God for the grace of humility. To this end pray the Litany of Humility, written by Cardinal Merry del Val;
- When you receive Holy Communion, or have your sins forgiven in the Sacrament of Confession, ask God to increase your thirst for Him;
- Pray for religious vocations, remembering our Norbertine community, considering also how you can serve God and His Holy Church.
Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
– OHF Augustine, ‘Confessions’