Thirsting, Seeing, and Believing

On St. John of the Cross and the Readings for Sunday, June 19, 2016

• Zec 12:10-11; 13:1
• Ps 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
• Gal 3:26-29
• Lk 9:18-24

St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) produced several profound works of mystical theology, filled with powerful descriptions of the soul being purified by God’s burning love. Writing in his Spiritual Canticle of this work of sanctification, he stated, “The very substance of soul and body seems to be dried up by thirst after this living well of God, for the thirst resembles that of David when he cried out, ‘As the hart longs for the fountains of waters, so my soul longs for You, O God.’”

Thirsting after God—what John often called “the thirst of love”—is described many times in the Psalms and in the writings of mystics. It can rightly be said that David the Psalmist was a mystic, just as St. John was a poet of the highest order. Both the poet and the mystic seek to reveal the deepest recesses of the soul and express their longing for the transcendent. “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God,” David cries out in today’s responsorial Psalm, “O God, you are my God whom I seek; for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.”

The prophets also expressed this desire for God, usually focused on the people of God as a whole. The prophets Zechariah and Haggai were the first prophets of the post-exilic period, writing in the sixth century B.C., following the Babylonian captivity (c. 597-538 B.C.). They were the “prophets of a new beginning,” wrote Fr. Eugene H. Maly in Prophets of Salvation (Herder and Herder, 1967), “Both were concerned with the rebuilding of the temple.” And both saw a coming time when God would “bring history to its appointed climax.”

This would be accomplished, we hear in today’s reading from Zechariah, when “a spirit of grace and petition” was poured out on those in Jerusalem. This would involve mourning and grief on the part of those who had “pierced” the Messiah, a prophecy describing the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Yet there is hope, for there will be “a fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness”, a prophetic description of the sacrament of baptism.

That same sacrament, by which men are cleansed of original sin and made sons of God, is the focus of today’s epistle, from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Those who have been baptized, Paul stated, are “children of God in Christ Jesus,” having been clothed with Christ—that is, putting on Christ and a new nature, divinized by the life of the Trinity (cf. Eph. 4:24; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1243, 1988). Adults baptized in the early Church donned white baptismal garments after receiving the sacrament; the first martyrs were described by John the Revelator as having “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”. And those who enter into the throne room of God wearing the white robes “shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more” (Rev. 7:14-17). 

Today’s Gospel reading does not refer to thirsting, but there is certainly a connection to be made. The Evangelist Luke provides a pithy account of Jesus asking the disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am”? (cf. Matt. 16:13-20). The answers vary, but are incorrect. “But who do you say that I am?” Peter gives the correct answer. The disciples, thirsting after truth, had given up everything to be with Jesus—and thus knew him far better than did the crowds. Yet they would still have to learn further that such thirst will only be satisfied by accepting Jesus for who he really is and what he really did, by embracing his call to take up the cross, and by being obedient unto death. 

But, then, baptism is death—and new, divine life. “The trials of this world,” wrote St. John of the Cross, “the rage of the devil, and the pains of hell are nothing to pass through, in order to plunge into this fathomless fountain of love.”

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the June 20, 2010, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

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About Carl E. Olson 1227 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.