From the Seven Last Words

JMJ

ONE AND DONE CONVERSIONS are a dime a dozen. There’s a kind of change and an emotional rush and then things go on as they never did before. Or at least so we are told in fairy tales end conversion movies. The Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. Scrooge kept Christmas the best of any man in London. A kiss from Prince Charming wakes the princess and they live happily ever after. Electing this one politician will solve all your problems. Conversions in the Bible, however, are often more problematic. David stumbles all through his reign, Peter denies Christ, Abraham struggles with God’s promises (what was that bit about Hagar if not a loss of faith?), the Jonah runs away, Moses says “Just kill me now”. These stories are more real – because we know that as human beings “one and done” is not a thing. Today’s feast of the Conversion of St Paul is no different.

Today, St Paul realizes his mistake, but it takes years for him to apply the realization. Certainly, he takes it seriously but he doesn’t quite realize the fullness of the implications. He goes away to learn, to pray, and to meditate. Yet even when he comes back he is still struggling. Biblical Scholars who attempt to put the letters of the Apostle into what they believe is a chronological order can discern theological development on several topics. This is not a bad thing for there is no change there is only evolution. Paul struggles with his brothers and sisters in Christ – even fighting with Peter. And famously there is The Thorn in the Flesh.

Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (AV)

This was a meditation was part of the Good Friday Seven Last Words at St Dominic’s Catholic Church in San Francisco. As a result of the current crisis, the meditations were recorded and posted on YouTube rather than preached from the pulpit. The video is shared at the end of this post.

I thirst.

Many of us as children have woken up at night and asked for a glass of water.

Maybe as a parent our child wakes up and asks: Mommy, can I have a glass of water? 

These words of our Lord, “I thirst” sound like that same cry. 

We wake at night, in the dark, alone, afraid: and we really want Mommy. But “I’m thirsty” is what we say: it makes sense, it’s the feeling we have… dry mouth… must be thirsty. But what causes it, in the middle of the night.

Is fear.

Just as if you were suddenly afraid for your life you would be suddenly dry mouthed. 

But no adult says, at that point, “Mommy, can I have some water?”

I thirst.

The eternal, Triune God, in the Second Person in Human Flesh, is crying out because of a dry mouth, part of the whole Flight or Fight thing that the same God built into us for our protection.

Here… it betrays him: it’s human weakness.

The God who made water. Who made mouths. Who made the nervous system. This God is afraid. This God is thirsty. This God… is about to die.

My heart breaks… this is love.

Was one of the first words ever taught to the Baby, the Word learning words, “yisemeh” – the Aramaic for “Thirsty”?  

His mother, standing there at the foot of the cross, hears her own baby again crying out “yisemeh”.  Can her heart not break remembering everything at that moment: from his first cry, to his first words, to the first time he woke up afraid, depicted in the icon of “Our Lady of Perpetual Help” where his sandal is flopping loose.

Eemma…Mommy… Yisemeh!

Brothers and Sisters. This is love.

In this time of danger.

In this time of death.

In this time of fear.

God knows… we are all thirsty. We cannot have the chalice. We cannot even come to mass. We cannot touch to hug, to hold or shake hands.

Some do this for safety, but we do not do this out of fear: rather it is out of love for our neighbor, for those who are weakest among us, for those who are most vulnerable.

Our priests, our Bishops, our Holy Father also feel this pain as they cannot do for us what they have been ordained and sacramentally ordered to do. 

Our hands are held back, our heart breaks, our love restrains us. Touch – when touch is most needed…

We thirst! We cry out to our mother, the Church who stands by watching and weeping for us.

Our God knows and understands: this is love.

In this time of danger.

In this time of death.

In this time of fear.

Christ our God has been here before us. Become of love, he has faced in mortal flesh, fear and death. 

And Jesus has the victory.

We thirst with him today…

He will make us victorious with him.

Author: Huw Richardson

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He has worked in tech (mostly) since 1999 and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.