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"Holiness is not the luxury of a few. It is everyone's duty: yours and mine."  ~Mother Teresa

Thirsty for God

Thirsty for God, Thirstier for Man
Fr. Sebastian Vazhakala, M.C.

Dearly beloved Brothers and Sisters,

Gathered here this morning around the altar is not a natural family, but a supernatural one. This is God's family. The virtue of faith is the foundation of this supernatural family; the virtue of hope its driving force, and Charity its goal. Let us pray that this celebration of the Eucharist may increase our faith, deepen our hope and strengthen our Charity.

Before we enter into the real celebration, let us turn to our merciful Father, who is slow to anger, quick to forgive and rich in mercy. If it were not true, even this supernatural family would have disappeared long ago.

Rule 12 of your Constitutions, we read:

a) "That the Society may more easily attain its end, let each Sister choose the Immaculate Queen of Heaven for her Mother. She must not only love and venerate her, but also fly to her with child-like confidence in all her joys and sorrows.

b) We celebrate August 22nd as the Feast of our Patroness, the Immaculate Heart of Mary,

Cause of our Joy, Queen of the World, with a very special solemnity. A Triduum will precede the feast.

c) On the day of the feast, together we will renew our vows and our consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary."

Today then there is a very special solemnity for the M.C.s. It began when you started your novena for the Society feast, and intensified during the three days of very prayerful preparations on the Spirit of the Society, and with this celebration now has reached its climax.

Whenever we have a feast or a solemnity, we are asked to take the psalms of Sunday, first week, for our morning prayer. That is what we did this morning, as it is a very special solemnity for the Missionaries of Charity. For today's morning prayer, the first psalm was Ps 63: 2-9. Why is this psalm prayed on a feast or a solemnity? There is a reason. This psalm expresses in so many words the insatiable thirst of the human heart and soul for God and for the salvation of souls. Psalm 63 starts with an act of profound faith and strong desire: "O God, you are my God, for you I long; for you my soul is thirsting."

Not only the soul of a saint thirsts for God, but even his body. We continue to pray: "My body pines for you like a dry, weary and waterless land." The thirstier we are for God, the thirstier we become. Our thirst for God is like sea water. The more we drink the sea water, the more thirsty we become.

This was true of Our Lady; this was true of our Blessed Mother Teresa. Back in 1947 Blessed Teresa writes: "These desires to satiate the longing of our Lord for the souls of the poor – for pure victims of His love, goes on increasing with every Mass and Holy Communion." (MFG, p. 19)

The experience of Our Lady, of the saints and our Mother herself must become ours as well. This desire, this longing and thirst, is meant to be dynamic. Every time we pray this psalm, we are meant to renew our experiences of this insatiable thirst.

On the other hand, God's thirst for us is even greater, stronger and infinitely more insatiable, as God is infinite. The Catechism of the Catholic Church rightly defines prayer as "the encounter of God's thirst with our thirst. God thirsts that we may thirst for him." (CCC 2560)

We see this insatiable thirst in Jesus, not only on the Cross: "I thirst" (Jn 19: 28), but perhaps even more in the Eucharist. The Eucharistic Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, little by little, not only draw souls to Jesus, but they make them resemble Him. Our Mother writes: "Try to be Jesus' love, Jesus' compassion, Jesus' presence to each other and the poor you serve. All this will be possible only if you keep close to Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our Mother, She will guide and protect you and keep you only all for Jesus." (Mother's General letter, May 1990) Jesus is the way, and Mary is the one who shows the way.

Our Lady's heart and soul longed for the salvation and sanctification of souls. In all her apparitions, whether in Lourdes, Fatima or Kolkata, invariably Our Lady demanded assiduous prayer, sacrifices and penances for the salvation of souls.

In Kolkata she told our Mother to take care of the crowd, bringing them to Jesus. Her exact words were: "Take care of them. They are mine. Bring them to Jesus, carry Jesus to them..." (MFG p. 19) If the insatiable thirst for souls was a normal experience of all the saints, how much more Our Lady longed to save souls. It is not a thirst that finishes with one's death. No, it only increases, as they are much more close to Jesus. St. Thérèse of Lisieux said. "My heaven will consist in doing good on earth." In other words, in saving souls. Our Lady never stops working for the salvation of souls. Saints are close co- workers of Jesus. The closer one is to Jesus, the more insatiable and tireless he will be to work for the salvation and sanctification of souls. This is why our Mother worked day and night, wrote endless number of letters, and made people to join in her train of Charity. The more people share the work and life of the Missionaries of Charity, the more they become thirsty and try to satiate the unquenchable thirst of Jesus. There are thousands and millions of souls to be saved. Jesus' thirst is infinite; it extends to the ends of the earth, embracing all people of all faiths or no faith. Jesus continues to demand from all of us: "Will you refuse to do this for me, to take care of them, to bring them to Me?" (MFG p. 19)

The second psalm of today's morning prayer is from the book of the prophet Daniel (Ch 3: 57- 88). It is very important to know the context of this psalm and why it is chosen for the feast of Our Lady, or an apostle, or a saint? This psalm is a canticle sung by Daniel and two of his companions in the fiery furnace. They were thrown there for refusing to worship the golden image. The furious king Nebuchadnezzar ordered the furnace to be heated seven times more than usual. And he chose certain mighty men of his army to bind Shadrach (Daniel), Meshach and Abednego and cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Then these men were bound in their mantles, their tunics, their hats and their other garments, and they were cast into the burning fiery furnace. Because the king's order was strict and the furnace very hot, the flame of the fire slew those men who took up Shadrach, Messhach and Abednego, who were thrown bound into the burning fiery furnace. And they walked about in the midst of the flames while singing hymns to God and blessing the Lord: "Bless the Lord, all the works of the Lord, praise and exalt him above all forever..." (cf. Dan 3. 52-90)

This is the background of this second psalm for the feast of today. In the first psalm (Ps 63: 2-9), we saw the insatiable thirst of the human soul for God and the infinitely more insatiable thirst of God for man's love and for souls. In this psalm we see what Our Lady and the saints went through during their earthly sojourn. Jesus, for example, told Blessed Teresa: "You did not die for souls...your heart was never drowned in sorrow as it was my Mother's. We both gave our all for souls..." (MGF p. 10) Jesus continued to say to Blessed Teresa that her vocation consisted in love and suffering: "Your vocation is to love and suffer and save souls." (MGF p. 11)

The sword of sorrow had to pierce the heart of Mary (Lk 2: 35), which came to its climax at the foot of the Cross: "There stood" – Stabat Mater, the Mother of Jesus (cf. Jn 19: 25-27) Our Lady's heart was drowned in sorrow, pierced with a sword of sorrow.

Years later Blessed Teresa wrote many letters to some of her spiritual directors of her own fiery furnace experience: "If you knew what I am going through. He is destroying everything in me...I want God with all the power of my soul – and yet between us there is a terrible separation. I don't pray any longer. I utter words of community prayer...I have been on the verge of saying 'No'. It has been so very hard – that terrible longing keeps growing and I feel as if something will break in me one day – and then that darkness, that loneliness, that feeling of terrible loneliness. Heaven from every side is closed...and yet, I long for God. I long to love Him with every drop of life in me. I want to love Him with a deep personal love..." (from her letter to Fr. L.T. Picachy)

Blessed Teresa continued for many years with her fiery furnace experience, as she wrote: "As for me – what will I tell you? I have nothing since I have not got Him whom my heart and soul longs to possess. Aloness is so great – from within and without. I find no one to turn to...If there is hell – this must be one. How terrible it is to be without God – no prayer – no faith – no love – the only thing that still remains is the conviction that the work is His...And yet, Father, in spite of all these I want to be faithful to Him – to spend myself for Him, to love Him not for what He gives, but for what He takes." (from a letter to Fr. Neuner S.J., 1965)

It is easier and even exciting for us to read and speak about other people's dark night experiences and enjoy in doing it, till the dark night, i.e. the night of the senses and the night of the spirit, hits us. It is then that we have to go through their writings with an altogether different spirit and profit from it.

"According to St. John of the Cross", writes Fr. Albert Huart S.J., "the chief signs for distinguishing the night of the Spirit from psychological depression or spiritual sluggishness are:

1) Most importantly: the person is unremitting in his/her commitment to duty and to his/her mission, even if he/she encounters trials and failures in these.

2) Although the person experiences prayer as dark, painful and fruitless, he/she feels drawn to prayer

3) Gradually, underneath the darkness that weighs in one's soul, he/she discovers a quiet and growing spring of peace.

4) Later, when he/she ultimately emerges from this dark trial (which may take years), he/she looks back on it as a most blessed and life-giving period of one's life."

"Trials bring us to the foot of the Cross, and the Cross to the gate of heaven."
(St. John M. Vianney)

Saints like blessed Teresa, and every saint for that matter, went through the crucible of intense pain and purification. The sufferings were twofold: on the one hand the souls literally pass through the fiery furnace, but with an ardent longing and an insatiable thirst for God. They almost come to the verge of despair, but then the overwhelming power of grace envelops them. The inner self is not only purified, but even destroyed and remoulded in Jesus Christ, the perfect God-man.

"Let us pray that the Immaculate Heart of Our Queen and Mother be more and more our way to Jesus, the light of Jesus, the love of Jesus and the life of Jesus in each one of us." (see M.G.L. 9 August 1974) "It was at her pleading that the Society was born; let it be again at her pleading that the Society gives saints to Mother Church" (see M.G.L. May 1990).

Happy and holy Society feast to all. Love and prayers.
God bless you.

N.B. This letter is more or less the substance of the homily given by Fr. Sebastian M.C. on 21st August 2004, at Via Casilina 222, Rome for the Society Feast. As many sisters asked to have a copy of the homily, which I did not have then, I have tried to reconstruct it as far as it was possible.