The Face we behold on the Shroud today is the very same Face the crowds beheld 2,000 years ago, as Jesus hung from the cross. Just hours later this precious image would be preserved in cloth, giving every generation the chance to "look upon him whom they had pierced" (Jn. 19:37).
But this image is also precious for another reason. Note the deep, solemn expression on the Lord's Face. It is not accidental, nor without meaning. That expression is of great significance - for it serves as a reflection of His last dying words on the cross.
Though His voice on Calvary is now silent, this image of Jesus' Face continues to this day to mirror the last sentiments of His Heart. In His gaze we can still read, fresh and alive and powerful, the final great message the Father had given Him to speak.
This image, then, has become God's echo - His way of calling out to a cold and wandering humanity, to remind us of a supreme truth we had forgotten, or never even understood. He chose to speak this supreme message in its most fitting, solemn hour - as His last testament from the cross - for only revelation's greatest act could enshrine revelation's greatest words. Those final words needed to embrace all that God had said and done since creation, and all He would wish to say to every future generation until the end of time. This message was so simple that it would be almost completely overlooked, yet so significant that only after speaking it could Jesus declare finished His work of revealing the Father, and bow His head in death (Jn. 19:29-30).
St. John recounts for us that supreme moment and its great message: "And Jesus, knowing that all was now completed, said to fulfil the Scripture: I THIRST. . ." (Jn. 19:28).
God thirsts! But His thirst is not for water. It is something infinitely greater. As the rest of the psalm-verse He is quoting bears out, it is a thirst for our love, a thirst to love us and to be loved by us: "I looked for love and I found none ... (it was as though) in my thirst they had given me vinegar to drink ..." (Ps. 69:21-22). God thirsts for us and for our love. Our lack of belief and response is to Him as vinegar to a thirsting man, so much does He love and long for us. This is truly great, almost unbelievable "good news" - God not only loves us with the benevolent love of a benefactor, He not only forgives us with a merciful love of compassion: much more than this, He is in love with each one of us in all our misery, with an all-consuming love and longing that could never be expressed in dry theological terms, but only as infinite THIRST.
The Almighty, Creator of the universe, THIRSTS for me -I am that precious to Him, as if I alone existed for Him, for a God who would give His only Son so as not to spend His eternity without me. This divine thirst, this boundless, even burning love for me, that could not be the least bit greater were I indeed the only person in the universe, would be too much to believe were it not for these most solemn and serious words, sealed in the Lord's own blood. He could have saved me in a thousand other ways, but only the extremity and totality of the cross, enshrined in cloth before my eyes, could give me some idea and proof of the infinite depth of His THIRST for me, a sinner.
This eternal THIRST to love and be loved in the heart of the Almighty gives us an insight into all that is: the mystery of the Trinity, the reason behind creation, the nature of man created "in His image" (as a living thirst for God), and all that God has done from the Incarnation to Calvary to Paradise. All reflects His eternal THIRST to love and be loved.
The divine cry "I THIRST" echoes down throughout all salvation history. All of God's words to men are a reverberation of this one eternal word. All of Scripture is a living commentary on "I THIRST," and in turn the words "I THIRST" shed light on all of Scripture, on all of Revelation; indeed they express everything that can be said about God and man.
To come to know the THIRST in the Heart of Jesus, for me personally, is the single greatest gift God can give. From it flows new life and every other good gift. It is dignity in my misery, treasure in my poverty, consolation in my pain. It gives supreme meaning to even the smallest details of my life, for it reveals a God who is fully in love with me (think for a moment what that means), and who is all-powerful to express that love beyond my farthest imaginings ("the very hairs of your head are numbered"). Even my crosses are the expression of His THIRST for me, an invitation to love Him even as He loved me, and to share in His great work of redemptive love. The imprint on the Shroud, the crucifix on the wall, the image of His pierced Heart, are all pointing us constantly towards that thirsting love that surrounds us, an ever-present and overwhelming love in which "we live and move and have our being." The Lord's THIRST to love me and be loved by me is something real and alive and powerful. I meet it in prayer, in the Scriptures, the Eucharist, in my own sufferings, and in a particular way, in the needs and sufferings of others ("Whatever you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me ..."). All that we touch, and all whom we meet, are to be living reminders and channels of His THIRST.
As the crowd who heard Peter preach the good news of God's love on the first Pentecost, we are moved to ask "What are we to do?" How do I respond to God's THIRST for me? The only logical response to such an all-encompassing and all-powerful love is, first of all, a COMPLETE TRUST; the kind of absolute trust I would reserve only for someone in love with me, as He is. And secondly, it is to begin to THIRST FOR HIM in return, to allow the thirst in His Heart for me to awaken the thirst in my heart for Him. It means abandoning my false, selfish thirsts so to re-focus them more and more on the Lord - who alone can ever satisfy my deepest yearnings to love and be loved. But the first step is to BELIEVE, to believe the unbelievable good news that God thirsts for me; to hear those words "I THIRST" over and over again, to see them reflected in His Face, proven in His passion, and etched in my own heart by His Spirit. I need to come face to face every day with the Thirst in the Heart of Jesus, not just with the general idea of His Thirst for all humanity, but with the living reality of His Thirst for me. To do so is to "grasp the width and length and depth of the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure with the very fullness of God" (Eph. 3:18).
"As the Father has loved Me, even so have I loved you. Live on in My love ..."
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