As I lay exhausted and in pain in the hospital bed, I could not slake my insatiable thirst. I, who hardly ever finished a whole glass of water, was suddenly downing cup after cup faster than my nurses could bring them to me. “Why am I so thirsty?” I asked. “It was never like this, after my other births.” “You lost a lot of blood,” she told me, “And your body is trying to replenish the fluids.” I shuddered as I recalled the painful aftermath of the birth. My doctors were skilled, but the treatment was excruciating. Suddenly my thoughts were interrupted by the gentle cry of my newborn daughter. Joy immediately flooded my whole being. I smiled as I gazed on her beautiful face, and I pressed her to my heart.
I wish I could say that I am always consumed by a joyful love when the stresses of family life are hard. But the reality is, I struggle. I continue to bring this question before God in prayer. How can I be a joyful witness to you when saying “yes” to your design means receiving a difficult cross? For mothers this can be a variety of things—a “spirited” child, a medical diagnosis, a miscarriage, physical or emotional exhaustion, the rude remark of a teen. “I rejoice in my sufferings,” says St. Paul (Col 1:24), and all the saints. How do they do it? What is the secret to their spiritual strength?
Suffering an excruciating torture on the cross, Jesus cried out, “I thirst!” (Jn 19:28). Of course, he was desperately thirsty having lost significant blood, but his physical thirst manifests a deeper, spiritual one. It is Jesus who tells the Samaritan woman at the well of his physical thirst—“Will you give me a drink?” (Jn 4:7)—as invitation to quench his deepest spiritual thirst for her (Jn 4). Above all, Jesus yearns to pour out his divine love for her, and his thirst is quenched when she receives him. This is the moment Jesus recalls when he cries out on the cross, “I thirst.” It is as if he is saying to each one of us, “Come to the foot of my cross. Let me gaze on your beautiful face. Do you not know that I yearn to press you to my heart?”
There is no greater source of spiritual strength than to contemplate the Crucified—he gazing on you and you gazing on him. It is the source of the most profound joy. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, it is “the look of love that we crave” (Deus Caritas Est).
It came to me all at once when I was reading a story to my children about a little wooden character named Punchinello who discovers that his deepest thirst is to be loved by his Creator.
“Come, Punchinello. Let me have a look at you . . .”
“Punchinello never had anyone look at him like this, much less his Maker. He didn’t know what to say.”
“Every day, I’ve been hoping you’d come.”
But Punchinello protests, “But why do I matter to You?”
“Because . . .”
” . . . You’re mine.” (Is. 43:1).