God is closer to us than water is to a fish. – St. Catherine of Siena
Water is weird. Have you ever had that thought? I’ve been having it lately as I sip from my glass. Water is this transparent, tasteless substance that our bodies naturally thirst for; it composes 71% of the world and 65% of the human body (75% for infants); it is necessary for life. “Water, with its amazing dissolving properties, is the perfect medium for transmitting substances, such as phosphates or calcium ions, into and out of a cell… all life on Earth uses a membrane that separates the organism from its environment. To stay alive, the organism takes in important materials for making energy, while shuttling out toxic substances such as waste products.”
Jesus told the Samaritan woman that He was the bearer of the water of life (John 4:10), which is the Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39). Knowing the chemical and biological properties of water, we may reflect on the richness of Jesus’ metaphor. The Holy Spirit sustains us; He transmits God’s grace into our innermost being, and He cleanses us of toxic impurities like sin and despair. Our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).
In the Old Testament, the prophet Ezekiel records his vision of water issuing out of the side of a temple, a spring which became a river so deep that no-one could cross it (Ezekiel 47:2-5). This has traditionally been interpreted in light of John 19:34, the piercing of Jesus’ side with a lance – blood and water flowed out of His side, His very heart. Jesus told us that the Holy Spirit, our Paraclete or Advocate, would not come until He departed (John 16:7). After Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, which made perfect atonement for our sins, man was reconciled to God and able to enter into His life, life without end.
Water is a tremendously precious substance. We who live in more developed countries can so easily take it for granted, but “only 1% of the world’s water is readily available for human consumption. Approximately 97% is too salty and 2% is ice.” One in nine people worldwide do not have access to clean drinking water; “6 to 8 million people die annually from the consequences of disasters and water-related diseases.”
We who know we live by the Holy Spirit have been commissioned by Christ to bear this Living Water to others: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well has ‘been described as “a paradigm for our engagement with truth”.’ He reached out to her across strict social taboos – The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink? For Jews do not associate with Samaritans” (John 4:9). He asked her for the water she had, just as we may ask a non-believer for his friendship. Jesus’ ultimate aim was to offer the woman the gift of God Himself; likewise, through our human friendships, we too may draw others into relationship with God, offering our friends new life in Christ, so that they may discover their true identities as beloved children of God, the source and ground of their being (Acts 17:28).
You can bring a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink – let us be prudent and gentle in offering this precious life-giving Water to others, lest they develop a distaste for it without even trying It properly. Everyone is thirsty in some way – some thirst for beauty, so you can share the musical, artistic and architectural treasures of the Church with them; others thirst for truth, so you can find openings for reasoned discussions of the faith. Still others thirst for goodness, which you may exemplify by your living with the grace of God irradiating your life with peace, joy and charity in the midst of earthly trials. Find out what your friends are thirsty for, and you may deliver God to them in a Divine ice-cube to cool the fevered achings of their souls, or a flask of aqua vitae to give them new heart, or perhaps a sweet, fresh breeze that lifts their spirits to highest Heaven. Then you would have accomplished the best act of friendship, sharing your greatest treasure.
“I have opened my Heart as a living fountain of mercy. Let all souls draw life from it. Let them approach this sea of mercy with great trust. Sinners will attain justification, and the just will be confirmed in good. Whoever places his trust in My mercy will be filled with My divine peace at the hour of death.”
– Diary of St. Faustina, #1520
Images: Angelica Kauffman, Christus und die Samariterin am Brunnen (1796); Catholic Images.