The contemplative cry for mercy - Feast of St Theresa of Jesus

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The contemplative cry for mercy
Feast of St Theresa of Jesus

Carmelite life is a hidden life. We can say that it is a life “hidden in God” (Col 3:3). St Paul in his letter to the Colossians speaks of a dying so that our life can be hidden in God. You have died to the world but now your hidden life is radiant in the glory of the risen Lord. St Paul reminded the Colossians that we have been raised to life in Christ and so should seek the things that are above.

(Col 3:1) Our real life is in Christ. What are we without Christ being the heart, the centre, the focus of who we are and all that we do? Your life is hidden from the world, but your life is rich and full in Christ.

The world is noisy, busy and demanding. Each day involves a myriad of conversations, activities and distractions. These things are necessary, but only one thing is really necessary as the Lord reminded Martha. (Lk 10:42) You, as Carmelite Sisters, are able to be Mary sitting at the Lord’s feet and attentive to Him.

Contemplative life is a mystery to the world. It makes no sense to human reasoning. Yet you are in touch with the true source of human life. You have a vital role in the life of the Church. You have a vital role in relation to the saving action of God in the world.

The Gospel reading today invites us to live a moment when the Lord was in the precincts of the temple in Jerusalem. It is recounted in the Gospel of St John. The background to the incident is that Jesus went up to Jerusalem at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles. It is one of the important Jewish festivals. It runs for a week and celebrates the harvest, expressing gratitude to God for the provision of sustaining foods.

On the eighth and final day of the feast, the high priest of Israel, in a great processional made up of priests and tens of thousands of worshipers, descended from the Temple Mount to pause briefly at the Pool of Siloam. A pitcher was filled with water, and the procession continued via a different route back to the Temple Mount. Here, in the midst of great ceremony, the high priest poured the water out of the pitcher onto the altar.

As this ceremony was taking place St John tells us this:
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”  Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Jesus is there in the temple, the High Priest is carrying water and pouring it over the altar. This Jewish ceremony stirs the heart of Jesus and he sees in it a sign of what was to happen. It prefigures a far greater moment. He yearns for people to understand that something far more significant is about to happen.

Firstly he says, if you are thirsty come to me. He is not speaking here about physical thirst. He is speaking about the thirst of the human spirit, the longing of the human heart for God. One of the psalms says, “As the deer longs for running streams so my thirsts for you my God”. (see Ps 42:1) The human heart longs for God. Jesus declares that he is the one who can quench the thirst of the human spirit.

Next he refers to another text from the Scriptures, “out of his heart will flow streams of living water”.  Out of his heart. There is a strong reference here. Later in his Gospel St John would record what he saw as he stood at the foot of the cross. The heart of Jesus was pierced by a lance and what flowed out? Blood and water. The last drops of blood flowed, the sacrifice was complete. And then water began to flow.

Through the death of Jesus life-giving waters were released. St John was the one who understood what was happening. So he comments: “Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified”. St John uses the word “glorified” as a description of the death of Jesus.

In other words Jesus understood that by his death (and resurrection) the Holy Spirit would be released. Recall for a moment that the ceremony that Jesus was witnessing in the temple involved the priest pouring the waters over the altar of sacrifice. From the sacrifice of Jesus on the altar of the cross would flow living waters.

Sisters, as we draw close to Christ crucified we are drawn to the source of the life-giving waters of the Holy Spirit. The best place to pray is beneath the cross, gazing upon the pierced heart of Jesus.

Praying before the crucified Christ also unites us with the pain and suffering of the world. As he hung upon the cross Jesus absorbed all the sin, suffering and evil of the world, crying out to his Father for mercy for the world, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”. (Lk 23:34)

To be with Jesus on the cross is to be with the pain and anguish of humanity. We lift our prayer to the Father, pleading for his mercy for the whole world. Like Moses who interceded before God on behalf of his people, so the contemplative lifts up a prayer of earnest petition. The contemplative stands in the breach, between the sin of humanity and the holiness of God. The contemplative cannot but stand with Christ on the cross. The prayer is prayer of intercession for the world.

The Lord asked Sister Faustina to pray especially for sinners at three o'clock in the afternoon, the moment of His death on the cross. This is the hour of great mercy for the world.

Pope Francis has called for a Jubilee Year of Mercy. Sisters, I know you will carry this Jubilee Year in your hearts. I pray that it may encourage you in your mission of prayer. Your mission is to plead before the Father for the salvation of humanity. It is to plead for mercy to be given to humanity. We do not stand before the Lord in an attitude of judgement and condemnation, but with great humility and contriteness of heart we cry out for mercy, on us and on the whole world.


Archbishop Julian Porteous
Tuesday, 13 October 2015