Our Frontiersman newspaper printed this article of mine last Tuesday and I've been thinking about it for days. You see, I've never actually done what I've written that we could do (Give drink to the thirsty and give food to the hungry). I'm sort of afraid of homeless people asking for food, money, and jobs. I'm also sort of mad at them. I know that it doesn't matter, that mercy given is mercy given, period. So I've added "case of bottled water" and "huge box of granola bars" to my husband's weekly Sam's Club list. I'm going to try.
“Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick or in prison and come to You? And the King will say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me’.” (Matthew 25:3-40)
Although enlivened by God’s love, dignified by prayer, and sanctified by Jesus’ spiritual presence, these corporal works of mercy are raw, earthy and physical. Easing the bodily distress of another human being can be discomfiting, but we dare not shrink from solidarity with our sisters and brothers on the journey.
Jesus visited with mean, messy and mixed-up people. He dried tears, shared meals, addressed problems, and performed miracles.
He was grabbed, sat upon, leaned on and questioned. He gave and gave and gave. His love had active hands. We are to follow him, offering up our hands as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which is our reasonable service (Romans 12:1) as we reach out to others with tangible mercy.
Human mercy is an expression of divine mercy and is demonstrated by compassion and patience. At every Mass we pray, “Lord, have mercy; Christ have mercy; Lord have mercy.” And we are to extend that mercy to others not as holier-than-thou, but as fellow receivers of mercy.
We’ve been discussing and memorizing the corporal works of mercy with our children, and all but one seem obvious: give drink to the thirsty. Why is this one separate from giving food to the hungry? Is it just poetry? Who needs water today? A brief peek at the UN's informational page can answer that with shocking clarity.
Give drink to the thirsty. How can we practice this? In our country, water is free and so accessible that we play in it, take it for granted, and sadly, even waste it.
It is pumped directly into our homes into two or more receptacles. There is neither a shortage of water nor of corporate competitors marketing different brands of water to us. We have sophisticated filtration systems and storage facilities and more bodies of water than we can count.
We do not have to repair and refit community wells; we do not have to erect dams and filtration systems for filthy rivers; we do not have to live with warring tribes that deny their enemies access to water. We do not have to send our women and children to fill buckets.
Recalling a poignant scene from Ben Hur, we will never have the opportunity to give drinks to political slaves being marched across the desert to the ocean where they will be chained to a ship’s galley. But, we can cheerfully give drinks to our children. We can generously invite people to our home to drink; even a tight budget can probably manage a friendly cup of tea.
We can keep a case of bottled water (and packaged snacks to feed the hungry) in our vehicles to pass out to the homeless or hard-up with a smile. If there’s more money, we can give more cases of bottled water to our local food banks. We can reach beyond our town and country and donate to international charities that focus on clean water, thus having a real hand in helping those community wells and filthy rivers.
We have our votes, as well. We can get informed about the state’s and country’s bills, charities and actions involving clean water and warring tribes. We can take a minute to type a few words of thanks and support for those charitable initiatives that make the world kinder and safer with a touch of Jesus’ loving hands.
The Scriptures are full of stories and sacraments involving water, from creation to Noah, from the Red Sea to the Jordan River, from Jesus’ thirst to our baptisms, and to heaven’s crystal-clear river. Our bodies are mostly water; we cannot live long without water. It is a simple, powerful gift and not one to be taken lightly.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads, “Love for the poor is even one of the motives for the duty of working so as to ‘be able to give to those in need’.” (Section 2444)
“When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.” (Section 2446)
King David sang in Psalm 42:1-2; “As the deer pants for brooks of water, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”
When we quench our spiritual thirst with the living God, we can then, in the words of the Mass, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord” and “be doers of the word, not hearers only, deceiving ourselves (James 1:22).”
That day is best wherein we give
A thought to others’ sorrows;
Forgetting self, we learn to live,
And blessings born of kindly deeds
Make golden our tomorrows.
(Sir Alfred Tennyson)
Yes, Lord, I will love and serve You. I will give a thought to others’ sorrows. I will give drink to the thirsty.