A large crucifix hangs on a wall. The cross at Rochester’s Sacred Heart Cathedral. (EMC file photo)

On his cross, Jesus thirsts for our salvation

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ: 

It seems that we had only just celebrated Christmas, when on Feb. 14, Ash Wednesday, we began the holy season of Lent. We are now in the third week of Lent, but somehow Christmas and Lent are truly wedded together. The wood of the crib, holding the incarnate Christ brings us great joy, Emanuel, our God is with us, The wood of the cross, while enveloped in darkness on that Good Friday when the child born at Bethlehem is now the God-Man crucified, will be followed by the joy of Christ’s glorious Resurrection bringing us once again great jubilation. 

In his 2024 Lenten Message, Pope Francis encourages us with these words: “God has not grown weary of us. Let us welcome Lent as the great season in which He reminds us: ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery’ (Exodus 20:2). Lent is a season of conversion, a time of freedom.” 

The close proximity of Christmas to Lent powerfully reminds us that the Child of the crib was destined to become the Savior of all humanity upon a cross. But his crucifixion would never be the end of the story. Through His Resurrection, death is conquered, the gates of eternity are opened and we “look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come” (The Profession of Faith [The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed], prayed at Holy Mass on Sundays and Solemnities). Jesus, who welcomes us to eternal life, now remains with us until the end of time in the Most Holy Eucharist. No, Jesus would never grow weary of us, but remain forever faithful to His promise: “And know I am with you always, until the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). From the crib to the cross, love is the constant theme: Jesus’ pledge and promise of fidelity. Often has it been said that it was not the nails that held Jesus fastened to the cross, rather it was His love for us. 

Last Sunday, the Third Sunday of Lent, the Church offered us the optional Gospel from chapter four of St. John’s Gospel, describing the encounter between Jesus and the woman of Samaria. Jesus is thirsty and asks her for a drink. This encounter manifests Jesus’ outreach to all people. The Samaritan woman, not being a Jew, remarks: “For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.” Jesus replies: “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water” (John 4:7-10). The call to conversion, repentance, the universal call to salvation is offered to all peoples by Jesus. His word transcends all barriers, it knows no bounds, and its embrace extends beyond time and space. Jesus tells the Samaritan woman: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). 

From the cross once again Jesus will say: “I thirst” (John 19:28). But His thirst is not only a physical thirst; it is the thirst for the salvation of all. Jesus thirsts for the fulfillment of those two great commandments: to love God and to love our neighbor. Jesus thirsts for the child of the womb to be lovingly welcomed into the world. Jesus thirsts for sisters and brothers to come to the aid of the poor; the sick; the elderly; the refugee fleeing persecution, hostility and hatred. Jesus thirsts for the young people of our world to be rescued from violence, addictions, depression and whatever robs them of their dignity as the sons and daughters of God, created in His own image and likeness. Jesus thirsts for peace in a world still at war. Jesus thirsts “that all may be one as you, Father, are in me, and I in you; I pray that they may be one in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (John 17:21). 

In this holy Lenten season, from the cross, Christ thirsts for our love, our attention, our union with Him. Indeed, He has not grown weary of us! In calling us to conversion in his 2024 Lenten Message, Pope Francis again would have us “Keep your eyes fixed on the outstretched arms of Christ crucified, let yourself be saved over and over again. And when you go to confess your sins, believe firmly in his mercy which frees you of your guilt” (Pope Francis’ 2020 Lenten Message, quoting the Apostolic Exhortation Christus Vivit, no. 123). 

As the time since the Christmas season passed so quickly, so too can these days of Lent without having any significant impact upon our lives. Perhaps we need to reflect upon our experience of the past Lenten season and review what we had hoped to accomplish but did not. We need to have concrete goals, which are not so difficult to measure or identify. Attendance at daily Mass remains the first and best way to enrich our relationship with the Lord. At the chapel of our Diocesan Pastoral Center, Holy Mass is offered each day, Monday through Friday at 12:15 p.m., and is available to the faithful of the diocese. 

When we have sinned, restoring our relationship with the Lord through the Sacrament of Reconciliation brings healing, solace and helps us to be a forgiving people in imitation of Jesus. As we daily witness the rise of anger, division, cruelty and discord in our society, the virtue of reconciliation, forgiveness, needs to be cultivated, beginning with each person recognizing his or her own personal faults: “Why look at the speck in your brother’s eye when you miss the plank in your own” (Matthew 7:3). Again, from the cross, Jesus thirsts for the forgiveness offered by human beings: “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). 

Reconciliation is the path to charity, which opens our hearts to our brothers and sisters in need, the poor and the abandoned. “Love of God and love of neighbor are one love. … In the presence of God, we become brothers and sisters, more sensitive to one another: in place of threats and enemies, we discover companions and fellow travelers” (Pope Francis, 2024 Lenten Message). 

Praying the Stations of the Cross so powerfully reminds us of Christ’s intense love for us that He would endure such suffering on that via crucis. His path to Calvary encourages us in our own struggles as we know Christ understands these sufferings, becoming our Simon of Cyrene and shouldering our crosses freely and lovingly. 

Now at this point you may be saying to yourself, “Well, none of this is new.” No, it is not new, but it sometimes seems that these basic elements, essentials of the Christian life, have been forgotten, neglected and cast aside. Sadly, Mass attendance has declined, the Sacrament of Reconciliation does not hold the place of prominence it should have as a sacrament instituted by Christ who never grows weary of picking us up and allowing us to begin again. Knowing the peace of Christ through this Sacrament of Reconciliation is an antidote to sadness, which has greatly increased in our society as so many feel alone and isolated and do not know how much Christ thirsts for them. 

I pray that Lent truly will be a real time of growth that strengthens our relationships with the Lord, Who ultimately is the source of our peace and hope. “At this moment in time, we face enormous risks; we hear the painful plea of so many people. Indeed we are experiencing a third world war fought piecemeal. Yet let us find the courage to see our world, not as being in its death throes but in a great new chapter of history” (Pope Francis, 2024 Lenten Message, quoting Address to University Students, Aug. 3, 2023). 

I thirst! May this holy season of Lent bring us to the joy of Easter and may you unite your heart to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and hear His words spoken to His apostles on that first Easter Sunday evening: “Peace be with you” (John 20:19-20). 

United with you in prayer as we contemplate the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and humbly requesting a memento in your prayers, I remain 

Devotedly yours in Christ,  

The Most Reverend 

Salvatore R. Matano 

Bishop of Rochester 

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