“My soul is thirsting for you, O God, thirsting for you, my God,” was the poignant refrain to Responsorial Psalm 63 sung at the funeral of Our Lady of the Valley teacher, Judi Hobbs, several weeks ago. Judi was a 58 year old new grandmother whom I have known for about thirty years. I first met Judi at a church exercise class and can remember two important conversations we shared so many years ago: the day she excitedly told me about her new teaching position at Our Lady of the Valley School and the day she shared that she was pregnant with her first child, Holli. On the day of her funeral I found myself remembering those special moments of joy that we had shared.
I reconnected with Judi when I became the pastoral minister at Our Lady of the Valley in 2005. Judi had been at the school for thirteen years and was still a devoted, enthusiastic teacher, involved in a variety of activities. She tended to stay away from the spotlight, always working behind the scenes with humility and generosity. Over the ten years I ministered at OLV, I witnessed how she gave wholeheartedly of herself to her students, her colleagues, her family, her church, and her friends. About a year ago her first grandchild was born, Tilli. Judi was diagnosed with lymphoma last November, and her immune system couldn’t fight off a virulent infection in December. She died in January, shocking and grieving everyone who loved her. It seemed her gentle light was extinguished in such a very short time.
At her funeral the church was filled beyond capacity with OLV children and their parents; many of her former students, now adults themselves with their own children; her family and friends; school faculty and administrators; several priests and deacons, Bishop Baker. The children of her fourth grade class led the singing. The music was taken from the weekly children’s liturgy, music filled with happy Alleluias and simple heartwarming songs. With broken hearts and tears, we were singing the wonder and praise of children, thanking God for the gift of Judi, praying for her resurrection in Christ, and asking for consolation and hope for her husband, John, her daughters, Holli and Kelsi, and her beloved grandchild, Tilli. Hers was a life filled to overflowing with God’s goodness, like a cup running over, like a fountain flowing.
“My soul is thirsting for you, O God, thirsting for you, my God.”
When the season of Lent began a few short weeks later, I reflected on chapter 4 of Saint Benedict’s Rule, “Remember to keep death before your eyes daily” (4.47) and chapter 49, “Look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing” (49.7) through the lens of Judi’s life and death.
Every human soul thirsts for God, longing for love, truth, and goodness. During Lent we Christians are invited to get in touch with that deep inner longing and desire, that deep thirst for meaning, that is with us every day and every season of life. Not only during Lent but every day, Benedict encourages us to view our lives through the perspective of death so that we can discern between what doesn’t matter in life and what matters most.
In one of the Lenten Gospel readings from John, Jesus and the Samaritan woman converse about the living waters of the Spirit. Jesus progressively leads her to discover the bottomless well of goodness available to her. Although it was he who first asked her for a drink, it is she who is thirsty for God. And for the first time in her life, she recognizes it. This recognition fills her with an experience of abundance, an abundance of love. Her thirst is transformed into a “spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Later in John’s Gospel, as Jesus dies on the cross, he cries out for God, “I thirst” (John 19:12). In his humanity, like all of us, Jesus thirsts for God. In his divinity, Jesus thirsts for us. He thirsts for our love, our well-being, our friendship, our wholeness, and our eternal glory.
In my pastoral ministry, I can see the human thirst for God in the lives of so many of my parishioners, who, like Judi Hobbs, offer their lives in service, beauty, and goodness to God. They, as Benedict instructs us, view life through the lens of the paschal mystery, and pattern their lives accordingly.
In these days ahead, as COVID-19 disrupts our normalcy and enters as a silent threat into every aspect of our daily lives, let us thirst ever more deeply for the God who loves us. Let us discern between what doesn’t matter in life and what matters most. As death confronts us, let us choose life and live that life nobly. Let us pray for those infected and all who suffer because of this pandemic in their thirst for healing. Let us pray for those providing medical care, in their thirst for proper protection and adequate resources. Let us pray for those who live in anxiety and loneliness, in their thirst for comfort and companionship. Let us pray for those in authority in their thirst for wisdom and the common good. Let us pray for immigrants and refugees in their thirst for a home and safety. Let us pray for those who grieve the death of loved ones, in their thirst for comfort and hope. Let us pray for ourselves and for all who thirst for a rebirth of Easter in their lives with joy and spiritual longing.
By Sister Madeline Contorno, OSB