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‘Give me souls, take away the rest’

Today's Gospel account is indeed well-known and very familiar. Indeed the truth which the Lord Jesus wishes us to learn and even to re-learn is timeless and needs to be repeated often and to be re-learned more deeply. The Lord Jesus does identify Himself with every person who is in need. So, in responding to the specific need of an individual, regardless of who he or she is, we are, in fact, ministering to Jesus Himself. "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me." Therefore, the opposite is also true. When we ignore or neglect or remain indifferent to the need of an individual, we are, in fact, ignoring or neglecting or remaining indifferent to Jesus Himself. "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me."

Moreover, in teaching us this truth, Jesus is also broadening the concept of neighbor, which in His time, was mainly limited to those of the Chosen People. That was the concept in today's first reading, which surely outlined practical ways in which to love one's neighbor. Jesus is giving a new and broader meaning: "You minister to me when you respond to the need of any person, regardless of his or her status." Is there something more which the Lord may be desiring to teach us this day as this familiar parable is proclaimed in our hearing? Let me reflect further with you.

Surely, He desires that those who are already His ordained priests and those who are discerning a call to priestly life and ministry would grow in being ever more sensitive to each person and situation wherein Jesus is asking us to make His love present. He desires that the love which flows from His Heart into each of ours then pass beyond us to the heart of each person in need, whether that need be spiritual, emotional, or material. It is never easy to love the way Christ loves us. So, we must pray that we become so transformed by His grace that we will indeed love others in the way He loves us. We must come to understand how He loves us - the depth of His love, the persevering nature of His love! Only when we come to realize how the Lord truly loves us can we then love others as He desires.

One further reflection. "When I was thirsty, you gave me to drink." The thirst of Jesus was not only for water. Indeed, it was when He met the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well after having journeyed through the heat. Indeed, it was as He hung on the Cross, with His human strength continually ebbing, because of the earlier agony in the garden, the scourging, the crowning with thorns, the forced march up the hill of Calvary, the cruel nailing to the Cross and now His hanging there, suspended between heaven and earth.

But, His thirst was far deeper. His thirst was for souls, His Heart thirsted to give saving love to those who so desperately were thirsty for the life-giving water of salvation. The thirst of Christ's Heart is a thirst to give love.

His thirst continues so He raises up men to quench His thirst by acting in His person as His priests. Dear brothers, see in priestly life and ministry a very practical way to respond to the thirst of Christ. In a very real and deep sense, we give Christ to drink when we allow Him to use us as the channels of His saving love to others, when we let Him use our eyes, our ears, our words, our actions, our hearts, our very beings, to be the channels of His love.

So, we pray, do we not, to become more rooted in the truth that in responding to the need of another, we, in fact, minister to Jesus, and even more, in being His priests, we slake His thirst. No wonder Saint John Bosco made these words his priestly motto. "Give me souls, take the rest." And so did Cardinal Merry de Val. I conclude with this prayer from my heart - and, if I can be so bold, from each of yours: "Sacred Heart of Jesus, thirsty for souls, make my heart more like yours."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2012