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Water represents purification, life in Christ

‘He is a fountain, not only of living water but of eternal life’

All life depends on water.

We all need it for health and wellness. Our cells, organs and tissues need water to regulate our temperature and maintain bodily functions. Without it, we suffer dehydration. We cleanse our wounds with water. It serves us in recreation. Our ecosystems cannot survive without water.

Water also has spiritual significance. Water is used in Baptism. We’re reminded of the spiritual cleansing role of water every time we make a sign of the cross with holy water upon entering a church and any time we are blessed with holy water.

References to water are found often in Scripture and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It’s a sign of new birth, that we are born into the Divine life given to us in the Holy Spirit, referred to as the “living water welling up from Christ crucified,” and leading us to eternal life. It purifies us, providing regeneration and renewal.

Fountains of water

Spiritual writers refer to Jesus as “the fountain of life.”

At a recent blessing of a fountain at the Vision of Peace Hermitage in Pevely, Msgr. Ed Griesedieck quoted from the Liturgy of the Hours an instruction from St. Columban that referred to fountains of water as a metaphor:

“You quench your soul’s thirst with drafts of the divine fountain. … Revive yourself, but do not extinguish your thirst. Drink, I say, but do not entirely quench your thirst, for the fountain of life, the fountain of love calls us to Him and says: Whoever thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”

St. Coumban wants people to know that “the Lord Himself, our God Jesus Christ, is the fountain of life, and accordingly He invites us to Himself as to a fountain, that we may drink. Whoever loves Him, drinks Him; He drinks who is filled with the Word of God, He drinks who loves Him fully and really desires Him. He drinks who is on fire with the love of wisdom.”

Msgr. Griesedieck, who is chaplain at the hermitage and has long been associated with the Catholic Renewal Center, is fond of St. Columban’s reference to a need to “always long for and seek and love the Word of God on high, the fountain of wisdom. According to the Apostle’s words all the hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Him, and He calls the thirsty to drink.”

St. Columban pulls no punches in urging people to seek God in their lives: “If you thirst, drink of the fountain of life; if you are hungry, eat the bread of life. Blessed are they who hunger for this bread and thirst for this fountain, for in so doing they will desire even more to eat and drink.”

‘Rivers of Living Water’

Msgr. Griesedieck mentioned what Jesus said in the Gospel of John: “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture says: ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him’” (John 7: 37-38).

Another instruction excerpt from St. Columban highlighted by Msgr. Griesedieck states that “He is the fountain, not only of living water, but of eternal life.”

Msgr. Griesedieck said that the Mississippi River was named the “River of the Holy Spirit” in 1542 by the Spanish. He said that “We are called to come together to let the River of God cleanse us of our divisions, our brokenness. We are being called to forgive each other, to be reconciled, to repent and be healed so we can be a source of healing in our nation.”

By flowing together as one, he added, we resemble Jesus.

Source of undying life

Pope Francis, for the World Day of Creation Sept. 1, 2018, wrote that “for us Christians, water represents an essential element of purification and of life. We think immediately of baptism, the sacrament of our rebirth. Water made holy by the Spirit is the matter by which God has given us life and renewed us; it is the blessed source of undying life. For Christians of different confessions, baptism also represents the real and irreplaceable point of departure for experiencing an ever more authentic fraternity on the way to full unity.”

Pope Francis reveals other ways the Gospel highlights water as a symbol.

• Jesus, in the course of His mission, promised a water capable of quenching human thirst forever (John 4:14).

• He prophesied, “If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink (John 7:37).

• To drink from Jesus means to encounter Him personally as the Lord, drawing from His words the meaning of life. May the words He spoke from the cross — “I thirst” (John 19:28) — echo constantly in our hearts.

• The Lord continues to ask that His thirst be quenched; He thirsts for love. He asks us to give Him to drink in all those who thirst in our own day, and to say to them, “I was thirsty and you gave me to drink” (Matthew 25:35). To give to drink, in the global village, does not only entail personal gestures of charity, but also concrete choices and a constant commitment to ensure to all the primary good of water.

Purifying role

In the Old Testament, Hebrews 10:22, describes the purifying role of water. “Let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that sacramentals are instituted for the sanctification of certain ministries of the Church, certain states of life, a great variety of circumstances in Christian life, and the use of many things helpful to man. They always include a prayer, often accompanied by a specific sign, such as the laying on of hands, the sign of the cross, or the sprinkling of holy water which recalls Baptism (CCC, 1668).The repentance of sin symbolized in the washing with water is reflected in Psalm 51: 4 and 9, “Thoroughly wash away my guilt; and from my sin cleanse me. Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” Also, St. John the Baptizer called all to conversion using a ritual washing of water to signify the repentance of sin and purification.

Vision of Peace Hermitage

A fountain featured at Vision of Peace Hermitage in Pevely recently was blessed by Bishop Robert J. Hermann, retired auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese.

Fountains also are found at other Catholic sites, often in conjunction with religious statues and in a peaceful setting. Another recently installed fountain is at Mercy Hospital Plaza in Creve Coeur, donated in recognition of Mercy’s Fertility Care Services. The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis has a fountain. Saint Louis University has fountains on campus, including at the base of the clock tower. And across the river, there’s fountains at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Ill.

Vision of Peace Hermitage is affiliated with the Archdiocese of St. Louis through the Catholic Renewal Office. Vision of Peace offers days of recollection, guided and silent retreats, spiritual direction, sacraments, daily Eucharist and chaplains available for reconciliation and spiritual direction. It offers a quiet setting, surrounded by nature, a place of peace, serenity and natural beauty.

A house of prayer with private, studio-style apartments, built into the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River, it serves people as a place to be still and listen for the voice of God in their lives. On site are the Monsignor William J. Lyons’ Spirituality Center and St. Benedict’s Chapel.

To tour the grounds, call or text (636) 475-3697 to schedule an appointment with the director or let the caretaker know you are visiting the property. For more information about the hermitage, visit vophermitages.org.

>> What about water?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that water signifies the Holy Spirit’s action in Baptism, “since after the invocation of the Holy Spirit it becomes the efficacious sacramental sign of new birth: just as the gestation of our first birth took place in water, so the water of Baptism truly signifies that our birth into the divine life is given to us in the Holy Spirit. As ‘by one Spirit we were all baptized,’ so we are also ‘made to drink of one Spirit.’ Thus the Spirit is also personally the living water welling up from Christ crucified as its source and welling up in us to eternal life” (CCC, 694).

The Catechism also states that immersion in water symbolizes not only death and purification, but also regeneration and renewal (CCC 1262).

Access to water called a universal human right

Pope Francis: Water is crucial to human survival


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Pope Francis’ message for the 2018 World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation focused on water as a precious resource and described access to it as a human right.

Water, Pope Francis wrote, invites us to reflect on our origins. The human body, he noted, is mostly composed of water, and many civilizations throughout history arose near great rivers that marked their identity.

“It is a very simple and precious element, yet access to it is, sadly, for many people difficult if not impossible,” he said, calling water a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights.

He cited the need to thank God for water and pointed to his encyclical “Laudato Si’ (On Care for the Earth),” in which he stated that access to water is a human right and care for it is an urgent imperative. “It must be acknowledged that we have not succeeded in responsibly protecting creation,” Pope Francis wrote. “The environmental situation, both on the global level and in many specific places, cannot be considered satisfactory. Rightly, there is a growing sense of the need for a renewed and sound relationship between humanity and creation, and the conviction that only an authentic and integral vision of humanity will permit us to take better care of our planet for the benefit of present and future generations.”

He added that there’s a duty to “thank the Creator for the impressive and marvellous gift of the great waters and all that they contain (Genesis 1:20-21; Psalm 146:6), and to praise Him for covering the earth with the oceans (Psalm 104:6). To ponder the immense open seas and their incessant movement can also represent an opportunity to turn our thoughts to God, who constantly accompanies his creation, guiding its course and sustaining its existence” (St. John Paul II, Catechesis of 7 May 1986).

Constant care for “this inestimable treasure represents today an ineluctable duty and a genuine challenge,” Pope Francis stated. “There is need for an effective cooperation between men and women of good will in assisting the ongoing work of the Creator.”

He explained the need to prevent seas and oceans from being littered by endless fields of floating plastic.

“Let us pray that waters may not be a sign of separation between peoples, but of encounter for the human community,” he wrote, adding the need to remember, too, all those who work to protect maritime areas and to safeguard the oceans and their biodiversity, that they may carry out this task with responsibility and integrity.

Pope Francis showed concern for the younger generation and asked for prayers for them, “that they may grow in knowledge and respect for our common home and in the desire to care for the essential good of water, for the benefit of all. It is my prayerful hope that Christian communities may contribute more and more concretely helping everyone to enjoy this indispensable resource, in respectful care for the gifts received from the Creator, and in particular rivers, seas and oceans.”

Photo Credits: Illustration by Abigail Witte

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