Woman as Gift
Marijane Camilleri


An encounter with Jesus at Jacob's Well (John 4:1-42)

Our Holy Father, John Paul II, has often and eloquently spoken of the human person as "gift." In so doing, he has promoted not only an evangelical key for understanding the human person as such, but in a special way, he has deepened the understanding of what it means to be a woman.

With this key in mind, let us set out for Jacob's Well, for we have heard a certain Samaritan woman proclaim what angels before her heralded - "Come see! Emmanuel, our Messiah, is given to us! Gloria in excelsis!"

"Give me to drink"

"If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, 'Give me to drink,' you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."

The reading, of course, is from John, the beloved disciple.

John reports that Jesus "had to pass through Samaria" to arrive at Jacob's Well. There is nothing accidental about Jesus' detour through Samaria. He is on a mission. He has something to deliver, and he knows to whom. And so he determines to cross the abyss to reach this poor sinner, this Samaritan woman, coarse and unremarkable, yet whose conversion is told until today, and will ever be told.

Jesus arrives exactly, and unexpectedly, to where this "woman of Samaria came to draw water." All of the elements of a great gift are present - encounter, surprise, joy, satisfaction, wonder, transformation... love. She came that day to take. But Jesus will ask her to give, that she might receive something from him.

"Give me to drink." With that simple command, Jesus achieves a stunning inversion of giver and receiver. But what does Jesus really want from this woman? Have you ever noticed that it is never recounted that Jesus actually drank from this Well? We don't know if he did. It is not Gospel. But his intense thirst is Gospel, as is his prayer to this most implausible convert - "Give me to drink!"

"Give!" Jesus' call to give - to be "gift" - is woven into the fabric of this scene in splendid contrast to the woman's dull self-centeredness. Imagine the Samaritan woman. Initially, to her this man is just a Jew, albeit provocative and strangely appealing. But then she will be moved to testify, "Sir, I can see that you are a prophet." Finally she will wonder whether he is the One who is to come, the Messiah, the Anointed - the One her people wait for. Wow! Her routine becomes charged with sudden and terrible dynamism. She, at the Well, is on the precipice of faith, and on the edge of that vertigo she feels prodded by something deeply mysterious - a latent thirst within her, made insupportable now by the proximity of Jesus, the source of living water. There is something unbearably promising about this encounter. There is a gift to be exchanged.

I am writing this at Christmas, in the season of gift-giving, and what better moment to consider this promise of and request for a "gift" at Jacob's Well.

Jesus has come to exchange gifts with us there, and what ought we to do but stop everything - set the jug down - to contemplate the generosity, sensitivity and sheer wonder of his offering, the exceeding beauty of its wrapping, the mystery and joyful anticipation of its content - a truly original gift which ever draws, ever surprises, ever satisfies, ever elicits and ever expands so as to encompass and interpret every other gift. How should we respond? Jesus asks this woman to be return gift to him.

Lest our own coarseness cause us to miss the moment of such a delicate exchange, let us contemplate the dynamic and exquisite unobtrusiveness of Jesus' gift. But let us first set forth the general terms of ordinary gift-giving. We know them well, and 'tis the season. What makes a gift, a "gift"?


The notion of gift-giving

First of all, every gift needs a giver. In fact, one doesn't really need a material gift at all apart from the giver. Anyone who has received a plucked dandelion from a child knows a true gift has been given, and a precious one. Why? Because a gift is an expression of an exchange deeper than the material symbol. The person is given in the gift. That's why a dandelion will do. That's why a mother will press that dandelion in a book, or why a woman will press a rose. A gift interiorly has an interpersonal structure.

Now, this interpersonal structure belongs essentially to gift-giving because gift-giving is an expression of love. Love is the most fundamental term of gift-giving. And because a gift is an expression of love, there will be a totality about it, a forever. Totality is another of our terms because love is not a half-measure. Love is an over-abundance, an outpouring. A gift is something the giver does not return the next day to take back. A gift is totally and forever given.

But what if a gift-giver extends a gift to someone, and that person rejects it or denigrates it? Has a gift been given? Is the giver's intent enough? Or suppose that same someone insists on having the receipt and then pays the bill for the gift. The giver would be injured to realize that the gift, as such, had not been received, but was rather caricatured and cancelled. The generosity of the giver, mocked; the gesture of friendship, sabotaged. The gift has been damaged.

Every gift needs a receiver. Loving reception is yet another essential of gift-giving. Without it, gift-giving fails because love is not a unilateral event. It is unconditional, but it is not unilateral. It is interpersonal.

We already have most of our terms - giver, receiver, and the totality of love. What else can we say?... Well, everyone knows that love cannot be bought or manipulated. This is axiomatic. Love is gratuitous. This is our next term. A gift must be gratuitous. It is not something owed or obliged or manipulated, but is freely given. Once given, a gift may create an obligation - these are the obligations of love. But a gift is rooted in freedom. Otherwise, it is not really a gift. Where manipulation has tainted the dynamic, we don't have a receiver, but rather a taker, a consumer, and the gift will be marked by greed, self-interest, and injury.

The giver too can damage his own gesture of giving. Suppose he puts a condition on the gift - even an unspoken one - "Now that I've given this gift, you must give me your exclusive attention." There is something wrong again. A gift has not been given. We have a usurper, not a giver - one who would dominate. The exchange has been forced or conditioned such as to diminish the freedom of the receiver this time. In a true gift, gratuity is a term which also applies to receiving. The freedom of the gift - that it be both given and received in freedom - is what preserves the integrity of both the giver and the receiver in the exchange that is true love.

There are many ways the freedom and the integrity of a gift can be compromised, either in the giving or in the receiving. There is a risk lurking on both sides of the gift - a risk of rejection and a risk of manipulation. The giver or the receiver can be wounded in the act. Gift-giving can be hazardous... But still, everyone loves a good gift! It is universal, and that should tell us something about the centrality of this reality to the human person.

A final thing must be said about gifts. A gift elicits surprise and gratitude because it is something unmerited. And with that gratitude comes, at least implicitly, a return gift of self. A gift well received does not end in the receiver, but rather is received with a gratitude which allows the gift to bear fruit in the receiver. And this fruit is then something the receiver can present back to the giver as the giver's own gift immeasurably enriched, made entirely new - a fruit which is also itself original and surprising. The sign of a good gift, and of one well received - the sign which the giver awaits because it expresses satisfaction and the promise of fruit - is the smile which makes a gift finally perfect - the smile on the face of the receiver for which the giver would give a thousand times over. Giver and receiver share this joy and gratitude. The gift has achieved perfect integration.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, a 20th century Swiss theologian, has said that the smile of a mother awakens her infant to the infant's own being as gift. A mother awaits and rejoices at the sight of the child's first return smile - perhaps the most sublime thing of beauty this side of heaven - the infant's first response in love, first return gift of self to the mother. The infant is reborn in that moment as a being who loves, a being who has begun to live as gift.

So, "gift" is an interpretive key which points to love - a love which means the free and total gift of self - the gift of persons to each other. Vatican II teaches that "[M]an can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself." Love means that the giver must give not only what he possesses, but he must commend his very self to the receiver, because love is not satisfied in giving much, or even all, if the self is withheld. Everything about us - our beginning and what brings us most happiness, what satisfies the longing of our hearts - points to this. By nature, we are already radically disposed to realize ourselves as gifts, because by nature we do not ever belong only to ourselves. We are given into this world. We belonged first to another, who gives us into the world. And we remain always beings interpersonally related, radically determined - by God first, then by our parents, family, social circumstances and so on. We are beings, then, who from the start belong to each other, and who are made for each other - gifts! This reality is recuperated in the mature freedom of adulthood as the conscious choice of love. This is the drama of existence as gift. It is the drama which is unfolded at Jacob's Well.


Gift-giving as image of God

Existence as gift is the drama of love, and the drama of love is the image and likeness of God. Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote that love is "the genius and god of gifts." Surely this is so. Jesus, Who is Love incarnate, is surely "genius and god of gifts." Giver and Receiver converge in him.

Firstly, he receives everything he is from the Father. He is Word of the Father. He has no other personality apart from his being the Father's Word. He does not belong to himself, though he is perfectly self-possessed. He is entirely "determined" by the Word of Another, the Father's Word, though he is perfectly free. He is "dependent" on the Father's Word for his identity - He is the Word of the Father - though he is all-powerful. He proclaims that he cannot utter one syllable, or perform one gesture, which does not come from the Father. He is perfect Receiver in his relation to the Father, what we profess as his eternal "generation"- Jesus, Eternally Begotten of the Father. Being receiver, then, is a perfection in God. God is not only Giver, God is also Receiver, because God is Love. And all of creation is receiver in the Son. The whole cosmos receives its being within the eternal gift-giving of the Father to the Son, Receiver of the Father's gift.

And then, in the economy of Redemption, when the Word becomes incarnate and Jesus carries out in history his saving mission of love, Jesus is Eucharist - the sacrament of self-gift. He proclaims, "This is my Body, given, broken and distributed for the life of the world!" He is perfect Giver in relation to humanity. What the Father has given him, he gives for the life of the world. All of creation is redeemed by his outpoured body and blood. He is Giver of the gift of God. And having redeemed all of creation, he receives it back into his heart, makes it fruitful in himself, and returns all to the Father as something altogether new and original - a new creation in Christ. He becomes now perfect Giver again in this return to the Father, and the Father now perfect Receiver. So giving and receiving are joined simultaneously in God as one integral eternal act of Love.

Every moment of authentic gift-giving intimates this divine Love, this divine giving and receiving, and partakes in its hidden power and eternal promise. Every authentic gift continues and extends that divine generosity which alone explains creation and redemption. Every true gift of self realizes the human person as image and likeness of God, "genius of gifts."


The human person as gift and the receptive dimension

I wonder how often we think of ourselves and others as gifts - gifts received and gifts given. Original sin marks the human person with a tendency to resist being gift. It is the original protest, "I will not serve! I will not be gift!" We would prefer - and our culture encourages this preference - to be radically "self-determined" and "free," but we misapprehend both of these terms because we separate them from the full truth of the person's deepest existence as gift, as a being made for and determined not by self, but by another. With the failure to grasp this, and with the habits of mind and heart to which such a failure gives rise, is joined inevitably the sense of emptiness, unhappiness and frustration that is so well attested in our society. Our culture promises a happiness which is not grounded in the full truth about the human person, and so it can never deliver on its promises. It can never deliver satisfaction. Satisfaction not guaranteed!

Consider what we have just said about reception being a necessary part of gift-giving, and even a perfection in God. But we often associate what is receptive with what is weak - not gift, but burden. Children, the poor, the elderly, the infirm, the handicapped, and the infant in the womb, are "receivers" - those who depend in vital ways on another's decision to live with and for them. And as a society, we are having more and more trouble appreciating and protecting them, and esteeming them precisely as receivers - acknowledging their indispensable part in the very possibility of discovering and realizing ourselves as gift. They elicit and complete our own self-realization as gift, yet we are apt to feel ourselves benefactors towards them - those whose concern is a matter of our elective good will, perhaps, but not a matter of essential necessity to our own deepest self-realization.

We give them much, even all, but too often withhold the self in the gift.


Woman as gift and the encounter with Jesus at the Well

The woman too bears the sign of receptivity in her body - she receives in her body the seed of the man - and this sign points to a deeper reality about the "feminine spirit"- the distinctively feminine way of being gift. Yet this feminine distinction is for the present culture, by and large, an indication of weakness, of passivity, something which threatens "freedom" and "independence," something to be overcome or controlled, often by claiming "rights" or technological mastery over exactly that which would specify the totality of existence as gift. "My Body!" "My Freedom of Choice!" "My Right!" Can you hear the dissonance in the mantra? Compare it to the glorious harmony of "This is my Body" achieved at the moment of Eucharistic consecration.

This brings us to the critical turn which Jesus evokes at the Well. "If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, 'Give me to drink,' you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.'"

Jesus calls the Samaritan woman not only to give, but to receive - to ask him for his gift. He calls the woman to the receptive dimension of the gift - to be gift specifically and firstly as receiver.

He recognizes a likeness to himself in her - an image of himself as the Father's Word, the Father's Only Begotten - the One who receives everything from the Father. He addresses the woman precisely in her identity as woman, as one bearing the explicit sign of receptivity.

"Jesus said to her, 'Believe me, woman, the hour is coming..." In addressing her this way, he calls her to the full stature and dignity of womanhood, which he affirms and links to the receptive dimension of being gift. So too he commissions her to witness to this spirit of reception in a world inclined, because of sin, to resist receiving the gift of God.

The woman is innately and uniquely prepared for this mission of witnessing. She has something advantageous for it, for she was made from Adam's rib - she was drawn from Adam's heart (Gn 2:18-23). The biblical account of the woman's origin expresses metaphorically not only her equal dignity with the man - "flesh of his flesh" - but also it expresses a specifically, providentially designed, feminine aptitude for receiving the gift of love from another, the gift of another's heart, and for making a return gift of self - that is, for eliciting and completing the mutual exchange of self-gifts that is love. Jesus knows that the woman especially can help him to re-establish the primacy of love in the fallen world - and this is the whole point of salvation-history - because all authentic love must be received into this world from love's one source, his own Heart, and the woman is precisely "the one who receives love in order to love in return."

This feminine talent, or "feminine ethos" as the Holy Father has called it, is linked to and expressed by the woman's potential for motherhood, both physical and especially spiritual motherhood, by which this maternal potential is extended universally to "all the interpersonal relationships which... shape society."

"Motherhood," the Holy Father has recognized, "involves a special communion with the mystery of life."

The "unique contact with the new human being developing within [a woman's womb fosters] an attitude toward [all] human beings[,] not only toward her own child, but every human being, [and this] profoundly marks the woman's personality. A mother [physical or spiritual] welcomes and carries in herself another human being, enabling it to grow inside her, giving it room, respecting it in its otherness. [The woman is the first to learn]... that human relations are authentic if they are open to accepting the other person... because of the dignity which comes from being a person and not from other considerations, such as usefulness, strength, intelligence, beauty or health."

The woman can then teach this to others. "This is the fundamental contribution which the Church and humanity expect from women. And it is the indispensable prerequisite for an authentic cultural change."

Marriage, the family, the parish, the community, the classroom, the workplace, politics, and the culture and world at large, await this humanizing and personalizing influence of the feminine spirit.

We should not think that this feminine spirit of receiving belongs exclusively to women, since Jesus extends the gift of God, the living water, to all, to men no less than women. All are called to the receptive dimension of God's gift, and before God we are all children, poor, elderly, infirm, handicapped and the infant in the womb.

But the encounter at the Well reveals Jesus' understanding of the woman, precisely in her femininity, as a special privileged sign of the receptive dimension of the gift. And this privilege implies the commission to a special witness. The woman is called to awaken in the man the same sense of responsibility for the gift of person entrusted to him - to awaken him to fatherhood, especially spiritual fatherhood, and so make it possible for the man to realize his own masculine potential and deepest meaning as gift, and to share the mission of witnessing.

Without the woman, the man risks never becoming gift. Adam had neither understood nor realized the gift nature of his being before his encounter with Eve. Eve taught Adam to be gift. She alone was able to lead him to this self-realizing and life-giving discovery. This is why the woman is said to be the man's "helper." The feminine spirit of reception was providentially ordained from "the beginning" to awaken the human potential for existence as gift. The man and woman, to be sure, are mutually dependent on each other for this self-realization, but in the order of creation, the logic of self-gift, the logic of love, "takes first root" in the woman, and so she is the privileged sign of it and the bearer of a privileged mission to the man and to the world.

Jesus' request at the Well and his poverty of means in obtaining his own drink of water bespeaks even his "dependence" on the feminine spirit of reception. Reception is necessary to the gift of self which God himself makes. Without reception, even the divine gift of self "fails." The gift requires a receiver.

"Sir," the woman says, "you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep."

Jesus' gift to this individual depends on her receiving him in a way which gives birth to the communion of persons. Because of this "dependence," Jesus makes of the Samaritan woman his "benefactor." His perfect giving intends and protects her freedom as receiver of his gift. He does not usurp the Samaritan woman's receptive welcome - nor ours. Jesus' perfect love protects the freedom of the gift. There is no will to dominance in him - a will which characterizes the fallen state of human nature, mars so much of human relation and makes a sacrilege of gift-giving.

The freedom of the gift - which includes the freedom to receive, or reject, the gift of Jesus - means that Jesus can be wounded - not in his subsistent divinity - He is God - but in his existence as gift to humanity, as lover of humanity. God can be "'offended' - obviously offended - in the very heart of that gift which belongs to God's eternal plan for man." What is the Cross if not the risk of his self-offering brought to completion? Jesus' gift makes him vulnerable and exposes him to suffering - a suffering to which he was predisposed as the possible outcome of his self-gift.

Existence as gift means one is willing to embrace suffering, when suffering is the countenance of Love. The chalice of love is a cup both of life and of death. And one could fairly suggest that the woman, in virtue of the feminine spirit, in virtue of the special care she has for the human person entrusted to her in love, is characteristically disposed to suffer in a way and to a degree not common among men. It was by and large women who were to be found at the foot of the Cross, abandoned to suffering with and for Jesus. Because of this feminine sensitivity - which, by the way, is found also in John, the apostle who is first to receive Mary "into his home," to be "feminized" in spirit in the sense in which we have been reflecting - a woman will be chosen to announce the Resurrection - to be Apostle to the apostles.

A receiving spirit is a vulnerable spirit, but not a weak one, for it is the spirit of Jesus himself, the Word Made Flesh, in his relation to the Father, and in his patient expectation at Jacob's Well. Jesus achieves by it a magnitude and strength of personality which will never find even close approximation in the annals of history.


Mary, model of self-gift

But there is one other in history who, analogously and by grace, attains so high a degree of "personality" and universal efficacy as to compel mention here. "Behold the handmaid of the Lord" (Lk 1:38). She is humanity's "solitary boast," as Protestant John Milton acclaimed her. All of her being is summed in her identity as "handmaid," an echo of Jesus' "I am the Word of the Father."

Her identity as handmaid is her fiat, her total gift of self, her feminine response to the gift of God. By it she pledges, with and in Christ, a life of total service - "the royal dignity of service," which is inseparable from the mission to love of every person. It is the measure of union with God.

"Be it done unto me according to thy word." Because she is perfect handmaid - one who is perfectly determined by another, the Lord - she receives the gift which makes her the infinitely fruitful Mother of the Word Made Flesh. She becomes the Mother of God, and in her is inaugurated the new and definitive Covenant of God with his people, sealed in the redeeming blood of her Son. "The Covenant begins with a woman, the 'woman' of the Annunciation at Nazareth."

Mary, like Jesus, receives perfectly without possessing - with no taint of greed or self-interest. As Mother, she reserves nothing to herself, but mediates the graces of her Son to all the sons and daughters of the Father in Christ. She, like her Son who is God, has no sense of ownership. She does not cling even to her Son, her own center of being, or to the graces he entrusts to her, but instead acquiesces totally and at every moment in his mission of self-gift for the life of the world. She continues his generous loving. Everything she receives, she gives, including her Son.

It is only fitting that the season of gift-giving be adorned with images of our Lady and the Christ-child. Every wrapped box under the Christmas tree should take us to the manger - or to the Well - or else it is unconvincing, even pretentious.

There is something so typical in the traditional manger scene that it could easily escape comment. I refer to the fact that Mary is not likely to be holding Jesus. She has laid him in the manger, and he, from his first incarnate breath, is about the business of becoming spiritual food for the world. Jesus and Mary are not locked in a kind of closed circle of divine purity and love, though indeed, she, herself the Immaculate Conception, bows before Infinite Innocence and Grace. Indeed too, their mutual love is perfect love - and perfectly human love, not in the least void of emotional content. Yet she and he open out to the world, offering their heavenly joy in exchange for its deadly sorrows.

And so we too are invited, maladroit peasants and juggled kings all of us, to come and to behold. Mary and Jesus have received each other, allowed the exchange of self-gifts, but have not possessed each other. What they have received, they give. So it is we celebrate Christmas.


Becoming self-gift

How different we are! We possess intensely, and so risk losing what could make us eternally rich. And we suffer the emptiness of the will to ownership. We have "everything," and nothing satisfies. We are spent in the pursuit of success, intellectual accomplishments, position, or whatever it is by which we attempt to satisfy the God-given thirst of our souls, the impulse toward perfection which we make dark by greed. We are spent in greed, but we are rarely given in love.

We do not live as gift, though we are spent and exhausted just the same. And we are, by and large, entertained, but not happy, and not surprised by joy. We experience the palpable absence of joy, and joy is a hallmark of life in Christ - a life which knows life as gift - like the soul of the infant enlivened by the mother's smile. We adorn ourselves with the things which make us attractive and give the appearance of power, intelligence, superiority, success - but these are by and large a poor exchange for beauty, which is unleashed only as joined to self-gift.

And I do not intend an indictment of our culture alone as one which militates against self-gift. It is the universal condition of fallen man, and much, so much of the world's violence, can be explained by this simple reality and measure - existence as gift. That is the meaning of the babe in the manger, who many years later would again proclaim his indomitable love at Jacob's Well - Behold! Receive the gift of God!

This Christmas season is likely to see J. R. R. Tolkien's trilogy The Lord of the Rings given and received many times over, judging from its evident popularity. And that is a good thing because it is a brilliant work - the story of a soul, really - and apropos to our theme here.

Much could be said about how many of the characters in it embody, with acute nuance and realism, life as total self-gift.

Their nobility and beauty is brought into highest relief by the suffering, sorrow and sacrifice which are the defining moments of love in a fallen universe.

But recall for a moment the impressive character of Gollum. He is a creature also originally endowed with great potential for beauty, but he chooses habitually to succumb to the mortal suggestions of pride.

Ultimately he comes to incarnate the propensity to ownership, dead centered on the ring, and his potential for beauty is virtually extinguished. His heart is consumed by a perversion of mind, and he is reduced to a being almost void of being because void of interpersonal relation, of love - deprived of the integrating power of existence as gift. He can neither receive nor give, but can only steal and own. We should not resist reading ourselves into that character, if only by way of warning.

Tolkien is such profitable reading! In the Silmarillion, the pre-history of the Trilogy, Tolkien distinguishes the various types of beings - including men, whose distinction is mortality. Men, unlike the elves, die. And death is not only their doom, he says, but it is their gift - the envy of the immortal elves and incomprehensible to them.

Mortality is a doom and a gift - this is a great Christian insight!

Death, and all of its intimations, all of life's suffering, is a gift within the mystery of God - incomprehensible, but most certainly ordered to our salvation.

Only a loving God could allow such an antidote to fallen nature's insatiable greed, because death alone impresses us with the futility of all of our lusts to ownership, to domination, to knowledge, to competitive advantage - everything which militates against the gift - not only the lust of the flesh, but the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.

Only sobering death awakens in us an appreciation instead for the beauty of what Tolkien names with pointed precision, "sub-creation" - the generosity proper to the creature, joined in childlike dependence to the generosity of the Creator. So every suffering and "little death" willingly embraced in Christ is a source of life, a gift which teaches us to be gift.

So... perceiving precisely what will restore the Samaritan woman to her potential for existence as gift, Jesus intensifies the provocation.

"Jesus said to her, 'Go call your husband and come back.' The woman answered and said to him, 'I do not have a husband.' Jesus answered her, 'You are right in saying, 'I do not have a husband.' For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true."

As part of his call to love, Jesus must expose the bankruptcy of the woman's lust - of her failure to be gift. "[T]he human heart," John Paul II teaches, "is not so much accused and condemned by Christ... as first of all called." While she is yet a sinner, Jesus calls this woman because he loves her. He has crossed the abyss for her.

There is nothing which can separate us from the love of God. But his gift of living water must be accompanied by her will to be converted, a movement to authenticate the gift of self which her life-style had so profaned. This, after all, is the first gesture of real love which the sinner has to offer.

The Samaritan woman's conversion won't make of her a sustained "success," as we judge success. She does enjoy some initial "success," for "Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified." But soon thereafter, "They said to the woman, 'It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard him ourselves."

"Success" is to be judged according to what will ultimately lead to God - the criterion of love. That is all that the Christian can call success. It is not above all the expert, or the acclaimed, or even the pure, that God employs in the work of his harvest, but rather the believer, in all of her imperfections and woundedness. And the Samaritan woman indeed dares to believe, and to be subjected to the transforming power activated by her own feminine spirit of reception.

"The woman said to him, 'Sir, give me this water." It is the moment of her personal fiat. Her reception of God's gift will not cast off her daily responsibilities. The morrow will carry its own very concrete imperatives.

Tomorrow's high sun will see her at the Well again with her jug. Her life in Christ will be expressed in forms of everyday life. But the significance and potential of the daily rounds, not the routine itself, will have been radically transformed by and in Christ.

Every day henceforth will speak parables of God - daily images of God's love and grace which will become for her a call to true worship in Spirit and in Truth. Every act will have within it the potential to realize the mystery of the gift.


Jesus waits and thirsts for you

At the end of his mission, Jesus will again cry, "I thirst!," but he will not suck the raspy sponge we will press to his parched lips - a loveless perfunctory act. It will only exacerbate his holy thirst.

He will await the full chalice of love from which to quench his thirst. He will not sip but from the full chalice of love - of total self-gift. Jesus, the "I am," - "he, the one who is speaking with you" - waits for this gift at the Well of your heart.

That Jesus will cross the abyss to come only there to slake his thirst testifies to the depth of every human heart, a source which glimmers with the potency and the risk of a gift which both precedes it and awaits it - an original and a final Love - the mystery and the power of the gift of God.

It is a season of prodigious grace epitomized by the beautifully trimmed package. But existence as gift, the communion of love, is only possible on the basis of a double thirst. The point of departure is always the Well, where a strangely appealing man waits, one who is already smiling unobtrusively, with a surprise for you - a man whose patience and persistence, whose gentleness, simplicity, purity and poverty, whose benevolence and transparency, whose sheer freedom, generosity, wisdom, and power - and whose ardent thirst - will not permit easy dispatch. His call communicates a message too dense, too deep. "'When he comes, he will tell us everything.'"

By his call, let us be led, mind and heart, to the transcendent God, who is also the Gift of Living Water welling up from within.

"Oh come let us adore him! Gloria in excelsis!"

Marijane Camilleri, an American, is studying for a doctorate in Rome. This essay was published in the December 2003 issue of Inside the Vatican magazine, and is reprinted with permission. It was adapted from a speech she gave on July 26, 2003 at the Catholic Women's Conference at St. Mary's University Convocation Center in San Antonio, Texas. The conference was sponsored by The Pilgrim Center of Hope, a Catholic Evangelization Center which serves the archdiocese of San Antonio, Texas, USA.