The Water of Life
Water, its lack and its abuse, has become a headache for municipal authorities across the land. Officialdom and consumers in general are rapidly realising that more water is being consumed in one way or another at present than is readily available for drinking, domestic, agricultural and industrial purposes.
What we have taken for granted when we wash or bathe as a never-failing resource, has abruptly held up its red alert sign. Pope Francis warned us of this in his 2015 encyclical Laudato si’, and his cautionary words cannot be ignored. The value of life is therefore very much dependent on how we value our water
In his article “It’s all about water”, published in last week’s issue, Antonio Tonin confronted us with the reality of scarce water supplies in the very parts of the world where they are most needed for survival.
Water, he stressed, was created by God to sustain life on earth. The value of life is therefore very much dependent on how we value our water.
The seriousness of the lack of adequate water in our modern-day pattern of life has been blamed on such developments as high-rise blocks of apartments and offices to accommodate a growing population, and what is known as gentrification, making run-down areas into expansive upmarket residences.
These developments would be impossible without access to a full water supply that diminishes the limited pool available.
Pope Francis’ encyclical will repay a second or third reading by all who take seriously the threats that we are faced with by drought, ignorance and greed. It covers much more than the dangers to humanity if water is wasted or abused. It emphasises the priority of conserving water.
He wrote: “Large cities dependent on significant supplies of water have experienced periods of shortage, and at critical moments these have not always been administered with sufficient oversight and impartiality.
“Water poverty especially affects Africa, where large sectors of the population have no access to safe drinking water or experience droughts which impede agricultural production. Some countries have areas rich in water while others endure drastic scarcity” (Laudato si’, 28). Yet water is wasted unconscionably, not only in the developed world but also in those lesser-developed lands where water is abundant.
Pope Francis prods our conscience when he points out that the availability of safe drinking water is 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.
Yet water is wasted unconscionably, not only in the developed world but also in those lesser-developed lands where water is abundant.
There cannot now be many in our cities and rural areas who are ignorant of the desperate need to treat water and to preserve it as a gift from God, almost in a sacred kind of way.
It is life-giving. It washes our bodies and possessions clean. It gives us a sense of rebirth and vigour.
Water sustains life on the natural level. On the supernatural level, in the sacrament of baptism it is the portal into the Way of Christ who gives eternal life.
Jesus told the Samaritan woman that everyone who drank of the water from Jacob’s well would thirst again.
In contrast, he revealed that whoever drank of the water that he would give would never thirst again. “The water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:12-14).
The spiritual significance of water is highlighted dramatically in the Easter Vigil service and the Mass that follows.
This is the time of the open liturgical celebration of entry into the Church when converts are baptised and drawn into communion with the Christian community advancing in faith, hope and charity towards the heavenly kingdom.
We cannot survive without our daily dose of water. Pope Francis calls on us to do what we can to conserve and protect it. It is a call to our conscience as stewards of the gifts God gave in Creation.
At the same time, our conscience should be stirred by some reflection on how we have been living the Christian life.
The Lenten season reminds us that at Easter we must renew our baptismal promises, fervently professing our allegiance to Christ who gives us our natural life kept going by water, and our supernatural life in which we shall never thirst again.