While last week I responded to the patriotic urge to reflect on our nation, this week I want to plunge deeper into the depth and breadth of our Catholic treasury and share with you a reflection from one of the great Fathers of the Church, perhaps the greatest from the Syriac tradition. Ephrem, customarily called “the Syrian,” reminds us of the life of Christian faith that thrived in that part of the world before its military conquest by the forces of Islam from the Arabian Peninsula.
I subtitle this reflection “On drinking from a firehose,” because he works the “spring of life” metaphor to explain to us why we need to keep returning to the Word of God revealed in Scripture and Tradition even after we drunk deeply. Whenever one of your family – or even you! – wonder why we must return again and again to the same passages of Scripture and the same prayers and antiphons, let this help you find the answer. Who among us does not always again find something hitherto unnoticed? So it was in the fourth century and so it is for us in the twenty-first. Enjoy!
Lord, who can comprehend even one of your words. We lose more of it than we grasp, like those who drink from a living spring. For God’s word offers different facets according to the capacity of the listener, and the Lord has portrayed his message in many colors, so that whoever gazes upon it can see in it what suits him. Within it he has buried manifold treasures, so that each of us might grow rich in seeking them out.
The word of God is a tree of life that offers us blessed fruit from each of its branches. It is like that rock which was struck open in the wilderness, from which all were offered spiritual drink. As the Apostle says: They ate spiritual food and they drank spiritual drink.
And so whenever anyone discovers some part of the treasure, he should not think that he has exhausted God’s word. Instead he should feel that this is all that he was able to find of the wealth contained in it. Nor should he say that the word is weak and sterile or look down on it simply because this portion was all that he happened to find. But precisely because he could not capture it all he should give thanks for its riches.
Be glad then that you are overwhelmed, and do not be saddened because he has overcome you. A thirsty man is happy when he is drinking, and he is not depressed because he cannot exhaust the spring. So let this spring quench your thirst, and not your thirst the spring. For from it you can satisfy your thirst without exhausting the spring, then when you thirst again you can drink from it once more; but if when your thirst is sated the spring is also dried up, then your victory would turn to your own harm.
Be thankful then for what you have received, and do not be saddened at all that such an abundance still remains.What you have received and attained is your present share, while what is left will be your heritage. For what you could not take at one time because of your weakness, you will be able to grasp at another if you only persevere. So do not foolishly try to drain in one draught what cannot be consumed all at once, and do not cease out of faintheartedness from what you will be able to absorb as time goes on.
From a commentary on the Diatesseron by Saint Ephrem, deacon+373