"Our hearts are restless until they rest in you" 

At the general audience in St Peter's Square on Wednesday, 12 October, basing his reflections on the Gospel read during the preceding Liturgy of the Word, Pope John Paul II delivered the following discourse.

1. "The woman said to him. 'Give me this water, sir, so that I shall not grow thirsty'" (Jn 4:15). The Samaritan woman's request of Jesus expresses, in its deepest significance, man's insatiable need and inexhaustible desire. Indeed, every man worthy of the name inevitably realizes an innate inability to answer that desire for truth, good and beauty that gushes from the depths of his being. As he advances through life, he gradually discovers that he, like the Samaritan woman, is incapable of satisfying his thirst for fullness that he has within himself.

From today until Christmas, the reflections for this weekly meeting will be on the theme of man's yearning for redemption. Man needs an Other. He lives, whether he knows it or not, in expectation of an Other who redeems this innate inability of his to satisfy his expectations and his hopes.

But how will man be able to meet him? The indispensable condition for this resolutive encounter is that man become aware of the existential thirst that afflicts him and of his basic powerlessness to extinguish its burning. The way to achieve this awareness, for the man of today as for man of all ages, is reflection on his own experience. Ancient wisdom already realized this. Who does not remember the writing that stood out in plain view on the Temple of Apollo in Delphi? It said precisely: "Man, know yourself". This command, expressed in various ways and forms even in the most ancient spheres of civilization, has passed through history and is proposed again with the same urgency also to modern man.

John's Gospel, in some outstanding episodes, verifies quite well how Jesus himself, in presenting himself as the one sent by the Father, focused on this capacity that man has to understand his mystery by reflecting on his own experience. Suffice it to call to mind that meeting with the Samaritan woman, and also the meetings with Nicodemus, with the adulteress, or with the man born blind.

Conformity of intellect with reality

2. But how can we define this deep human experience that points out to man the way to an authentic understanding of himself? It is the continual comparison between the "I" and its destiny. True human experience is had only in that genuine opening to reality that allows the person, understood as a singular and aware being, laden with potentiality and needs, capable of aspirations and desires, to know himself in the truth of his being.

And what are the characteristics of such an experience, thanks to which man can decisively and seriously face the duty to "know yourself" without getting lost along the way of this search? There are two fundamental conditions that he must observe.

He must first of all be passionately zealous about that complex of exigencies, needs and desires that characterize his "I". Secondly, he must open himself to an objective encounter with all of reality.

Saint Paul does not stop reminding Christians of these fundamental characteristics of every human experience when he strongly emphasizes, "All these are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's" (1 Cor 3:22, 23), and when he urges the Christians of Thessa-lonica to "test everything and retain what is good" (1 Thess 5:21). In this continual comparison with the real in the search for what corresponds or not with his destiny, man has the elementary experience of truth, defined so wonderfully by the scholastics and St Thomas as "conformity of the intellect with reality" (St Thomas, De Veritate, q. 1, a. 1 corpus).

Experience must be open to totality

3. If in order to be true the experience must be integral and open man to totality, it is well understood where the risk of error is for man: he must guard against any compartmentalizing. He must overcome the temptation to reduce the experience, for example, to mere sociological questions or to exclusively psychological elements. Just as he must be afraid of exchanging for experience schemes and "prejudices" that the environment in which he normally lives and works propose to him: prejudices so more frequent and risky today because they are disguised by the myth of science or by the presumed completeness of ideology.

How difficult it is for man in today's world to land on the safe shore of genuine experience of himself, that experience in which the true meaning of his destiny overshadows him! He is continually prey to the risk of giving in to those errors of the perspective that, by making him forget his nature of "being" made in the image of God, then leave him in the most distressing despair or, what is worse, in the most unassailable cynicism.

Christ alone can satisfy and save

In the light of these reflections, how liberating the words of the Samaritan woman appear: "Give me this water, sir, so that I shall not grow thirsty"! Indeed, this holds true for every man, and, to view it correctly, it is a profound description of his very nature.

Indeed, the man who seriously faces himself and with a clear eye observes his experience according to the criteria that we have put forth, more or less knowingly discovers that he is a being that is at one and the same time laden with needs, whose fulfillment he cannot find, and frustrated by a desire, by a thirst for self?realization, that he is not capable of satisfying by himself.

Thus man discovers that he is placed by his very nature in an attitude of expectation of an Other who will satisfy his want. A restlessness pervades every moment of his existence, as Augustine suggests in the beginning of his "Confessions": "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you" (I, 1). Man, taking his humanity seriously, realizes that he is in a state of structural powerlessness!

Christ is the one who saves him. He alone can pull man out of this stalemate, satisfying the existential thirst that torments him.

L'Osservatore Romano October 17, 1983
Reprinted with permission