Obscure Dominican Book Recommendation
Fr. Pierre Thomas Dehau
Translated from the French by Dominic Ross, O.P.
When I first opened The Living Water, I did not realize that the entire work comprises a patient unfolding of one passage from the Gospel of John, that of the Samaritan woman at the well. So I found myself pleasantly surprised as each chapter returned to it at some point, to draw forth new insights and meaning. Indeed, the scope of the meditations is truly impressive. With an admirable mixture of precision and emotion, Fr. Dehau considers every word Christ speaks, revealing how even the most commonplace expressions receive a rich significance when uttered by the lips of the Word Himself. Here is an excerpt from Chapter XI which will recommend Fr. Dehau better than volumes on my part:
"Our Lord said to the Samaritan woman: 'If thou didst know the gift of God, thou perhaps wouldst have asked of Him...'(John 4:10). You will notice that Our Lord here employs a very curious expression, perhaps. This word is terrible because, as St. Thomas remarks, it indicates a frightening contingency--that of our liberty.
One can know and not ask. The intelligence does not necessarily move the will. If liberty is a magnificent gift of God, a gift which makes our glory, we can, alas! use it badly as long as we are not in the light of glory. If we will it, we can remain faithful; if we do not will it there is no power in the world capable of constraining us, of forcing our will, down to its very depth, to turn toward God; even the most beautiful lights from God, can accomplish nothing, for our will can always escape from them. Therefore to ask it is necessary that we will it, which is why Our Lord said to the Samaritan: Perhaps...oh! perhaps...! Let us then beg Our Lord to send us graces so efficacious that no heart however hard can resist them, says St. Augustine, in order that bathed in this light, we may indeed ask; for if we ask, God will give us the living water; here there is no more 'perhaps'. 'And He would have given thee living water'(John 4:10). God will surely give it.
Perhaps we will have to wait for an answer, and then it will be for reasons of divine pedagogy. We see good souls who say: I have been asking for a long time and I receive neither promptly nor abundantly; there is nothing but the most complete dryness. How does this happen? Must not the reason for it be sought on the side of God? We do not obtain for one or other of these reasons which I am about to state: we ask poorly--or God wishes us to persevere in our demand.
The first reason: we ask poorly, that is to say, we do not ask humbly. Humility! Ah! such is not easy! And yet if we do not have humility, we stand before God in an attitude which displeases him. Humility is politeness toward God, it is the beholden attitude of the creature toward his Creator; it must begin in the depth of one's nothingness. 'Out of the depths I have cried unto thee, O Lord' (Ps. 129:1). Why do certain little souls obtain all that they wish? Because they ask humbly. He scattered(his gifts), He gave them to the poor. We have already remarked: as soon as God finds really poor, really humble souls He gives with prodigality. 'God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble' (Prov. 3:34). We receive in the measure of our humility. God Himself cannot dispense us from it. He can produce it in us, but He cannot dispense us from it. That, He owes to himself. When a little child, anxious for some object which it covets, does not ask its father respectfully enough, it is quickly put in its place by being told to ask politely. It is not difficult to say to one's father: 'if you please,' but it is sometimes very difficult, so it appears to say it to God. The devil did not want to do it, and we ourselves sometimes have great difficulty doing so and yet as long as we will not do it, God will not grant it, otherwise He would be like a worthless father who does not know how to raise his children. Let us then try to become more and more humble in our prayer.
The second reason why God makes us wait so very long is because He wishes to compel us to persevere. He appears to be sleeping in order that we may continue to knock as in the parable of the Gospel, you know, wherein the poor man makes so much noise at his friend's door, he puts into his demand such importunity, that his friend finally opens up to him. In like manner, the Canaanite woman; the Lord repels her; He seems very hard on her, almost scornful, but it is in order to obtain from her this word, this prayer which He Himself will admire.
I shall add a third reason which can be our consolation when condemned to a delay whose end we do not see: the Lord wishes, by that, to make us copy his own attitude to which most souls condemn Him, to which we have too often condemned Him. Thou waited, says Our Lord, and I...? This is what I do continually, I wait. Thou knocked at the door. And I? 'I stand at the gate and knock' (Apoc. 3:20). The Lord consoles Himself thus by making us suffer what we ourselves make Him suffer. This kind of suffering is very sacred, very holy. We must then know how to say to Our Lord: 'Lord, if I can console you for all the neglect which I have heaped upon you; if I console you by humbly supporting you in your dereliction, by awaiting you for a long time, you whom I have made wait for so long a time, I accept; yes, I am willing to remain waiting at your door as long as you like; but when finally you open it, be sure that I will rush in and when you give me the living water, I shall drink it avidly. For the present, thy will be done.'"