Corporal Works of Mercy—Give Drink to the Thirsty

Need something to drink? How about a nice, ice-cold glass of water?

For the vast majority of us here in the United States, it’s only a tap, refrigerator or bottle away. But for many people in the world, particularly in developing countries, a clean and reliable supply of fresh water is only a dream. An estimated 884 million lack access to a supply of safe water. Over 3.5 million people a year die from water-related diseases. Every 20 seconds, a child in the world dies of such diseases. Nearly one-fifth of all childhood deaths are caused by diarrhea, which kills more young children than AIDS, TB and malaria combined. (Source:

Water, to put it bluntly, is a matter of life and death. Roughly half to two-thirds of the human body is composed of water, including 85% of our brains. (Source: ). The first biblical account of creation (Genesis 1) finds the world as we know it emerging from the primordial waters. The Psalms (e.g. 42 and 63) use the need and thirst for water as a metaphor for our need and thirst for God. In his encounter with the woman at the well (John 4), Jesus promises to give her a living and never-ending source of spiritual water coming from within her.

We can survive quite a long time without food; but we will die within days if we don’t get water. In many respects giving drink to the thirsty is also giving them life.

Many of us, particularly those of us who live near the Great Lakes or other large sources of fresh water, can easily take it for granted. We can drink, shower, sprinkle our lawns, wash our cars, and flush our toilets without really thinking about it. Consider this: “An American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than a typical person in a developing country slum uses in a whole day” (see, above).

When I heard a similar statistic many years ago as a high school senior, I started taking a look at the five or ten-minute showers I was taking and decided to cut that time in half. Over three decades later, my typical shower lasts about two minutes. I still get clean (at least no one has complained); but I no longer waste time just “soaking.”

Conserving water not only helps lower our bills, it also conserves the energy and other resources needed to find, obtain, and distribute it. In addition, it helps to conserve what is really a limited and precious natural resource. Perhaps most importantly, however, is that it is an act of solidarity, albeit a small one, with those who lack access to this necessity for human life.

Giving water to the thirsty may begin with a cup or bottle; but it is a more lasting gift if it means helping them to dig a well, create a simple pit toilet, or stopping people from polluting our lakes, streams, rivers, and groundwater supplies. Take a look at your own use of water. How can you treat what St. Francis called Sister Water with more reverence? What can you do to promote universal access to safe, reliable, and affordable fresh water?—JC