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Blessed Are Those Who Hunger And Thirst For Righteousness

May 12, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By DON FIER

The meek, as referred to by our Lord in the third Beatitude, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5), possess two qualities: meekness and gentleness. For as we saw last week, the Latin word mites from which meek is translated does not have an exact equivalent term in the English language.
As portrayed in the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: New Testament, those who possess this attribute correspond to those “who appear powerless and insignificant in the eyes of the world. Far from being weak, however, the meek possess an inner strength to restrain anger and discouragement in the midst of adversity” (p. 14).
The second attribute of the meek, gentleness, is described by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ, as “love when faced with provocation; it is acting toward others with charity and humility, without sharpness, without contempt, and without ever becoming impatient with their shortcomings” (The Question and Answer Catholic Catechism [QACC], n. 850).
Meekness and gentleness are best exemplified by Jesus (see Matt. 11:29; 21:5). They are also on display in the life of Moses (see Num. 12:3) and in that of our Lady, who, in acknowledging herself to be “the handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38), humbly submitted to His will and accepted it always with great love.
We also saw last week that meekness and gentleness are especially connected to the virtues of temperance and charity, respectively. Likewise, meekness is particularly associated with a specific gift of the Holy Spirit, piety. The heritage promised to the meek, as expressed by Fr. Hardon, is “the land of their own hearts of which they have control, the land of the hearts of others which they have conquered by their goodness, and the land of heaven” (QACC, n. 851).
Let us now proceed to the fourth Beatitude: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6); or as it appears in the Douay Rheims translation: “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.”
In this Beatitude, “Christ promises joy to those who seek justice and holiness,” states Fr. Hardon, “while the world offers only a shallow satisfaction in the enjoyment of sin” (Basic Catholic Catechism Course [BCCC], p. 104).
In the first volume of Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI describes this Beatitude as being “concerned with those who are on the lookout, who are in search of something great, of true justice, of the true good” (p. 90).
“The hunger and thirst mentioned in the fourth Beatitude,” explains Fr. Hardon, “symbolize our human desires” (BCCC, p. 104). Due to our fallen human nature, a consequence of the original sin of our first parents, our desires are disordered — we experience the unrelenting tug of concupiscence. This inherited condition destabilizes man’s moral faculties such that “even a righteous man falls seven times” (Prov. 24:16).
With the help of God’s grace, however, and firm resolve on our part, we are able to recapture control of our moral life. Great vigilance is required, for in this spiritual battle “we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness” (Eph. 6:12).
Fr. Hardon goes on to explain that the fourth Beatitude stipulates that we seek to nurture within ourselves the desire “for righteousness,” or “justice.” In other words, “we should cultivate the desire to serve God and do His will so that we desire what God desires and what is just” (BCCC, p. 104). This is where true happiness lies as opposed to the fleeting and false happiness that is the result of submitting to our disordered desires.
Another dimension of this Beatitude and how it fits with the others can be seen by recalling St. Thomas’ observation that the eight Beatitudes can be grouped into three kinds of happiness: the happiness of sensuality, of activity, and of contemplation (see volume 150, n. 29; July 20, 2017).
In the three Beatitudes we have heretofore considered, as observed by Archbishop Luis M. Martinez, “the soul has worked for its own good.” The fourth Beatitude, however, “consists principally in all that which is ordered to the good of others. For this reason the spiritual work proper to this beatitude is called justice” (The Sanctifier [TSa], p. 317). In a sense, the soul forgets itself in order to think of others and to labor for God and the good of our fellowman. In the fourth Beatitude, then, we are confronted with moral choices in our relations to God and to one another.
What is justice? In his Modern Catholic Dictionary, Fr. Hardon defines this moral virtue as “the constant and permanent determination to give everyone his or her rightful due” (p. 301). Dr. Joseph A. Fisher, in A Catechetical Dictionary for the Catechism of the Catholic Church, states in slightly different words that it “consists in the constant and firm will to give God and neighbor what is due to them” (p. 296).
Our pursuit in the fourth Beatitude, then, can be described as striving for “that state of holiness or general moral state of perfect harmony with the will of God” (ibid.).
Archbishop Martinez provides a beautiful portrayal of the task taken on by generous souls who seek to live out the fourth Beatitude:
“In this period of the spiritual life [the soul] performs good works in overflowing abundance. It resembles the warm earth in the springtime when all seeds that have been sleeping under winter snows begin to grow. Hunger and thirst express very well the vehemence of its desire. It literally hungers and thirsts for justice” (TSa, p. 316).
In his book entitled The Cross and the Beatitudes (TCB), the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen associates the fourth Beatitude with zeal. He makes the perceptive observation that the world cannot understand this Beatitude, “for the world by its nature is seated in indifference. It is very fond of talking about religion but dislikes doing anything about it” (p. 61).
It lacks the religious zeal that characterized our Lord when He exclaimed, “Zeal for thy house will consume me” (John 2:17) after overturning the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple.
The hunger and thirst of the Godless, Archbishop Sheen posits, is “to fill a want, but only a material want” (TCB, p. 62). They lack the hunger and thirst that Jesus so yearned for when He proclaimed: “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49). Rather, our Lord often finds indifference, against which He warns with stern words: “Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:16).
Filling material wants rather than seeking spiritual goods leads to emptiness — those who make the acquisition of “things” their lifetime pursuit, despite all the external trappings they may acquire, are the most unhappy of men.
“They are hungering and thirsting for the justice of God, whether they know it or not,” says Archbishop Sheen. He continues, “We must feel sorry for them because they miss so much, and because their zeal is bent on destruction rather than construction” (TCB, p. 69).

Fortitude

As has been the case for each of the Beatitudes we have treated thus far, Saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas also associate the fourth Beatitude with a particular gift of the Holy Spirit: the gift of fortitude.
“Fortitude is about difficult things,” says St. Thomas. “It is very difficult, not merely to do virtuous deeds, which receive the common designation of works of justice, but furthermore to do them with an insatiable desire, which may be signified by hunger and thirst for justice” (Summa Theologiae II-II, Q. 139, art. 2).
Likewise, the grace of the Holy Spirit is necessary to help us “direct our wants so that they correspond to our real needs” (BCCC, p. 104). How contrary this is to the message we receive from the unrelenting bombardment of slick advertising campaigns that try to convince us to “buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have.”
The only way to curb our unruly desires is through prayer, frequenting the sacraments, diligent effort, and sacrifice.
The reward attached to this Beatitude is that our desires will be satisfied. Indeed, “one of the rewards we are promised is that, even before Heaven is reached, a saintly life brings a foretaste of heavenly joy and peace” (BCCC, n. 104). It is a joy and a peace that cannot be taken away by anyone or anything because it is interior; it will remain in spite of trials and difficulties.
One only need consider the death of Christian martyrs to gain at least a partial understanding of this marvelous reality. They leave this life, often in the midst of excruciating physical agony, singing praises to the Lord.
Consider the example of the protomartyr St. Stephen. Just before expiring, “Full of the Holy Spirit, [he] gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God….He knelt down and cried with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’” (Acts 7:55, 60).
Hungering and thirsting to know God’s will — and then living in conformity to it — is the only true source of happiness in this life or in the next.

+ + +

(Don Fier serves on the board of directors for The Catholic Servant, a Minneapolis-based monthly publication. He and his wife are the parents of seven children. Fier is a 2009 graduate of Ave Maria University’s Institute for Pastoral Theology. He is a Consecrated Marian Catechist.)

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