Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.
Reflection – If the first three beatitudes confound us with their reversal of worldly notions of a good life—blessed are the poor, the mourning, the meek—then this fourth one simply challenges us deeply to examine our hearts. How much do we really want to be good? Do we hunger and thirst for it? Is righteousness, goodness, a fire blazing within us, a yearning of our whole being? Do we strive with every fiber of our being to seek what is good, to chase after virtue of conduct, speech, thought? Are we willing to pay any price, risk any danger, essay any arduous task, for the sake of righteousness?
Or is it a little more of a milk water affair: ‘it’s nice to be nice!’ Or, ‘Well, of course I want to be a good person, but… (fill in your conditions, exceptions, and limits here)’. A general vague commitment to being somewhat decent most of the time, as long as it’s not too hard or I don’t really want to do something else badly.
The saints—and remember, I’m doing this whole series on the beatitudes in light of the coming feast of All Saints—lived this beatitude to an extreme. That is why we remember them as saints. The phrase the Church uses is ‘heroic’ virtue—not simply a general commitment to a more or less OK life, but heroism in the pursuit of goodness.
So you have young girls getting devoured by wild beasts rather than break the vow of virginity they made to Christ, and countless other martyrs dying rather than denying Him. You have missionaries leaving the comfortable familiarity of their homes to lives of certain deprivation and almost certain death under foreign skies.
You have the great reformers of Church and society, and the servants of the poor—people like Vincent de Paul, Theresa of Calcutta, Philip Neri—who labored hard every day at great personal cost to make the world they lived in more compassionate, just, faith-filled, holy. And all the hosts of ascetics and monastics and mystics, abandoning all worldly good for the righteousness that comes from belonging to God and God alone.
The saints lived this fourth beatitude each in his or her own way, according to the specific call of God and the circumstances of life. But they blazed with a fire, each of them, to do what is right and to see that righteousness take root in the world.
Well, like I say, this beatitude is plenty confronting, certainly for me, and probably for you who are reading this, whoever you may be. We are not made to live comfortably and easily in this world. There is a task, a work, a labor God has given to us, and we really shouldn’t be too at ease for as long as it is ongoing.
But what are we to do? I can’t go to, say, Egypt and offer myself up as a martyr, nor is my specific vocation precisely that of the old school missionary. God has made it quite clear to me that I am to stay here in Canada until further notice. My scope for being a social or church reformer is fairly limited, although I am doing what I can on that score, I think. And asceticism… well, no one will be confusing me with Anthony of the Desert, at least not today.
My mind turns at this juncture, though, to another saint, who was neither martyr nor missionary nor great reformer nor (at least relatively) a great ascetic. I am thinking of St. Therese of Lisieux, who has been my personal best friend among the saints from way back. She hungered and thirsted after righteousness, and this hunger bore her into the Carmelite cloister.
But there, she found the way of this beatitude that is open to all of us, today, no matter what the circumstances of our life may be. Namely, she never missed an opportunity to do what is good, to deny herself, to make acts of faith, hope, love for God. Her life in the Carmelite cloister was a very ordinary one, really. She wasn’t much good at prayer, falling asleep in meditation. She was singularly devoid of sensible mystical graces. And without those kinds of graces, the life of a Carmelite is a fairly stark one: living in a drafty unheated convent, cooped up for life with a bunch of people you didn’t exactly choose and may not like, doing simple manual labor interspersed with long hours of (dry) prayer in a freezing cold chapel.
She simply chose to make the most of everything that happened to her. If she was sweeping a floor, she swept it for love of Jesus. If a sister was unkind to her, she received it with a smile for love of Jesus. If she had a bad cough (first sign of the tuberculosis that would kill her at age 23) she offered it for love of Jesus.