HOW BLEST ARE THOSE WHO HUNGER AND THIRST FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS; THEY SHALL BE SATISFIED

Dear Reader,

The contemporary reader may have problems with this beatitude.  Those who heard it the first time did too, but for a different reason.  The current issue has to do with the word “righteousness,” and that, more than likely, is because of the tendency to hear self-righteous.  We are all familiar with the judgments of the self-righteous, their gratitude that they are not like the rest of people, especially those they are reviling and condemning.  They seem convinced that God is in lock-step agreement with them and just waiting to cast the ones they deplore into hell’s unquenchable flames.

The cause doesn’t matter.  Those opposing it are so invested that there is no room for dialog; anyone who holds they are against is reprehensible.  Politics has moved in this direction.  Conservatives spew vitriol on the liberals.  Liberals do the same regarding the conservatives.  All ought to be embarrassed by the vile things being tweeted, especially as the opinion expressed changes as soon as it is posted.

You may have thought that the days of race riots had passed.  There is ample evidence to the contrary.  White supremacists and neo-Nazis marched proclaiming the United States to be a White country.  Jews and Blacks and Hispanics should leave these shores.  Those demonstrating against bigotry and racism confronted them.  The President said that there were good people on both sides and would not speak against the racist demonstrators.  And the list goes on.

Jesus condemned attitudes like those above that were embodied in the Pharisees who, Jesus said, strained over the speck in the other’s eye while ignoring the beam in their own.  It is the judgmental attitude that condemns another’s sin while “understanding” and “accepting” one’s own.

The righteousness for which the blest hunger and thirst for in the beatitude is better translated for us as right relationship, right relationship with God and right relationship with our sisters and brothers in the Lord.  These are the people who long for union with God and for justice and peace in the world.  There is an intensity about them that creates a longing and a willingness to suffer in order to attain what is longed for.  Hunger and thirst.  Human beings need food and drink to survive.  More important for these blest ones is the unitive way, the way that leads to living in the presence of God, embraced by God’s love.  More important than the lavish banquet and the fine wines is the desire to see the oppressed liberated, sexism and racism banished, the impoverished sharing in the goods of the world necessary for their survival.

There is a hymn that achieved secular popularity in the late 1960s and ‘70s.  “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost but now am found; was blind but now I see.”  The hymn is about conversion, about seeing in a totally new and wholesome light an abominable behavior that before the grace was acceptable.  In this instance, the “wretch” had transported enslaved men and women destined for the auction block.  Once grace entered the author’s consciousness, he was never the same and could never accept the institution of slavery again.  But that is not enough to qualify as one of the blest in this beatitude.  It is not enough to find an evil unacceptable.  What must follow is the willingness to do whatever can be done to eliminate the evil.  This former ship’s captain worked tirelessly to bring about the end of the horror.

Dorothy Day was a woman steeped in that same Amazing Grace.  There had been restlessness in her from her youth.  She saw oppression and inequality in society, the downtrodden poor enslaved in poverty, while others lived lavishly.  The way of Communism seemed for a time to be the answer.  She joined the party.  She became pregnant out of wedlock and had an abortion.  Then she met a man who told her about the Gospel and especially about the Sermon on the Mount.  That is when the grace entered her live, created a longing for God, and empowered her to live the rest of her days in poverty as she witnessed to the dignity of the workers and their worth before God.  She fasted.  She spent a portion of each day in contemplative prayer.  She went to Eucharist every morning.  And she marched for civil rights.  Who can ever forget the picture of the then senior Dorothy Day seated next to Cesar Chavez, peering over her glasses at the baton-bearing policemen who would arrest them for defending the rights of migrant workers?  (Were she alive today, she would be speaking out for the Dreamers and other aliens longing for this country’s freedom.  And she would have something to say about the dignity and worth of other refugees, be they from Mexico, or be they from Muslim countries. )

Saint Dorothy Day?  Not yet.  Some say, never.  After all, she was a sinner in her youth, a Communist who had an abortion.  Surely she wouldn’t get to heave.  Or would she?

The self-righteous might say, “Surely not!”  Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness would have no problem with Dorothy’s salvation because they recognize that it is all grace.  God’s love is all embracing.  God’s desire is to forgive and reconcile.  St. Augustine knew he was a sinner in his youth and late had he loved God long after God had first loved him.

Righteousness is God’s gift, God’s grace working in the human consciousness that enables those so gifted to see possibilities for peace and justice once they recognize each other as equals before God, all created in God’s image and likeness.  When they see through that prism, then they come to understand that when the stone is thrown, or the bomb dropped, it is Christ who is crucified again in those who are wounded and slaughtered.

So, as you sit at Christ’s feet and hear the proclamation of happiness for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, you have to ask yourself what stirs your passion.  What evils inflicted on others fill you with outrage?  What is it that you long to see?  What transformation do you pray will one day come about?

What I suggest here might not work for everyone.  The bigoted are often blind to the humanity of those they hate.  We tend to think of those enduring the evils that limit and take their lives in terms of statistics.  Millions of people are dying from AIDS in Africa.  At least that was the case when I was in Kenya and Uganda some time ago.  Think of the raves, the destruction and deaths from the hurricanes and storms that ravaged Puerto Rico, Texas, and other parts of our country.  The numbers mount and can move us to some extent.  But put names and faces on those people and we can find ourselves moved to the core.  Look at the effect the diary of a young girl has had on untold millions of readers regarding the evils of anti-Semitism and the holocaust.

My suggestion is to allow yourself to think of the people suffering as members of your family.  Why do you think it is that when we celebrate Eucharist, the central symbols are one Bread and one Cup?  We gather around one Table to share the one Meal.  It is one family gathered at the family table.  As another hymn has it, “We are one body in this one Lord.”

It is to that kind of sensitivity that this Beatitude calls us.  Once awakened, we hunger for the day when our brothers and sisters no longer endure that suffering, the day when the cure for the disease has been found and there is a vaccine to prevent it.  We thirst for the day when the wars will end and peace will reign.  We long for the time when humanity is enough to guarantee the recognition of the shared dignity that God has in mind for us all.  I believe you will realize then how close God is, as you feel secure in God’s embrace.

“Blest are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness; they shall be satisfied.”  In truth, that is what heaven is all about.

Sincerely,

Didymus

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