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Want to be Totally Righteous (No, It's Not A Question)
The following is the fourth of an eight-part Advent series on the Beatitudes, which are found in the opening section of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew. The Church considers the Beatitudes the very heart of Jesus' preaching.
"Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied." (Mt 5:6)
I have a friend who was raised Catholic, was rather spotty in his practice for a while at college, and then returned to the fullness of the faith with great fervor toward the end of his senior year. In the years since, he's been working very hard at his spiritual life, striving toward sanctity with determination — and he's been rather frustrated along the way by the habit of the present day to try to make everything easier, less demanding, less onerous.
"There has to be pastoral care for those who want to aim for holiness," he's said before. "Some of us want to be challenged! We know it's hard! The Church needs to be ready to help those who want to walk all the way along the spiritual life, to really aim for more!"
Now, on the one hand, it's worth asking: what more could he possibly want? Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for guess what? Every Mass that they attend while in the state of grace, they can participate in consuming the living God, who alone is good (see Lk 18:19). At every good Confession, they are washed clean and restored to friendship with God. Through Baptism, they were born again into life in the Spirit; through Confirmation, they are sealed and strengthened by that same Holy Spirit for a life of sanctity, of holiness, of communion with God.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for the whole of the sacramental life of the Church is directed toward their satisfaction.
But my friend did have a point. Besides the sacraments, the priests must preach the Gospel in its fullness, calling us on to the perfection that is our ultimate goal (see Mt 5:48), even as we fall so often along the way. We must hold our brethren accountable and allow ourselves to be held accountable in strong Christian communities, whether those communities be our prayer groups, cenacles, or parishes. We must keep getting up whenever temptation leads us to fall, asking for forgiveness from God and neighbor, giving forgiveness as forgiveness is given to us, striving again and again to live the virtues opposing our greatest vices, and using the talents given to us for the growth of the kingdom of God in our own hearts and the hearts of others. We are to hunger and thirst for righteousness.
And always — always — we must have mercy.
Jesus said to St. Faustina (and to us all), "I demand from you deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to your neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to excuse or absolve yourself from it.
"I am giving you three ways of exercising mercy toward your neighbor: the first — by deed, the second — by word, the third — by prayer. In these three degrees is contained the fullness of mercy, and it is an unquestionable proof of love for Me. By this means a soul glorifies and pays reverence to My mercy" (Diary, 742).
It is only by the mercy of God that the road to righteousness is open to us at all. We who have received much mercy ought to refuse to rest content, but rather to show great mercy and share the treasures God has given us with those most in need. As Pope Benedict XVI said, "Christ did not promise an easy life. Those who desire comforts have dialed the wrong number. Rather, He shows us the way to great things, the good, towards an authentic human life."
So if you find yourself hungering for comfort, thirsting for pleasure, desiring a life of satisfaction and contentment, beg God for mercy and a burning appetite for righteousness. We are not called to mediocrity, or to mere comfort, but to the cross and resurrection, to grace and glory, to hunger and thirst for righteousness. We are not called to be at ease, but to work while the light lasts, for the hour grows late, the world darkens, and the Master's return is eagerly anticipated.
• Part One: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
• Part Two: "Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted."
• Part Three: "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land."
• Part Four: "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied."
• Part Five: "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy."
• Part Six: "Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God."
• Part Seven: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."
• Part Eight: "Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."