The Rosary Light & Life - Vol 58, No 5, Sep-Oct 2005

Theology for the Laity

Blessed Are They Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness

By Father Reginald Martin, O.P.

       And Jesus said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied."

The Call to Righteousness

       The new Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches

       The first three beatitudes describe our relations with created things. They call us to reflect on what we want and how we get it. They remind us that although created goods (we commonly think of sex, power and money) may have immense immediate appeal, nothing but God will fully satisfy us, because only God is immense enough to fill our infinite longing, and God – being eternal – is the only possession that is not subject to the threat of loss or the whim of chance.

Personal Righteousness & Others

       The next two beatitudes, hunger and thirst for righteousness, and mercy, confront us with moral choices in our relations to God and one another. St. Thomas Aquinas describes this as the happiness of "activity," the satisfaction we seek from a life with others in the world. He tells us that this happiness – which we enjoy here and now – disposes us, or sets us up, for future happiness in heaven (I-II.69.3). The foundation for this happiness is justice.

       When we think of justice we often conjure images drawn from law and order television shows, in which an individual wields a gavel, the thunder of which determines the fate of one or more individuals. Justice, according to Aristotle, is something broader and more general. It is "the perpetual and constant will to render each one his right," (Ethics viii. 11). Each of these words is important, but St. Thomas summarizes them very neatly by remarking that justice is something that concerns our dealings with others (II-II.58.2). Therefore – although we might not think of it very often – justice includes our dealings with God.

Justice & the Path to God

       Someone has said that justice is the first virtue we learn. We may not have the vocabulary to describe the virtue, but we do not have to be very old to know whether we have been treated fairly in a transaction. This observation is so true that it may be hard to get beyond it when we think about justice. For example, when we think of justice between us and our neighbor, we may think primarily of what others owe us. When we think of the justice that governs God and us, we may be used to thinking only of the righteousness of God’s judgement that we may (or may not) look forward to when we die.

       This, however, is a self-centeredness that we must abandon if we are truly to grow in the virtue of justice. If we do not expand our notion of justice, we are in danger of forgetting that the point of justice is our relations with others, not necessarily theirs with us. Worse, we may forget that the purpose of justice – like any virtue – is to help us become like God. (CCC 1803).

Justice & Prayer

       Long practice may have taught us to think of prayer as the primary means by which we ask God for what we need or want. While this is true, this, too, is a self-centered attitude that obscures the nature of prayer as an act of justice – an act by which we give God, through our worship, that which is His due. St. John Vianney, the great 19th Century patron of the parish clergy, speaks of prayer as “a task,” but this term does not mean that prayer is drudgery, to be undertaken under duress or merely endured with patience.

       In his Catechetical Instruction, St. John Vianney teaches

       In our life of prayer we become like God by surrendering our wills to God’s and allowing ourselves to do as God commands us.

       The saint continues, "My children, your hearts are small, but prayer enlarges them and renders them capable of loving God. Prayer is a foretaste of heaven." We are used to accomplishing our goals by self-reliance; the mysterious union of justice and prayer allows us to achieve far more – and by doing nothing more than God’s grace urges us to do as God’s creatures.

The Habit of Justice

       The Catechism teaches that

       This makes an important point that can easily be overlooked. And that is the connection between what we can be expected to do and what we can only hope to do with God’s grace. The virtues are good habits, and – like any habit – they increase the ease with which we do something. With practice the virtues make it easy for us to do good, and they can take us quite far; God’s gift of grace, however, can elevate these habits into something more.

Grace & the Hunger for Justice

       In the previous reflection on mourning, we discovered that habits of moderation can teach us how to use created things wisely. Grace can allow us more and more to give up our dependence on them, until we are able, finally, to turn our backs on them. This describes our progress in justice as well. As human being we must school ourselves to treat others fairly – that is no more than God has the right to expect of beings created in his likeness – but St. Thomas talks about a justice elevated by grace, in which

       In his homily on the Sermon on the Mount, St. Augustine asks his hearers to notice that "…in each case hath every duty its appropriate reward: and nothing is introduced in the reward which doth not suit the precept." Now this may seem obvious, but Augustine points out that