‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; they shall be satisfied’ (Mt 5:6)
“Now at this last we must take a hard road, a road unforeseen. There lies our hope, if hope it be. To walk into peril – to Mordor. We must send the ring to the fire.”
Such were the words of the Lord of Rivendell, Elrond, in the first instalment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Middle Earth – the setting of the story – stands on the brink of devastation as the evil Lord Sauron and his formidable armies gather in both strength and momentum. Should the ring come into Sauron’s possession, all that is good in the world will be lost. Thus, for the cause of righteousness, for the preservation of all that is good, true and beautiful, the ring-bearer Frodo – and those who accompany him – embark on the quest to have the ring destroyed forever.
When we consider the fourth beatitude proclaimed by Jesus – “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, they shall be satisfied” – we might be inclined to think of those who strive for justice on earth, who labour tirelessly on behalf of the poor, the downtrodden, the unborn, who seek to preserve all that is good, true and beautiful in the world. And, of course, when we think of the lives of the saints – like St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. John Bosco, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati – they did just this. Given the great dignity God has bestowed upon every human person, safeguarding and upholding it is a duty and responsibility each of us bear. Furthermore, we pray in the ‘Our Father’ that God’s name will be hallowed – reverenced and held holy by others – and that His will ‘be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ As disciples of Christ, we do not use the promise of heaven as an excuse not to do good on earth. Even with the promise of a future ‘new heavens and a new earth’, we still commit ourselves to the cause of right here and now, and desire that everyone honour and glorify God as He truly deserves.
Yet, it can be incredibly easy to dismiss a key element here. We could be daily mass goers, tireless social justice campaigners, faithful reciters of endless rosaries, novenas and litanies, performers of incredible penances; and we could even be outwardly involved in heroic evangelisation efforts – and yet, still keep Jesus at arm’s distance, resisting all His efforts to touch and transform our hearts. Think of the rather disconcerting parable Jesus told of the final day of judgement – when He will judge all of humanity in complete truth and justice – and how he speaks of great numbers of perplexed people clamouring, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and cast out demons in your name and do many mighty works in your name?” Yet, Jesus’ words resound clearly: “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mt 7:21-22).
What did these people fail to do? Hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness. Their hearts were not set on living rightly according to the will of God. Their hearts – though they did all those amazing things – were far from Him; the result being that they will never be truly satisfied – neither in this world or in the next. Those who sincerely seek God’s righteousness, on the other hand – even if they fall many times – will find all the aching desires of their hearts satisfied completely in heaven, when they will at last see God – the very embodiment of righteousness – face to face.
Another story from the Gospels emphasises this need to hunger and thirst (in fact several do!). Jesus’ disciples are begging him to eat, yet He mysteriously replies, “I have food to eat that you do not know.” His disciples, of course, are puzzled, looking to one another to figure out did one of them sneak him food secretly. “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work” (Jn 4:31-34). Jesus’ heart was rightly ordered – and He wants all His disciples’ hearts to be likewise: seeking God’ righteousness – His goodness, purity, peace and mercy – above all else; and importantly, seeking it not only within their families, neighbourhoods and nations – but within THEMSELVES, in their HEARTS. He wants us to crave it to the same extent as we would crave food and water if we were famished or parched: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt 3:4). Imagine being at a restaurant placing your order – “God’s will, please!” You would likely get more than a few funny looks! And yet, for the disciple, God’s will ought to be as essential to them as physical food and drink – the meal that seems to jump off the menu at them!
A steadfast pursual of God’s will, in fact, is a tremendous unifying force – as with anything else God asks of us, it is for our ultimate good. Before the fall of Adam and Eve to sin, their bodies and spirits worked in perfect tandem and harmony with each other; yet afterwards this changed entirely. Sin causes internal division, disharmony between the body and spirit. I’m reminded of Gollum from the Lord of the Rings in this respect. He has an insatiable desire – and hunger – for the ring which Frodo seeks to destroy. Its influence over him turned him into a horribly wretched creature, initially leading him to commit a terrible crime, gradually turning him into a distorted and deformed figure, internally divided between Sméagol – the good hobbit he once was – and Gollum, full of treachery and menace, void of hope and love. Sin can do likewise to us – distort and deform our beauty, make us less than who we truly are. This is why the great saints not only sought to avoid the greater, more serious sins, but also the lesser ones – because their desire for God’s righteousness burned so strongly, that ALL sin was entirely abhorrent to them. They refused to turn away from God’s will in even the tiniest, seemingly inconsequential of ways.
If we contrast Gollum with one of my favourite characters, however, there is marked difference. This man has an opportunity to possess the powerful ring for himself and attain great personal glory, yet heroically resists its magnetic lure, showing his heat is set on true righteousness and wisdom: “I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory. No, I do not wish for such triumphs, Frodo son of Drogo.”
Resisting sin to such an extent – and pursuing righteousness in its stead – is no mean feat. Even the apostle Paul, for instance, wrote the following in his Letter to the Romans: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Rom 7:15; 18-19). Ultimately, without grace there can be no victory in this fight. This is why Jesus died on the cross, so that the endless river of grace flowing from His sacrifice would be our continual source of strength and sustenance. He established the Church for this purpose, so that the sacraments would communicate this grace to us: “For our sake God made the sinless one into sin, so that in him we might become the goodness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).
In conclusion, within Lord of the Rings trilogy there is a hunger and thirst for truth and justice to be restored to Middle Earth. Likewise, as Christians we long for God’s reign to be fully established on earth. Yet, though we don’t need to be perfectly holy before doing any good in the world, the first step is longing for God’s reign to be fully established in OUR hearts. Then God can do greater good in the world through us than we could ever do on our own. Pope Francis beautifully expressed this when he said the following: “In each heart, even in that of the most corrupt and distant people, there is a hidden yearning for the light, even if it is buried under the rubble of deceit and mistakes, but there is always the thirst for truth and good which is the thirst for God. The Holy Spirit arouses this thirst. He is the living water that has shaped our dust; he is the creative breath that gave it life.”
Hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness – and you will be satisfied eternally in heaven’s embrace.
May the desire for Your righteousness burn fiercely in my heart,
So that Your kingdom will not only be established there,
but will radiate out to all the world.
I ask this through Christ Jesus our Lord,