In a world where evil is a reality, fear is a constant motivator. The greatest evil – and the last one to be conquered – is death. It is only human to fear death and to do what one can do to avoid dying.
There are lesser fears – the fear of losing one's job, the fear of ridicule, the fear of being ignored or abandoned, the fear of poverty. All of these, and others, can be powerful deterrents that hold us back from doing what we ought to do.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied."
That is quite a promise. It says that if you are a voice for truth and justice and that if you act for justice – if your hunger for righteousness is so palpable that not ever fear can hold it back – then justice will be done.
This seems too good to be true. There are powerful people and entrenched interests everywhere. Those who challenge those interests are often likely to pay a price. Their fear is not misplaced.
There was Archbishop Oscar Romero who spoke the truth to a bloody, repressive regime and asked soldiers to lay down their arms, whose hunger for righteousness cost him his life. There were four students in the United States who went to Mississippi in the 1960s to work in the civil rights movement and who were lynched for their efforts.
Those are but high profile examples of the price that someone, somewhere is paying every day for their hunger and thirst for justice. How can we say that such people will be satisfied?
This beatitude – along with the others – makes no sense except in the light of the resurrection. No magic bullet exists that will set this world aright without the grace of God.
Hunger for justice is more than a pious longing. It does not fear to plant hope amidst the darkest oppression.
The knowledge that the horrible injustice of this world will not be eliminated this side of Christ's Second Coming can evoke one of two responses. On one hand, a person can become cynical and believe nothing will ever change.
On the other hand, one's hunger and thirst for justice can be strengthened by a trust that Christ will come again. One will not be satisfied with waiting until heaven for justice to be finally fulfilled. Just as the Eucharist is a sacramental sign of the fullness of Christ's presence so too are the small acres of justice and peace in the world signs of the fullness of God's kingdom.
Hope enables one to conquer fear. Hope, it must be emphasized, is not a human disposition but a supernatural virtue. It is planted in us by the gentle Holy Spirit. Our task is to cooperate with the Spirit in bearing witness to the Lord who is victorious over all evil and injustice.
The person who hungers and thirsts for righteousness is not destroyed by suffering, indeed even sees suffering as an opportunity to share in Christ's redemptive work. This person is not someone with pig-headed tenacity. Rather, the fortitude that he or she displays is based on a confident trust in God's help.
In St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, he wrote, "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (13.7).
That little piece of Scripture is often, appropriately, read at weddings. Partners in a marriage do need fortitude and they sometimes need to hunger and thirst for justice in their relationship, a justice that may never arrive. Love may sometimes have to endure many things.
In another letter, St. Paul wrote, "I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8.38-39).
That is the sort of trust that banishes fear. It is with trust like that that one's hunger for justice becomes more than a pious longing. It is a true beatitude, a blessing, that does not fear to plant hope amidst the darkest oppression. It is a realization of God's kingdom in this world that witnesses to the fullness of the kingdom that will come when death is finally destroyed.
In examining one's conscience in relation to this beatitude, one might ask oneself: