Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill. – Matthew 5:6
If the “mourning” in the previous beatitude refers spiritually to mourning over sin and the harm that sin causes to our relationship with God and to our neighbors, then it naturally follows that we should desire the opposite of sin. Sin means choosing to do something that is against the will of God, so righteousness means doing the will of God. Mourning for our sins causes us to hunger and thirst for righteousness.
St. Ambrose said, “As soon as I have wept for my sins, I begin to hunger and thirst after righteousness. He who is afflicted with any sore disease, hath no hunger.” St. Ambrose is using the analogy of catching a cold or getting sick to explain the affect of sin. Some diseases cause us to lose our appetite, and sin causes us to lose our appetite, our desire, for righteousness. Every time we sin we increase our hunger for that sin. Many people think that temptation to sin builds up within us until it overflows, so we have to indulge our desires a little bit every once in a while or we’ll end up binging when we can’t stand it any more. This idea is explored in the movie, The Purge, where there’s one day a year where nothing is illegal, which is supposed to make things safer the rest of the year by allowing people to indulge themselves. However, indulging our desires doesn’t lesson them, it strengthens them. When we indulge ourselves we get an immediate reward, pleasure, which incentivizes that behavior and makes us more likely to do it again. The best way to fight sin is not to indulge it at all, but instead to build up virtues that will leads us to what is truly good. As St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “Let us walk honestly, as in the daylight, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and sexual immorality, not in contention and envy. Instead, be clothed with the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in its desires” (emphasis mine, Rm 13:13-14).
St. Jerome said, “It is not enough that we desire righteousness, unless we also suffer hunger for it, by which expression we may understand that we are never righteousness enough, but always hunger after works of righteousness.” When we sin we increase our desire for sin and risk falling more and more into sin. However, the opposite can also be true. We should never be satisfied with the level of righteousness or holiness that we have, but we should always hunger and thirst for more. When I get hungry, I can satisfy that desire by eating, but I don’t stay satisfied; I will get hungry again. We should not become satisfied with where we are, so that we are constantly hungering and thirsting for righteousness. In other words, it’s not an on/off switch where we choose sin or righteousness. It’s more like a dimmer switch, where the light continues to increase, as St. John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word. He was with God in the beginning... Life was in Him, and Life was the light of men...The true Light, which illuminates every man, was coming into this world” (Jn 1:1-2, 4, & 9).
St. Augustine said, “He speaks of food with which they shall be filled at this present; to wit, that food of which the Lord spake, ‘My food is to do the will of my Father, that is, righteousness, and that water of which whoever drinks it shall be in him a well of water springing up to life eternal.” We hunger and thirst for it because we know that we don’t have it, but we need it. What we truly hunger and thirst for is communion with God Himself, because that is what we’re made for. So let us turn to the One who can satisfy that longing.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.