Skip to comments.Happiness: Blessed are Those who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness (Part 3)
Posted on 04/09/2012 7:22:08 PM PDT by Salvation
You see this strikingly when you live in another culture, or even when you read the writings of another culture, like the Middle Ages or ancient Israel. Kierkegaard says in Either/Or,
Let others complain that our age is wicked; my complaint is that it is wretched, for it lacks passion. Men's thoughts are thin and flimsy like lace; they are themselves are pitiable like lace makers. The thoughts of their hearts are too paltry to be sinful. For a worm it might be regarded as a sin to harbor such thoughts, but not for a being made in the image of God. Even their lusts are dull and sluggish, their passions sleepy. They do their duty, these shop-keeping souls, but they clip the coin a trifle. ... They think that even if the Lord keeps a careful set of books, they may still cheat Him a little. Out upon them! This is the reason my soul always turns back to the Old Testament and Shakespeare. Those who speak there are at least human beings: they hate; they love; they murder their enemies, and curse their descendants throughout all generations; they sin.
The greatest good, according to our culture's primary prophets, is self-esteem, self-satisfaction. Christ shocks us by blessing dissatisfaction, not the dissatisfaction with our place in the world, not worldly ambition, the profit motive, the American Dream, hunger for glory, honor, fame, power, wealth or success, but hunger and thirst for righteousness, for sanctity dissatisfaction with our sins, passionate thirst for a sanctity we know we do not have, and know we must have.
There is one thing in the lives of all the saints that turns us off, and cuts of off, from perhaps the single most effective evangelistic weapon in the Church's arsenal using the lives of the saints and that is the saints' passionate insistence that they are great sinners, and their insistent passion for holiness. It's not that we do not admire holiness; it's that we do not admire the passion for holiness, the hunger and thirst for righteousness.
What Christ blesses, we curse as fanaticism, our soft, sophisticated culture's worst insult. But this is Christ's blessing. More than a blessing, it is a requirement. It is what our Lord requires us to be in order to be his, that is, to be a saint, that is, a fanatic, to love one thing infinitely, to put all our eggs in his basket. It contains only one pearl of great price. He uses a shocking word for our Laodicean niceness: "Because you are neither hot nor cold I will spit you out of my mouth." He is content with us only if we are discontent with ourselves.
Freud wrote that our civilization's success in seeking contentment has produced instead greater discontent a profound question, but he did not know the answer why. I think that was the profoundest thing he ever wrote, only one step from Augustine's great answer, that our hearts are restless until they rest in God.
Pascal, on the other hand, knew why, for his patient, unlike Freud's, was himself, and his psychoanalyst, unlike Freud's, was not himself, but Christ. And therefore he knew why we multiply our passions for little things, and decrease our passion for great thing, why we multiply diversions, and cultivate indifference, especially to death and our eternal destiny. He knew where this disease came from. He wrote,
The fact that there exist men who are indifferent to the loss of their whole being and the peril of an eternity of wretchedness is against nature. With everything else they are quite different: they fear the most trifling things. They foresee them and feel them. The same man who spends many days and nights in fury and despair at losing some office, or some imaginary affront to his honor, is the very one who knows that he is going to lose everything through death, but feels neither anxiety nor emotion. It is a monstrous thing to see one and the same heart at once so sensitive to minor things and so strangely insensitive to the greatest. It is an incomprehensible spell, a supernatural torpor that points to a supernatural power as its cause.
Jesus said it even more succinctly than Pascal (Jesus spoke more succinctly than anyone ever): "Seek and you shall find," implying that non-seekers do not find.
Many thinkers have written sentences that begin like this: "There are only two kinds of people" or "There are only three kinds of people". In fact, one version goes like this: "There are only two kinds of people, those who believe there are only two kinds of people, and those who don't." But Pascal's version is the best I have ever heard. He writes, "There are only three kinds of people: those who seek God and have found Him these are wise and happy; those who seek God and have not yet found Him these are wise and unhappy; and those who live without either seeking God or finding Him and these are both unwise and unhappy." You see, it is the seeking, the hungering and thirsting, that makes all the difference, in fact, the eternal difference. Jesus said it even more succinctly than Pascal (Jesus spoke more succinctly than anyone ever): "Seek and you shall find," implying that non-seekers do not find.
The Pharisees were non-seekers, like the pop psychologists, full of self-esteem. Therefore he said to them that he had come on earth to save everyone but them. He said, "Those who are sick need a physician, not those who are well. I came to call not the righteous, but sinners." Socrates said the same thing: on the intellectual level, there are only two kinds of people, fools who believe they are wise, and the wise who believe they are fools. Pascal says: "There are two kinds of people: sinners, who believe they are saints, and saints, who believe they are sinners." Jesus says that the wise "fools" and the saints are right, and the clear empirical test for the difference between them is the hunger and thirst, the passion, the discontent.
When Christ says that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, that is, for sanctity, shall be satisfied, does he mean they shall be satisfied only in the next life? I think he means they will begin to be satisfied even in this one. Already in this life the saints have a peace and a joy that the world cannot give. They are at the same time dissatisfied and satisfied, like Romeo with Juliet, like you listening to a great symphony, or watching a great storm at sea.
By a wonderful paradox, the refusal to accept self-esteem turns out to be the highest self-esteem. To accept the title "sinner" means you are the King's kid acting like an ape. To refuse that title and accept yourself as you are means that you are only a clever, successfully evolved ape, even when you act like a prince. What a privilege to sing, "Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!" No ape, however evolved, can rise to the dignity of being a wretch. Only one destined for infinite, unending, and unimaginable ecstasy in spiritual marriage to God can bear the dignity of being a wretch. Only the betrothed is wretched until united with the Spouse.
Peter Kreeft. "Happiness: Blessed are Those who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness." a talk by Peter Kreeft given in various places at various times.
This article is reprinted with permission from Peter Kreeft.
Peter Kreeft, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at Boston College. He is an alumnus of Calvin College (AB 1959) and Fordham University (MA 1961, Ph.D., 1965). He taught at Villanova University from 1962-1965, and has been at Boston College since 1965.
The Beatitudes: Blessed Are Those Who Mourn
The Beatitudes: Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit
Lists Every Catholic Should be Familiar With: The 8 Beatitudes
The Beatitudes: Generosity and Happiness
Beatitudes by Bishop Fulton Sheen
Happiness of Sacrifice
The Danger of Spiritual Sloth [Reflection on The Beatitudes]
Satan's version of the sermon on the mount [Difficult read]
The Eight Beatitudes
Though the author gets to the point of the true nature of how we really are supposed to be regarding our helplessness and hopelessness apart from the grace of God, I thought the above paragraph from the article nearly contradicted the entire rest. Anyone who studies the Scriptures knows that God does NOT deal with us according to our iniquities but, if we have surrendered to His grace by receiving the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, believing in Him, we ARE (right now) saved and justified in His sight. The way the author makes it sound, we not only must accept our wretchedness and impotence to save ourselves by our own merits but also somehow achieve this righteousness by our own striving after holiness.
To say God expects this "hungering and thirsting for righteousness" and requires it in order to save us diminishes two things. One, that we are sanctified and made righteous solely by the blood of Jesus Christ and, two, that the only way anyone can strive and yearn to please God by holy living is because of the Holy Spirit enabled new nature within us. The way the author says it, this is somehow possible by human actions. It's NOT and to try to convince people that God only accepts them IF they do this and that is to nullify the gospel of grace.
It is when we were YET sinners that Christ died for us. Not by righteous deeds which we have done but according to his mercy he saved us. We love God because he FIRST loved us. Am I saying we should not hunger and thirst after holiness and righteous living? No, of course not, but it MUST be clear that this is an outgrowth of our openness to God's Spirit working in and through us to conform us to the image of Christ. The more we surrender to him and seek to follow him, the greater our happiness and joy on earth and the more we strive to please God out of a heart full of gratitude, the more we serve as a witness to the world.
Saints do not become saints by their own efforts. We are all sanctified and set apart through faith in Christ and we become his own the moment we step out in faith to receive him. We are ALL saints through Christ and some are certainly better examples and more admirable - worthy to be emulated - than others, but it is NOT their deeds that set them apart to God. Only by faith are we born again into his family. There is nothing we can do to merit, earn or deserve his grace. That is the very essence of grace.