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Thirst for Righteousness

Thirst for Righteousness November 2, 2021

loswl: Blessed Are They Who Hunger And Thirst For Righteousness /flickr

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6 RSV). We should desire righteousness, not of course, the false righteousness performed by those who like to glorify themselves and receive accolades for what they have done on an external basis, but true righteousness, a righteousness which is borne out of love and seeks the good for all. We must desire a righteousness which not only gives us the appearance of holiness, but rather, we should truly be holy. We should act in accordance to the dictates of justice, working for and promoting the common good. Those who seek after righteousness will find that so long as they are selfish. If they think only of themselves, no matter what virtue they pursue, they will be far from righteous, because they will have ignored the core of righteousness itself, that is love. So long as love is ignored and rejected, what is desired is not righteousness, but its simulacra, which is why so many who seek after the appearance of holiness, and who therefore seem to imitate it in front of others, are rotten to the core. This is also why they often end up doing something which demonstrates how far they are from true righteousness, showing us why they are not to be trusted. It is better to listen to a humble sinner than a proud would-be saint.

The pursuit for righteousness is a lifelong pursuit. Righteousness is a way of being. To be righteous, we must constantly act, living out the dictates of love. And because of this, we will constantly find ourselves being tempted, as St. Antony of Egypt was known to say: “Abba Poemen said that blessed Abba Anthony used to say: “Abba Poemen said that blessed Abba Anthony used to say, ‘The greatest thing a man can do is to throw his faults before the Lord and to expect temptation to his last breath.’”[1] Once we have attained some level of righteousness, we will find there is more to do, more that we can do, and if we ignore it, thinking we have done enough, we find ourselves turning away from righteousness and falling short of the glory which we are meant to have.

Temptation is not a sin. We will constantly find ourselves tempted, especially by those habits which we once followed. It is important to note that temptation is not a bad thing. It is a trial, a test of character. If we resist temptation, we find our resistance to sin grows stronger. Indeed, the virtue which opposes the vice we resisted can then grow in us, becoming ever more a part of who we are. Thus, temptation helps develop our character, and since we will be developing our character throughout all our lives, temptation will always be with us, refining us as we resist whatever vices come across us in our thoughts, making us better people in the process.

Nonetheless, it is also true, most of us. when we encounter various temptations, and instead of resisting them, we will embrace what they offer and lapse into some sort of sin. When we do so, we should not give in to despair. We should simply humble ourselves, admit our faults to God, and trust God and God’s grace to help us, so that, over time, as we pursue holiness, we will be able to resist such temptation and find ourselves growing in holiness. Thus, as Scripture says, with such humility, we will find ourselves exalted by God: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you” (1 Ptr. 5:6-7 RSV).

If we truly desire holiness, if we truly thirst for it, we will receive it, it will be ours, but it will be ours in due time. We must struggle for it. We must not give up when we stumble. Holiness is not impossible. If it were, God would not tell us to be holy, for God knows it would be foolish to ask for us to do what is impossible. However, it is impossible without God. That is, it is impossible without grace. Thus, God asks for us to be holy while offering us the very means by which we can achieve it. He doesn’t make holiness cheap, something easily attained without struggle; we must prove we want it. We must cooperate with grace and let it heal us so that we can gain the strength we need to resist temptations when we encounter it. When we ask God to lead us not into temptation, we are asking God to give us the strength we need to resist temptation and not fall for it.

If we truly thirst for righteousness, we will seek it all the days of our life. There is no end to what we would do in order to find it. But we will seek for it, not just for ourselves, but for the whole world. We will lift others up with whatever holiness we have achieved, and so in sharing that holiness, we will find it is returned to us exponentially. So long as we try to grab after it for ourselves alone, it will fall out of our grasp;  the more we seek to share it with others, the more it will fill us up with its glory. Holiness is holistic, and those who pursue it will seek for the good of all things, seeking that good in its proper form. This is why we must not form attachments to particular goods, because in doing so, we can find ourselves turned away from the greater, holistic good. So long as we think of righteousness in an individualistic manner, we will find ourselves again and again falling into sin, because we will have not embraced the fullness of the good.  To thirst for holiness must always mean a thirst for the good beyond ourselves; and to receive it, we must first die to the self; only then can we find ourselves reborn and resurrected in the fullness of the good itself.

 


[1] The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 185 [Saying of Abba Poemen #125].

 

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