GOD IN OUR MIDST
Hungering for Justice
By Donald Senior, C.P.

“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied— (Matthew 5:6).

Jesus— Beatitudes decisively hit their mark like a well-thrown dart. In Luke—s version of these words, the focus is on raw physical hunger: —Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied— (6:21). Matthew—s formulation does not soften the blunt force of Jesus— words but rather extends their meaning in a profound way. Jesus— blessing now reaches all those who long for God—s —righteousness,— whether they are physically hungry themselves or heart-stricken on behalf of those who are.

A key word here is —righteousness,— derived from the Greek term dikaiosune, which can be translated as —righteousness— or —justice.— In modern English these terms can have a variety of connotations. To be —righteous,— for example, can even have a negative connotation, referring to those who are too sure of their virtue and not hesitant to let others know about it. —Justice— can be thought of in legal terms, as when we say someone is —brought to justice——that is, punished for evil deeds.

But the biblical term —justice— or —righteousness— has a very different connotation. God is the best exemplar of what biblical justice means because God is trustworthy and faithful. God does what is right in all cases. Therefore, the biblical peoples would pray that God would be —just— or —righteous— towards Israel, meaning that God would be faithfully compassionate and stand by his people. In turn, —justice— or —righteousness— in the human realm should mirror God—s justice, being faithful to one—s obligations and doing the right thing.

So the people that Jesus blesses in this Beatitude are those who hunger and thirst for God to establish true righteousness or justice. In such a world there will be no child who goes a day without bread and no families will spend the winter in a tent. In a —just— or —righteous— world those of us with resources will have a strong sense of obligation towards those in need.

Gospel Echoes

As in every one of the Beatitudes, Jesus— words echo throughout the Gospel. The very first words Jesus speaks in Matthew—s Gospel are a commitment to this kind of justice: —...I must fulfill all righteousness— (3:15). And he warns his disciples that their —righteousness— must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees in order to enter the kingdom of heaven (5:20). Above everything else, they are to —seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness— (6:33). In the end, we will be judged by God on the basis of our commitment to justice, as Jesus— parable of the sheep and the goats makes clear: giving food and drink to the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting the prisoners (25:31-46).

Jesus— vision of a just world expresses a fundamental longing of the whole Bible. The searing prayer of Psalm 107 (5-9) may have stirred in Jesus— heart as he preached this Beatitude to his disciples:

—They were hungry and thirsty; their life was ebbing away. In their distress they cried to the Lord, who rescued them in their peril...Let them thank the Lord for such kindness, such wondrous deeds for mere mortals. For he satisfied the thirsty, filled the hungry with good things.—

Where Justice Rules

Jesus was not an impractical dreamer looking in vain for an ideal world but a tireless worker for justice. He would give his life healing the sick, feeding the multitudes and confronting those whose sense of justice had died within them. Jesus believed deeply that God—s will for the human family is a place where justice rules. —Your kingdom come— was the heartbeat of Jesus— ministry and the voice of his great prayer. Every great saint steeped in the teaching of Jesus and animated by his Spirit has lived out this same vision of human life, as we see in the example of the remarkable American champion of justice Dorothy Day.

Those who hunger and thirst for justice —will be satisfied.— Jesus— Beatitude does not say how and when such satisfaction will come—only that it surely will.— Any Christian who struggles to be —just— and treat others in the right manner follows in the footsteps of Jesus himself.

Passionist Father Donald Senior is president of Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, and professor of New Testament studies. He is past president of the Catholic Biblical Association of America and newly appointed to the Pontifical Biblical Commission.

Next: Blessed Are the Merciful

Questions for Reflection:

• Have you ever been the victim of an injustice? How did you respond?

• Is there any justice issue that you find yourself "hungering and thirsting" to set right?

Responses to this month's Questions for Reflection from "God in Our Midst."

 

FAMILY CORNER
Justice for All
By Judith Dunlap

Children seem to develop a sense of righteousness at an early age, but it is usually centered on themselves. As they grow, they become concerned about fair treatment for friends and loved ones. As they reach maturity, this concern often extends to people they don—t know and even those who have wronged them. Our job as parents is to make sure their understanding of justice also expands.

It goes beyond the notion of rewarding the good and punishing the bad. Justice means facing the consequences of our misdeeds. It never deals in revenge or extracting disproportionate restitution. For the Christian, however, justice goes beyond even this basic understanding.

When Jesus spoke of justice he was talking about treating people fairly, honoring commitments, setting things right—in other words, —justice for all.— His sense of righteousness went beyond a legalistic understanding of reward and punishment. It involved healing relationships, relieving suffering, making sure everyone was fed. It is this broader understanding of justice that we are asked to mirror in our own lives and help our children hunger and thirst for in theirs.

We can help youngsters appreciate basic justice by rewarding and disciplining them fairly, but we must also foster a broader understanding and a more active approach. Listen intently as they talk about their own experiences of injustice and those of their friends, pray about the situation and work out possible solutions. Later, call attention to injustices in the larger community and follow the same steps. Coming to appreciate —justice for all— is a gradual process that begins at home and leads to every corner of the world.

 

For Family Response:

Talk about what it means to be "blessed." How can we be blessed when we are really sad?

Responses to this month's FAMILY CORNER.

 

MEDIA WATCH
A Beautiful Mind
By Frank Frost

Viewers of A Beautiful Mind leave the theater with many possibilities for discussion. From one perspective, this is a story of a man—s courageous and determined struggle against his mental illness. From another, it is a story about the healing power of love.

Based on the life of Princeton mathematician John Forbes Nash, Jr., A Beautiful Mind tells the story of a mathematical genius totally lacking in social skills, who achieves early success but later must retrieve his life from total collapse. He goes on to win the Nobel Prize—which turns out to be a relatively minor achievement compared to what he accomplishes in his personal life.

Without the knowledge that John Forbes Nash, Jr., actually exists, the audience would doubtless find this story too outrageous to believe. Some critics fault the film for not being totally faithful to the details of the real Nash—s life, but director Ron Howard uses his creative license to tell a story carefully focused on human dignity.

Howard takes us inside the skin of this mathematical genius-misfit and schizophrenic, masterfully portrayed by Russell Crowe, to experience his hopes, compulsions, delusions, social ridicule and courage.

We first begin to sense Nash—s psychiatric problem when he journeys to the Pentagon to help solve a cryptogram. As he stands in the situation room with numbers illuminated on the walls, the camera literally makes his head swim, moving swiftly 360 degrees around him and making the walls vibrate. But not until much later do we understand the depth and seriousness of his problem.

For a long time, the audience sees the world through Nash—s eyes, believing what he believes as his world grows darker and darker, increasingly paranoid. We don—t know—anymore than Nash does—what is real or whom to trust. We don—t know if his government spy handler is genuine, or whether the psychiatrist sent to treat him is actually a Communist spy.

But Howard also shows us Nash through the eyes of the woman who loves him. Alicia (Jennifer Connelly) sees past his eccentricities, loving him for what he is. Nash—s touching pursuit of certainty in love before he proposes marriage finally yields to the mystery of the heart.

When Nash stops taking his medicine and relapses into his delusional world, Alicia discovers that he has become potentially dangerous. But she risks her own safety to help him fight his disease without committing him irreversibly to the hospital. When things are at their worst she pleads with him, —I have to believe that extraordinary things are possible.—

In the end, Nash—s success depends on his own efforts and those of others. Alicia sticks with him; a Princeton professor welcomes him back to the academic community; and Nash himself takes control by barring his delusions from his life, poignantly saying goodbye to them.

SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball

St. Philip Neri (1515-1595)

All saints are memorable for one reason or another, perhaps for such qualities as holiness, spiritual insights, preaching skills, commitment to service, the foundation of a religious congregation. Add joyfulness, humor and a winning personality and you have Philip Neri.

Born in Florence in 1515, Philip moved to Rome at an early age. He left behind a chance to become a businessman in favor of devoting himself to God and service to God—s people. His appealing personality won him friends from all levels of society. He soon gathered around himself a group of laypersons, which met informally for prayer and discussion. They also served the needy of Rome. Philip often led the group on excursions to various churches in Rome, often with music and a picnic on the way.

Popes were not always comfortable with his unorthodox style, but Philip had influential friends who assured the Vatican of his loyalty and devotion.

Though he had intended to remain a layperson, Philip was ordained a priest. He became an outstanding confessor. He was gifted with the knack of piercing the pretenses and illusions of others—always in a charitable manner and often with a joke. He converted many people to personal holiness, including influential churchmen of the day.

Some of Philip—s followers also became priests and lived in community. This was the beginning of the Congregation of the Oratory, which he founded.

Philip died in 1595. Though he was not canonized until 1622, he was regarded as a saint in his lifetime. He is known as the —apostle of Rome— for reviving Christian life in the city following the Renaissance. His feast day is May 26.

Father Stan Fortuna, C.F.R.

A conversion experience turned Stan Fortuna—s world inside out and upside down before he landed on his feet.

By the time he reached his early 20s the native of Yonkers, N.Y., was a lukewarm Catholic, dutifully attending Church on Sundays but not really letting his faith seep into his life.

Now a member of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, Father Stan uses his gifts to preach the gospel message, often to groups of youth, in a straightforward, no-nonsense style. He has a pipeline to young people, whose topsy-turvy worlds aren—t so different from the world he once inherited.

His tools are his guitar and a passion for singing, including jazz, rap and hip-hop. His colorful, lively Web site (http://www.francescoproductions.com) speaks in a language that young people understand.

—My basic message to teens is don—t sell your dreams cheaply,— Father Stan, 44, recently explained to Every Day Catholic. Young people are exposed to so much —from the dark side of the culture. So often they have no vision, no hope for the future. I challenge them to have a serious life project they are committed to: their studies, a career, a spouse,— he said in his rapid-fire, New York-native fashion.

Father Stan pulls no punches when it comes to preaching about pre-marital sex, pornography, abortion, drugs, suicide. His youthful audiences are always receptive. —Teens want to be told the truth.—

One of his strongest influences is Pope John Paul II. Father Stan likes to recall that the Holy Father has urged —boldness of thought— in bringing the gospel to the heart of the contemporary culture. That—s where Father Stan Fortuna comes in.

The following material is available at www.AmericanCatholic.org:

"Community of the Beatitudes," St. Anthony Messenger, March 2002
"The Forgotten Art of Blessing," St. Anthony Messenger, October 2000

The following products can be ordered from St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan Communications (1-800-488-0488):

"Lessons from the School of Suffering: A Young Priest With Cancer Teaches Us How to Live" (book)
"Jesus' Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount" (book) "Breaking Open the Gospel of Matthew: The Sermon on the Mount" (book) "Sermon on the Mount" (audiocassette)
"The Beatitudes: Finding Where Your Treasure Is" (Catholic Update)



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