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Chapter 26: Modes of Christian Response

Question G: What mode of Christian response corresponds to the fourth Beatitude: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Mt 5.6)?

1. People whose primary love is charity have a disposition of complete and enduring love which can be touched by no evil and thus has nothing whatsoever to fear: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn 4.18), even fear of punishment. One who abides in God has absolute confidence; even childlike fear gives way to a reverent boldness. Thus the fourth Christian mode of response is to endure fearlessly whatever is necessary or useful for the fulfillment of one’s personal vocation. This way of acting is faith’s specification and charity’s fulfillment of the fourth mode of responsibility: One should not choose to act out of an emotional aversion except as part of one’s avoidance of some intelligible evil other than the inner tension experienced in enduring that aversion.

In the fallen human condition, evil and suffering are prevalent; fear becomes a dominant motive in human life. The great masses of people struggle for survival, driven to action and kept in check by terror of pain, suffering, and death. Lesser fears, with few exceptions, are controlled by greater ones. Since fear of death is so great, courage in the face of death is regarded almost universally as an exceptional and excellent quality. The revelation of the Old Testament provided considerable help in overcoming this attitude (8‑D). Sheer terror gives way to reverential fear of God and faith in him. Courage develops into the magnificent faithfulness of the Old Testament martyrs and the heroic fidelity of many other holy persons, especially several of the great prophets.

However, many people who lack faithfulness seem to have considerable courage. How do they manage to develop this disposition? Generally by falsely estimating the significance of evil, especially the evil of death, thus neutralizing normal reactions of fear. For example, the value and personal quality of bodily life itself often are downplayed to make death seem insignificant. Either a better, disembodied, and perhaps nonpersonal existence is expected after this life or permanent escape into darkness is accepted as an escape from misery. Many people also manifest courage out of excessive commitment—for instance, out of fanatical dedication to a cause or out of love of honor.

The light of faith transforms the understanding of evil and of human hopes to overcome it. One who accepts Jesus with living faith does not diminish the value of human goods threatened by evil and does not distort the reality and seriousness of evil in order to make it more bearable. Like the Jew, the Christian instead trusts in God. Courage becomes a function of faithfulness. The faithfulness of God guarantees salvation, while the faithfulness of the believer demands that no repugnance, suffering, or obstacle be allowed to lead to violation of the basic commitment which forms the whole of one’s life. Belief that Jesus already has won the victory and awareness that one’s fidelity is essential to bear witness to him transform courage into Christian faithfulness.

2. The virtuous disposition present in this mode of Christian response is the faithfulness and heroism characteristic of the martyr yet required of all Christians, who must be ready to suffer martyrdom at any time if that is necessary. Patient endurance of lesser evils and sufferings is also an important aspect of Christian faithfulness. Opposed to this disposition are weakness of faith, faintheartedness in the face of non-Christian standards, reticence about one’s faith, embarrassment about practicing it, and so on.

3. To those who hunger and thirst for goodness, Jesus gives living water; his own food is doing God’s will (see Jn 4.14, 34). He himself is “the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst” (Jn 6.35). The condition for permanent satisfaction of the most urgent human appetites, on which survival itself depends, is faith in Jesus.23 One who has these appetites will hardly notice obstacles to satisfying them, and so will be heroically faithful to his or her personal vocation.

4. Having transformed water into wine at Cana, Jesus finishes his redemptive work by transforming the bitter wine of his heroic suffering into the blood and water of saving grace. The human appetite for goodness is now satisfied by the Eucharist and by the union with God which the Eucharist gives (see Jn 6.53–58).

5. What is most distinctive about Christian faithfulness is that it is fidelity to Jesus and his Church. From this comes firmness based on the conviction that the only real evil to be feared has been destroyed: “I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulations; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16.33). In light of this assurance, there should be no concern in Christian hearts; they are to be filled with joy and peace (see Jn 14.1, 27–31).

6. In the face of persecution Christians are certain they cooperate with the Holy Spirit in bearing witness to an already triumphant Lord (see Jn 15.18–16.4). The resurrection quickly confirms the promise, brings peace, grounds faith (see Jn 20.19–29). It is not the mere fact of the resurrection—which induces terror (see Mk 16.6–8)—that effects this result, but the living presence of Jesus and the confirming gift of the Spirit (see Lk 24.36–49).

7. In excoriating the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus condemns their false assiduousness: “You traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (Mt 23.15). Taking shelter in legalism because of their infidelity to the law’s purpose, even its servants who endured great hardships on its behalf achieved only counterproductive results by Jesus’ standard.

8. According to St. Augustine, the gift of the Holy Spirit corresponding to this Beatitude is fortitude.24 St. Thomas points out that by this gift the Christian not only does good things but lives with an insatiable desire, suggested by “hunger” and “thirst,” for what is truly good (see S.t., 2–2, q. 139, a. 2).

The Old Testament already saw a considerable development of the virtue of faithfulness. Much of what is contained in the New Testament does not, in any explicit way, add anything to this heritage. For example, the great eschatological discourse (see Mt 24; Mk 13; Lk 21.5–36) clearly is written to encourage faithfulness in time of persecution; present suffering means God’s help will soon arrive. But this discourse contains nothing on the required response which might not have been known from the Old Testament. Similarly, speaking of the genesis by charity of Christian virtues, Paul notes in the area of faithfulness love’s power to trust, to hope, and to endure (see 1 Cor 13.7)—all fully illustrated in the Old Testament.

Christian faithfulness is not mere courage, not true grit. Suffering for the sake of future joy belongs to faithfulness as such (see Jn 16.21–22; Heb 12.2). But for the Christian, suffering must be accepted with present joy, since it unites one with Jesus (see Col 1.24; Jas 1.2–4; 1 Pt 1.6–7).

Because of the importance of personal vocation in Christian life, faithfulness for the Christian demands not only endurance but an active effort. One must put Jesus’ teaching into practice, building upon the solid foundation of charity (see Mt 7.24–27). Good fruit is required; united with Jesus one will bear it abundantly (see Jn 15.1–8). Hence, Christian faithfulness demands creativity, by which one not only is able to do works like those of Jesus, but works even greater than his (see Jn 14.12), works which with faithful initiative build Jesus to his full stature and complete his sufferings (see Eph 4.11–13; Col 1.24).

Because of the positive aspects of both detachment and faithfulness, the two dispositions virtually merge into one. The Christian must be utterly carefree, without the concerns which arise from attachment to transient goods, with joy in suffering because it is a way of sharing here and now in everlasting fulfillment. Hence, the law of the cross links self-denial and the taking up of one’s cross in the fulfillment of each Christian’s personal vocation: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mk 8.34–35).

23. See Dupont, op. cit., 355–84.

24. St. Augustine, loc. cit.