Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Nov. 1 at Catholic High School and Mount St. Mary Academy in Little Rock.
In today’s Gospel we have Jesus’ Beatitudes, and since today is All Saints Day, I would like to focus on the Fourth Beatitude: “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for holiness, they shall have their fill.”
The average person 2,000 years ago was never far from physical hunger; they lacked food security. Nor could they simply turn the faucet to have water flow right into the house. They had to walk to a well and bring back water in heavy jugs.
Most people in Jesus’ audience had experienced desperate hunger and thirst at some time in their life, so when they heard this beatitude, they knew Jesus was using their experience of a life or death situation — the risk of death by starvation or dehydration — to talk about a very serious matter: personal holiness.
Today Jesus is challenging us to ask ourselves how much we really want to be holy — as much as a person dying of hunger and thirst wants to eat and drink?
Most people want to live good lives, but they desire holiness in only a rather vague or general way, so when difficult situations occur, they are not prepared to make the sacrifices that doing the right thing demands, especially when they know some people will not like the results. That is why I have to remind myself constantly that the only one I really have to please is the Lord and sometimes this means embracing the cross, especially when what the Lord requires is difficult.
Look at the world around us. Isn’t it true that genuine holiness is one of the greatest needs of our time? If we long to live a life founded solidly on faithfulness to the Word of God as intensely as a starving person longs to eat, Jesus promises us that our desire for a full, holy, happy life will be fulfilled.
Today I come before you as a spiritual father who knows the hurt and confusion some of you have experienced in the wake of all of the allegations of sexual abuse by clergy worldwide, including 12 cases here in Arkansas over the course of the last 70 years. Thanks be to God that there have been no known instances of abuse committed since our implementation of our safe environment policies in 2002, within just a year or two of when you were born.
So far, all of the allegations we have received are for things done before 2002 and most of these are from the 1960s, 70s and 80s — about the time your parents were born. So mostly a long time ago.
But even so we still feel scandalized that these things were done at any time. Obviously they were committed by persons who were thirsting for something other than holiness.
As for you and me, by hungering and thirsting for holiness, we become part of the solution. That’s why I’m so proud of our seminarians and all our young priests ordained since 2002. Despite all the negativity, they are committed to doing with their lives what God is asking of them. It takes true humility for us to trust in Jesus, especially when he asks us to follow him down a road that few choose to follow. It is our hunger for holiness that keeps our eyes focused on Christ during these difficult times.
St. Augustine captured an important facet of the meaning of hungering and thirsting for holiness when he wrote, “Oh God, you have made us for yourself and our souls will find no rest until they rest in you.” This longing for the Lord is what Jesus is talking about in the Fourth Beatitude. But often our thoughts run in the opposite direction.
Sometimes we are even tempted to think of a life of holiness as a boring, burdensome way to live, full of prohibitions. In weak moments we may even start to think that happiness is best found doing things we know are sinful.
But is this true? Are we really happiest when we know deep in our heart that what we are doing is wrong? Quite the contrary. Sin leaves us feeling empty inside.
In terms of material goods, we live in the most abundantly blessed societies in human history, but from what I have seen in 38 years of priesthood, there are two commodities that are in very short supply in this blessed land — and it’s no surprise that if one is missing, the other will be missing as well. One thing we lack is holiness. The other thing we lack is happiness. And there is a clear connection between these two shortages. Jesus knew the truth when he said: “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for holiness, they shall have their fill.”
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