Before becoming a world-famous theologian, Thomas Aquinas was kidnapped by his own family and locked in a tower for trying to join the new “wild and crazy” Order of Preachers. As noble cousins of the Holy Roman Emperor, they wanted nothing to do with these mendicant riff-raff, and they certainly didn’t want their brilliant son wandering off with them after he had been groomed to become the abbot of Monte Cassino. While Thomas was locked away, one of his sisters would sneak up to see him and talk about spiritual matters. One day she asked Thomas: “What does it take to be a saint?” With not so much as a pause Thomas replied, “To really wantto be one.”
As we continue our journey through the beatitudes, today we come upon my favorite: blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall have their fill. I’m the kind of guy who always wants more. I want the best and I want to be the best. I yearn for the best, long for it, strive for it. I totally buy into the idea that “perfection is constantly tending towards perfection.” That’s me, a fighter, a warrior-king, constantly battling, seeking, striving for more. Magnanimity? You better believe it. It’s the air I breathe! I mean if there’s anything I hate it’s quitting, settling, losing, giving up. That’s not what I’m here for. I’m here for the fullness of life. And yet… And yet I don’t always feel that way. Sometimes, you know, life is tough, and I forget what I’m doing here. I get caught up in all this stuff I have to do, and I lose my drive, my edge. I lose sight of the big picture. As my good buddy Rocky put it: “Let me tell you something you already know: life ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a mean and nasty place and it’ll beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, nobody is gonna hit as hard as life, but it ain’t about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”
But here’s the question: How do you get your drive back when you start to lose it, when you start to slip, or worse when you’ve fallen into a real slump, like depression? How do you turn a setback into a stepping stone? Well, any time you experience a setback, there’s a gift from God called pain, isn’t there? And that pain can either stop you if you let it or it can drive you forward, push you to new heights, can’t it? I mean, you can choose what to do with the pain God gives, can’t you? You can choose to let it beat you to your knees OR like Rocky’s friend Jesus you can get hit and keep moving forward. That’s how holiness is done.
Now practically speaking, how can you re-ignite that flame? How can you use your natural powers God has given you to enliven that burning, passionate love again? Well, if you want to work up a good hunger or thirst, what you need are some spiritual pretzels, right? I mean pretzels are a great appetizer to get your stomach going, and the salt makes you thirsty. Thérèse was a genius at this. What she did was so simple anyone could do it: think about heaven. Remember why you’re here: transforming union with God AND bringing others to that same union and transformation. That’s it. And you can set it up so that you begin by remembering it every morning when you wake up and again before you go to bed at night. But pretty soon, you’ll find so much joy that it’ll start to fill up other parts of the day: your daily prayer routine, your morning drive, downtimes at work, busy times at work, time spent with your family, or on the phone, or at the computer. If you stay faithful to this discipline of remembering why you’re here, pretty soon it will color your whole day and your whole life with the brilliant light of joy, and you will get to be filled that intimate, burning, passionate love that is pure bliss and the essence of holiness… God bless.