Thursday, February 3, 2011

Appealing to Thirst

The following is a transcript of my talk given this past weekend at Incarnation Catholic Church Masses to communicate information about the Diocese of St. Petersburg's Annual Pastoral Appeal (

As an educator, I consider the Beatitudes to be similar to an assignment description we’d give to students for a big project. Or, they are like a rubric by which we’ll be graded for our life’s work. Put in non-academic terms, think of the Beatitudes as a job description, an evaluation tool, recipe, instructions, or game plan for what God expects of us because of His gift of Salvation.

Do these things, Jesus tells us, and our reward will be great in Heaven. He doesn’t say that we’ll get a rebate in the mail, or that we’ll earn fame, fortune and the esteem of our friends and colleagues. He says that we’ll be rewarded, greatly, in Heaven. Be poor in spirit, mourn, be humble, hunger and thirst for righteousness, be merciful, be a peacemaker, allow yourself to endure persecution and insult and every kind of evil for the sake of justice, and we will be rewarded in Heaven!

And while this entire set of teachings carries get importance, there is one word that strikes a chord within my very soul and poignantly paints the picture of just how passionately we should work toward living out the Beatitudes: thirst. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be satisfied. In their verb
forms, both hunger and thirst translate word for word from ( “to have a strong desire.” But, and this is the former English teacher coming out in me, if we look at the noun forms of these words, hunger: “a compelling need or desire for food”, and thirst: “the sensation of dryness in the mouth and throat caused by the need for liquid” we notice that hunger can be a desire or craving for Doritos or chocolate or a Whopper even though we just ate, while thirst comes on much more quickly and is a much more basic necessity. So long as we have liquid, we can live for almost 8 weeks without food; however, we can
survive without water for 3 – 5 days at most, especially depending on the weather conditions.

So when Matthew uses the word “thirst” in how we should strive for righteousness, it conjures up the essential need for liquid innate in each of us and informs us that our pursuit of righteousness or any of the tenants of the Beatitudes should be as vital in our day to day lives as our need for water. If the Beatitudes make up the assignment description or rubric or job description than we should be inspired to not just be content with being a good father or an on-time employee or a once a week churchgoer or a recycler but that we should thirst for righteousness everywhere. We should be peacemakers everywhere we go. We should constantly show mercy. Not just on Sundays (or Saturdays) not just during the hour we’re here at church but always. This thirst for righteousness should inspire us, just like real thirst might
send you out to the water fountain, to get out of our pews, to go outside of our
church and home and school and place of employment into the world to make it a
better place. It takes only a few hours without liquid for our mouths to become parched, do we feel the same emptiness after a few hours of not carrying out the Beatitudes?

The Jesuits have a word for this constant striving, for this continual stirring within us to serve God, “Magis,” which means, simply, “more”. They identified it as a spirit that says aim high, even higher than you even think is possible and then work and pray like mad to get it accomplished. It’s a philosophy that says if you’re doing good works, do more. If you’re helping the poor, do what you can to help more. If you’re going to church or praying, go and pray more. Constantly strive for more, but not for
things or possession, but for ways to bring about God’s Kingdom here on Earth.

In our diocese this spirit of thirsting for more or “Magis” is made manifest through the funds generated by the Annual Pastoral Appeal. Thanks to monies collected last year in this appeal across the diocese, 1 million dollars went to Catholic Charities, $300,000 went to Pinellas Hope, $60,000 paid for a bus that doctors and other medical professionals use to go into migrant camps and offer free medical services, 2.3 million dollars paid for the education of a record 33 seminarians’ from our diocese, and close to 1 million dollars when to Catholic Schools across the diocese for not only tuition assistance but also to help subsidize the schools owned and operated by our diocese. The poor are lifted up, the mourning are supported, peace is made,
justice sought after and found—God’s Kingdom is more firmly established because
of the good work accomplished through the ministries and programs Annual Pastoral Appeal funds.

You’ll hear more about this Appeal over the next three weeks, and I’ll leave it to the next three speakers to talk to you about our particular numbers here at Incarnation and making pledges and asking for money. My purpose today was to make you thirsty. To make you realize that you were already thirsty. To make you understand that your cup has room for more it in it and that the small sips of righteousness you’ve been drinking aren’t quenching your thirst for it. To get you to see that you’re thirsty for more.

My purpose today is to plant a thirsty seed that will hopefully get watered the next few weeks and grow and blossom into something beautiful and fruitful.

I pray that if you’ve never given to the appeal that this year you’ll give something; that if you’ve given in the past, you’ll consider giving even more; that if you’ve never prayed for the success of the appeal and the ministries supported by its funds, that this year, even if its just today, that you’ll pray.

In a few moments, through our Celebrant, God will turn our gifts of bread and wine into His Body and Blood. He can do that. He can turn water into wine. He can feed 5,000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish. He can give sight to the blind. He can make the lame walk. He can make the deaf hear. He can raise the dead.

He can live after dying.

If He can do all of these things, certainly He can take our humble offerings during this year’s appeal and with them do abundantly more, “Magis” than all we could ask or imagine. With just a little more from each one of us, He could, through us and through our diocese, perform miracles.

Thirsty, anyone?