By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator

Hungering and thirsting for righteousness means loving people enough to get involved in their lives and protect their dignity as sons and daughters of God, according to Father Rick Andrus SVD, pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Church in Baton Rouge.

In looking at the fourth beatitude, a key point to remember about “righteousness” is God alone is righteous, said Father Andrus.

“What Jesus is saying (in the beatitude) is that ‘Blessed are those who have a heart like God.’ God’s heart is not set on what is right for some, but for all,” said Father Andrus.

He recalls the pivotal point in his desire for righteousness came during his cross-cultural training for the Society of the Divine Word Missionaries when he witnessed injustices done by police to black youth he was accompanying after a Christmas Eve midnight Mass.

“It opened my eyes to the real kind of injustices that go on around the world,” said Father Andrus.

Through his experiences of living in the African-American  community, Father Andrus said, “I really began not only to see, but to feel the world in a totally different way.

“The whole idea of seeking after the heart of God … when the rich man came to Jesus and said ‘What must I do to be saved?’ … (Jesus said) ‘Love God with all your heart and soul and your neighbor as yourself.’ ”

He added, “God doesn’t want part of my heart. God wants 100 percent of my heart. He wants me to not only love him with all my heart, but he wants me to love others with all my heart – the victim as well as the victimizer and that’s tough. It’s easier for me to respond to those who have been victimized, but I also have to respond at times to the person who did the harm.”

Hungering and thirsting for righteousness also includes creation, said Father Andrus.

“There’s a lot of injustice that’s done to the air, the land, the water,” said Father Andrus. “I don’t think the pipeline coming from Canada to Mexico through the heartland of the United States is just. One major break and the land will be completely unusable ever again because of the type of oil that comes through American Native sacred grounds, coming through the American farmer’s most precious fields, that are going through Acadian waterways.”

Father Andrus’ role models include Bishop Dominic Carmon, auxiliary bishop-emeritus of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

“He was a very humble, holy man, a man who led by example,” said Father Andrus. “Bishop Dominic has a shepherd’s heart. He knows about people’s lives, their stories their history, their joys and their pains.”

Another role model was Father Elmer Powell SVD, a former pastor of St. Paul.

“Father Powell taught me the importance of being a real fighter for justice. In my early ministry, he was the one in my order who spoke truth to power in the church, in the neighborhood and in society,” he said.

Father Andrus acknowledged, “We all fall short of being who we are called to be. But by the grace of God, saints are no longer sinners and because of that we are called, and we have the ability to make the transformation of the communities we live in.”

Throughout his ministry, Father Andrus worked tirelessly for, and has served on a number of boards, addressing racial harmony, prison reform, rights of the unborn and elderly, as well as accessibility to education and socialization, healthcare, safe places to live and quality food. He’s helped former and current gang members find the right path in their lives and has worked with officials to develop a more just use of force police policy.

He noted that he is able to do what he does because he has the support of the “awesome people of St. Paul.”

“I’ve got a church full of missionary disciples, people who have the heart of God,” beamed Father Andrus. “So I’m not looking at myself, but at a host of people who are out doing the will of God.”

Prayer is vital when seeking justice. Father Andrus said he and his fellow missionary priests are thankful for the 24-hour prayer support of the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters and the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters.

People may not become involved in addressing injustices because they fear retaliation, they don’t think they have the time or skills, or say, “it’s always been this way and it’s always going to be this way.”

The key to combating such reluctance is faith and hope, Father Andrus emphasized.

“There’s a lot of things that I am dissatisfied with, that I don’t like, that rubs me the wrong way. But I step out as a man of faith. I have that incredible hope that things get better if you invest yourself in it,” said Father Andrus. “You have to have a sense of faith. You have to believe in God. You have to believe in a God who makes all things possible, even in the midst of what seems to be an impossible, hopeless situation.

“You’ve got to work for it and you’ve got to believe, ‘It can happen and I have something that can help it happen.’ ”

And the most important thing people can offer for a just world is a sense of joy.

“We’ve got to proclaim God with more joy,” said Father Andrus. “If my life as a shepherd, as a pastor, a preacher, of trying to be loving with the heart of God doesn’t bring joy, then there’s something wrong. Because the Gospel brings me joy.”

Father Andrus’ face radiated as he talked about one of his favorite songs performed by the St. Paul Gospel Choir: “This Joy I Have.” The song states, “This joy that I have the world didn’t give me. This joy that I have the world can’t take it away.”

“That sums it up. I do what I do because I’m called to do it. I don’t look for immediate results. My relationship with God gives me a sense of joy. There are people who will try to take away my joy. They didn’t give it to me, and they can’t take it away,” said Father Andrus.