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Man’s Desire For Happiness

June 16, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


Significant to note from last week’s consideration of the eighth Beatitude: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10), is that the reward promised is identical to that of the first Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3).
Through a literary device called inclusion, biblical exegetes deduce that the promise made at the beginning and end of the series of eight Beatitudes applies likewise to those between. Thus, as Fr. Servais Pinckaers, OP, concludes: “The beatitude of the persecuted completes the series…and brings to full circle the assurance of the Kingdom of heaven” (The Pursuit of Happiness — God’s Way [PH-GW], p. 165). The eighth Beatitude “subsumes the others and confirms and demonstrates them” (ibid., p. 197).
The persecuted, attests Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ, are those “who are opposed and persecuted for their loyalty to Christ and His Church and who persevere in doing God’s will in spite of not being accepted or even being rejected by others” (The Question and Answer Catholic Catechism, [QACC], n. 873).
The life of the wayfarer during his earthly sojourn, we must constantly recall, is a time of suffering and struggle against evil. This remembrance, says Fr. Pinckaers, “prevents us from being lulled by the softness of an illusory peace, and spurs us on to seek a nobler joy and peace promised by the beatitudes” (PH-GW, p. 167).
In the eighth Beatitude, Christ teaches us “the humanly impossible doctrine of accepting persecution with patience and resignation to God’s will,” explains Fr. Hardon, “while the world dreads nothing more than criticism and rejection. Human respect, which means acceptance by society, is the world’s moral norm” (QACC, n. 874).
To be sure, every true follower of Christ will face persecution in some form, for as St. Paul clearly explicates: “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). The reward, however, is nothing less than eternal beatitude in Heaven and a deeply seated, abiding joy in this present life.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) now addresses man’s desire for happiness, a desire that is universal and to which the eight Beatitudes respond. As was emphasized very early in this series: “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself” (CCC, n. 27; see volume 145, n. 18, May 3, 2012).
“God has placed [the natural desire for happiness] in the human heart,” affirms the Catechism, “in order to draw man to the One who alone can fulfill it” (CCC, n. 1718).
So undeniable is man’s innate desire for happiness that in his treatise entitled Of the Morals of the Catholic Church, St. Augustine proclaimed: “We all certainly desire to live happily; and there is no human being but assents to this statement almost before it is made” (chapter 3, n. 4). Elsewhere, the bishop of Hippo said: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you” (Confessions, book 1, chapter 1).
Similarly, St. Thomas Aquinas declared: “God only satisfies and infinitely exceeds man’s desires” (Expositio in Symbolum Apostolorum, n. 12).
Likewise, Sacred Scripture attests: “As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God. My being thirsts for God, the living God” (Psalm 42:1-2).
As we consider this topic, it is of paramount importance to define precisely what is meant by the term “happiness.” In the Catechism’s Glossary, the following definition is given:
“Joy and beatitude over receiving the fulfillment of our vocation as creatures: a sharing in the divine nature and the vision of God. God put us into the world to know, love, and serve him, and so come to the happiness of paradise.”
This vocation, which “is addressed to each individual personally,” is revealed in the Beatitudes as “the goal of human existence, the ultimate end of human acts” (CCC, n. 1719). Indeed, each of us is called to God’s own beatitude; we are called to “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).
In his Modern Catholic Dictionary, Fr. Hardon gives a more general definition:
“[Happiness is] any contentment in the possession of a good; it implies a state of well-being and not some single experience, and a relative permanence and constancy. Hence, [the term is] regularly used in Scripture to describe the lot of those who are blessed by God for doing his will, and the reward of the just for their faithful service on earth. Happiness is a divine gift but requires man’s cooperation to be gained” (p. 243).
(As an aside, the last statement in this definition is a poignant reminder of St. Augustine’s important spiritual maxim: “God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us” [Sermo 169, 11, 13; as cited in CCC, n. 1847].)
The most crucial question in human life, then, is: “In what does true happiness consist?” The entire course of our lives depends upon our answer to this fundamental question.
As expressed so concisely and accurately by Dr. Lawrence Feingold, STD: “If we fail in identifying [the answer to this question], we shall waste our lives in chasing a mirage, ordering our actions to what actually causes misery, although we thought it to be happiness” (Course Notes for Fundamental Moral Theology [FMT], December 2009, p. 4).
Yet buying into a false definition of happiness is exactly what can be observed in epidemic proportions in our materialistic society, for so many people seek happiness in the trappings of worldly enticements such as riches, fame, sex, or power.
In his brilliant theological analysis on the happiness of man and the final end to which he is called (see Summa Theologiae I-II, QQ. 1-5), St. Thomas Aquinas demonstrates that “true happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement — however beneficial it may be — such as science, technology, and art, or indeed in any creature” (CCC, n. 1723).
As Dr. Feingold affirms: “Only God can fully and properly satisfy the unlimited aspiration of the human will….Beatitude must consist in the greatest union with God that we can attain” (FMT, pp. 8-9).
Creatures, in and of themselves, are good. However, they must not be utilized by man in a disordered way; they must not be treated as ends rather than means. Treating them as ends leads to an illusory, fleeting happiness that will not satisfy the human heart’s deep-seated desire for happiness. In an excellent little volume entitled Spiritual Life in the Modern World, Fr. Hardon illustrates this truth by recalling a personal experience he encountered during the course of his lifelong ministry to souls:
“One of the most unhappy men I ever met was in New York State on his [spacious] estate. A multimillionaire, he had, in the process of amassing so much wealth, lost his Catholic Faith. As we [rode] in his limousine, driven by the chauffeur through [his substantial] garden, he kept repeating, as he sipped from a glass of cider in one hand and held on in the automobile with the other, ‘this is all for my pleasure, all for my pleasure.’ But I found out from my four hours of conversation with him he was terribly unhappy” (p. 84).
(Note: The complete chapter in which this account appears can be accessed online by going to and performing a search on “How to be truly happy.”)

There We Shall Rest

The Catechism points out several New Testament images that characterize the beatitude or final happiness to which God calls the faithful: an assurance that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17); the realization of the vision of God to which we aspire, “for now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12); the promise of entering into the joy of the Lord (cf. Matt. 25:21-23); and the promise of entering into His rest and ceasing from our labors in this vale of tears (cf. Heb. 4:10).
St. Augustine beautifully describes the ultimate end for which our souls yearn: “There we shall rest and see, see and love, love and praise. This is what shall be in the end without end. For what other end do we propose to ourselves than to attain to the kingdom of which there is no end?” (City of God, book XII, chapter 30).
It can be seen, then, that perfect happiness “can never be accomplished in this life, if only because the temporary nature of this life precludes a perfect happiness, which must consist in a stable possession of the complete good. Happiness must be something eternal: eternal life in union with God” (ibid., p. 9), or the Beatific Vision.
“Such beatitude,” teaches the Catechism, “surpasses the understanding and powers of man. It comes from an entirely free gift of God” (CCC, n. 1722). It is through our continual striving to live the Beatitudes so as to “purify our hearts of bad instincts and to seek the love of God above all else” (CCC, n. 1723) that we will ultimately satisfy the desire for happiness that resides in the depths of our heart, a foretaste of which can be realized here below.

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(Don Fier serves on the board of directors for The Catholic Servant, a Minneapolis-based monthly publication. He and his wife are the parents of seven children. Fier is a 2009 graduate of Ave Maria University’s Institute for Pastoral Theology. He is a Consecrated Marian Catechist.)

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