We face the New Year without having yet caught our breath from the momentous events of the last. The underlying thought of every day, even if unexpressed, is the question of happiness. What will make me happy this year? The pursuit of happiness underlies all our decisions St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that happiness is the thing itself which we desire to attain. It includes the attainment and the use or enjoyment of the thing desired. Happiness is joy in possessing integrity at the core of my being. Happiness is my final purpose in life, the attainment of the perfect good (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Q 3-5).
Four Levels of Happiness
In one of his many television presentations, Father Robert Spitzer, S.J. outlines four levels of happiness. On the first level, happiness comes from external sources: from a good meal or movie, a sports event, a concert. These externals are centered on the self.
The second level of happiness is gratification of the self. Happiness shifts from the outside to my inner world. This happiness comes from academic or financial success, position, or prestige. These achievements can give me control and power over others. By choosing to live on this level, my thoughts are focused on myself. In advancing my self-interests for their own sake, in comparing and contrasting myself with others, I play the ego game which often leads to admiration and popularity.
If I ascend to the third level, the self is turned outward to others. When I allow others to make demands on my gifts and time, energy, and patience, I can bring happiness and joy to them. I wish them the good I wish to myself. This other-centered focus energizes me as I choose to evoke the best in others. Living on this level can become a habit, even an instinct. In giving, I receive. Read Father Walter Ciszek’s two books, With God in Russia, and He Leadeth Me. Read Viktor Frankl: Man’s Search for Meaning. Both men were imprisoned and suffered in concentration camps: Ciszek, a Jesuit priest, in Soviet prisons, Frankl, an Austrian-Jew and neurological psychiatrist, in various Nazi concentration camps. Both lived on the third level of happiness, purposefully and in the most difficult of circumstances.
Fourth Level of Happiness
The fourth and final level of happiness is the realization that God makes all things intelligible. God is the Mind and the Artist behind the Big Bang. Christianity offers not a technique but the Divine Person of Jesus Christ in the greatest of all relationships. All men and women thirst and hunger for God, even if not expressed in this way. Life is lived in God, for in and in him, we live, and move, and have our being. God puts order in my life.
Every thought, activity, and deed is an act of fidelity and love. With St. Peter, the Christian asks: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life” (Jn 6:61f) And St. Augustine speaks for the heart: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” (Confessions, Bk 1, Ch 1).
2013, a Year of Prayer
Prayer is at the center of Catholic faith because it keeps its eyes on God, always listening and responding to Divine Providence. In prayer, long, short, or at liturgy, God abide in me to give meaning and purpose to life. Because prayer is not a technique, it cannot be produced by oneself. It is all God’s work. In prayer, all one’s hopes and fears are placed before God. Prayer radically arranges one’s life, especially in suffering. Prayer opens us to live interdependently with others.
God teaches me to pray as I am, in the present moment. We go into our room, close the door, and there in silence and solitude pray in secret. Jesus relished his relationship with his Father and would seek to be alone with his Abba (Jn 14, 15). He prayed before making a decision (Lk 6:12) after apostolic work (Lk 5:15-16), before the Lord Prayer (Lk 11:1), in Gethsemane (Lk 22:41), on the cross (Lk 23:34, 46).
The Great Fallacy: ‘My work is my prayer.’
Work will be prayer if there is also prayer which is not work. We cannot expect our whole life to become a continuous act of worship unless there are regular times when we lay aside our worldly occupations and raise our hearts and minds to God in prayer.” If we do not find God in prayer, we most assuredly will not find God in others and our work. Prayer is the inner power of our active lives. Faith and prayer are two sides of one coin. It is not at all certain that people do not pray because they do not believe or that they do not believe because they do not pray.
Prayer, Beauty, Happiness, Joy
Prayer makes men and women beautiful from within, a reality which God greatly desires.
Gen 1:26 Man and woman were created in God's image and called to live in the divine likeness.
Psalm 8:5 “You have made them a little lower than a god, with glory and honor you crowned them.” Men and women are most like God and most themselves when they live godly lives.
Ez 16:14 “You were exceedingly beautiful with the dignity of a queen; you were renowned among the nations for your beauty perfect as it was because of my splendor which I had bestowed on you, says the Lord.” The Israelites were transformed by God. Through prayer, God gives a splendor that we cannot do ourselves. We are called to perfect beauty.
2 Cor 3:18 ff “We, with our unveiled faces reflecting like a mirror the brightness of the Lord, all grow brighter and brighter as we are turned into the image that we reflect; this is the work of the Lord who is Spirit. God’s beauty is what we reflect.” We are transformed from one glory to another. We are made into a godly kind of beauty.
Eph 2:10 “We are God’s work of art created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning He meant us to live it.” Each of us is called to become God’s masterpiece.
Breastplate of St. Patrick
“. . . Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me.
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me.
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity
Through a belief in the Threeness
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.” (ca 377)
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.