Saturday, January 10, 2015

Do You Want Love Or Happiness?

Last week in our class readings we were directed to meditate on “Christ, our supreme leader and Lord” and “Lucifer, the deadly enemy”.  In the spiritual readings we were given, Lucifer was shown as tempting men to covet riches; then would come ensuing honors, and then inevitable pride.  Christ was shown to recommend to men a spiritual poverty (and perhaps actual poverty), then would come an ensuing satisfaction --- with, perhaps, even insults and contempt, and from them flowing an almost inevitable humility.  Three steps toward spiritual enrichment:  preferring poverty as opposed to riches, contempt as opposed to honor, and humility as opposed to pride.  The readings directed us to consider that if a man could focus on those Christ-recommended steps, they would lead him to all the other virtues.
These readings gave me much to think about.
I think I was praying or contemplating the Litany For Humility, which I now try to pray each night, when I saw in my mind a summary of the prayer I was saying:  humility is being content to get little.  Contentment was the key word.  If I could live my life in contentment, peace, I would be living it well.  A book I’m reading right now by Abbot Columba Marmion (Christ, The Ideal of the Monk) notes that peace was a key teaching of Christ; it is what we should strive for:  “Isn’t it remarkable that this same wish of peace should be heard at the two extremities of His earthly career:  when the angels announce the opening of His mission of salvation, and when, this being accomplished, He enters into His glorious life?  ‘Peace be with you.’”
But what is this peace, I wondered, and how do I get it?  I contemplated on the readings and this question for a number of days.  What is peace?
And then my eyes were opened to an answer to my question.  Both Lucifer and Christ are promising me a peace --- but each has a different definition.
The peace of Lucifer is my achievement of happiness.  Lucifer says I can seek happiness --- and find it --- here in this world.  He says I’ll find happiness in riches and honor, and I should strive for those things, to bring myself happiness.  I thought back on all those years of my life when those things and this way of happiness was my goal.  And my strivings all seemed so right:  my parents wanted me happy; the education they encouraged was so I could make money and not be poor as they once were.  And when honors came to me at work, they were very pleased for me, that I was making myself happy.  It seemed so right.
Only there came a day, as noted in the sidebar story on this blog, when I realized that despite gaining all these things to make me happy, I was not happy.  That day was a great blessing, the day when I realized I could not truly make myself happy.  For me, that day was a gift from God.
Out of that realization, there came a prayer: that God would help me be who He made me to be.  That day, I began to seek God’s will, and trust in it, whether good or bad came to my life.  And after years of prayer and reading, I saw the heart of will of God, as lived out by Christ:  He came to show us how to love.  He came to show us how to give of self, not get to self.  Love is giving of ourselves to others; some have said it is seeing the Christ that exists in every man, and loving Him.  Certainly St Teresa of Calcutta saw Christ in the eyes of each poor person she met, and loved Him.  She did not seek out happiness for herself; she loved.  Between the wishes of Lucifer and the calls of Christ, she chose Christ.
We don’t live our life passively; we do things.  The question is:  WHY do we do things?  What is our motivation?  Are we striving to love --- give of self --- or to achieve a happiness focused on getting for self?  We need to ask why we do things:
Do I seek to feed the hungry to love them, or so that others will see my work and honor me?  St Teresa wasn’t feeding the poor so she could be honored.
Do I seek punishment for someone as a form of justice, or to bring me some happiness by appeasing my anger towards some people?
Do I punish my children when they deserve it to teach them proper values, or to show them who’s boss?
Do I go to church on Sunday to praise God, or because people expect me to go?
Why do I do things, out of love or a desire for my happiness?  Lucifer tells me I can buy happiness:  if I want to feed the hungry I can use money to buy someone else to feed them.  But that is not giving of self; that is not love.  You cannot buy someone else’s love.  Spiritual poverty is giving of myself; trusting in God to make me happy --- or sad, if He so allows --- and that He will lead me to eternal joy.
These meditations this week helped me see a little better the choices that lie before me --- and you.  Strangely, it is the choice I actively pray to make each day, but like so many prayers I say, I often just voice the words, forgetting what they really mean.  After attending a number of funerals in recent days, I noticed that the prayer I say each day was the same prayer which was written on the back of the funeral cards handed out --- on each one of them.  It was the Prayer of St. Francis.  I wondered how many people actually read it on the cards, or stopped to think what the words really meant.  I wonder how many would pray those words with sincerity (myself included), for the prayer ends with the exact words I have been meditating upon this week:
For it is in giving that we receive (in loving that we are loved,)
it is in pardoning what we are pardoned,
And it is in dying (to self) that we are born to eternal life.


  1. It is very hard in our culture to live the words of the Gospel. As you point out, everything is geared toward achievement FOR OURSELVES - big houses, great cars, feasts, wealth, privilege, and the power and influence that comes with it. Yes, it's tantalizing to our fallen nature. We sure want those things. We get lots of praise from others for getting those things too.

    Have you ever noticed how competitive achievement is? Often it's not enough to just get the new expensive suit, others have to SEE it, ADMIRE it, ENVY it. It has to be a comparison with others, and the owner has to win. The same with the new job, the boat, the vast estate, the Mercedes, the education. It's everything. Because of our achievements and the things we own to PROVE it, others treat us better. Everyone is happier around and nicer to a winner. They stroke our pride. They defer to us. We like that.

    But if you look at a little kid (under age 5, who isn't spoiled yet), they can be happy just playing with an empty box. If their parents are reliable caregivers, they have complete trust. They don't worry about tomorrow at all, or food, shelter or clothing. They just live and love. They giggle and smile and play (and cry, and scream and throw tantrums), but basically they just live and have no need for achievement. If they feel loved, they don't compete. They don't have to.

    Who was Jesus competing with? He didn't have to play the game. He didn't have to prove He was better than others by His possessions or social status. The Pharisees challenged Him with that. They dismissed Him as a nobody because of his lack of possessions and education. They pretended His lack of those things PROVED He was nothing, a nobody, someone not worth listening to. But was He?

    Isn't it the same today? Isn't that what makes us afraid not to achieve, because then others will lock us out; ignore us, dismiss us, call us a failure, judge us as unworthy of attention. We won't have any power.

    Did you ever notice you are who you are even when you go outside your social circle, and no one knows you? If you travel to a foreign country, and no one knows your possessions or status, and you don't tell them, are you someone else? You are the person you are. How can anyone take THAT from you? If you have a multitude of things, or nothing at all, are YOU someone else? It's superficial people who find you worthy only when the level of your possessions and status impresses them.

    One beneficial line of reflection for me is noticing how I evaluate others. Do I like people more when I know they are affluent? Do I seek them out? Do I find them more interesting? Do they become more attractive and interesting when I find out they are of a high social or economic status? Do I try to get to know someone who seems more affluent to gain status by association? Do I avoid those who seem less affluent because they will diminish my status in the eyes of others?

    St. Francis, before he actually left the world and began to live as a religious man, had a great aversion to lepers. He was so repulsed by them he would go way around them so as not to have even eyesight contact with them. One day he came upon a leper unexpectedly and was suddenly face to face with him. It was a moment of truth for Francis. He went forward and embraced the leper and kissed him on the mouth. Then he was free. To confront our pride, to defy our pride, is to name the demon, and be freed from it.

    God bless. Fran

  2. "Who was Jesus competing with?" I liked those thoughts, Fran. It's interesting that you wrote of how we evaluate others. Right now I am wrestling with a possible association with others, good people who I know are living good lives, but I find myself wanting to be critical of them. Their education and interests seem "beneath" mine. To reverse your question: Do I find them less interesting? I know were I to voice these thoughts to some friends they might respond: "Well, maybe they are meant to learn from you." Perhaps. It just seems that so much of my life I have been a leader --- often not by choice --- and I find it tiring. Perhaps I don't really understand that definition of love, the one about giving and not counting the cost ---- nor expecting anything in return. Just naming the demon doesn't always free you from it.

  3. "Just naming the demon doesn't always free you from it."
    You are so right. After I wrote that and hit "publish" I thought about that too. I know it's not true by my own experience. I know, also from my own experience, that sometimes naming what hampers us does cause a certain freedom in the understanding of it. I also want to assert right now I think the freedom comes from the Holy Spirit; the epiphany comes from the Holy Spirit. So, no, simply naming it doesn't necessarily dispel it, but sometimes the Holy Spirit frees us by our comprehension of it. Hope that makes some sense.

    I don't know the group you speak of that, "Their education and interests seem "beneath" mine." or what the context of your association with them would be. But involvement with them sounds like it would challenge you to have to listen and understand THEIR world view. Not knowing the group, I imagine, for myself, if I were to get involved in a group that primarily was interested in talking about T.V. shows and what happened on Jerry Springer or Maury or Dr. Phil, I have to admit, I might not want to hang with them either.

    But in some respects I have an interest in anthropology of sorts: people interest me. Everyone has a story, even the bum on the street. Everybody, regardless of their economic status or education, has the ability to understand the truth, and reflect it back. Sometimes the wisdom that comes from someone not indoctrinated with education and professionalism is profound. That wisdom is worth hearing. But to hear it, I have to understand we share a common humanity, and my experiences in the past, even if they took me to great heights in terms of worldly status, don't negate our common humanity or what I might learn from them. God has lots of ways to teach us.

    I am going to tell you something now I hope won't offend you. I worked for a Fortune 500 company here in Chicago for a number of years, as a mid-level analyst. I had a boss who felt she was superior to her employees. She saw herself as far above us, and as a kindly and benevolent guardian of our interests, but it was evident she felt there was a great gulf between us. She judged each of us according to our level in the organization, and it was evident she did not know or want to know any of us for who we truly were, because she already determined she knew us.

    So here are two stories that illustrate her attitude:
    The first: One time our group was at a company sponsored lunch, and for fun, to pass the time while waiting for our meal, she organized a kind of multiple choice trivia quiz, and those with the most right answers got a prize. One of the questions was something like: A samovar is a kind of: a) sword, b) hat, c) teapot, d) shoe. Having taken Russian history in college, and having read quite a few novels by Russian authors, I knew it was a teapot (or something used to make tea.) So I got it right. I was the only one of the 30 or so in our group to do so. She was shocked I got it right, and told me I guessed well. She was incredulous (and showed it) when I told her I didn't guess, that I knew the answer. She obviously could not imagine how I might come to know that word.

    (Continued in next post)

  4. The second. One day I got to talking with an African American woman in our group who held a clerical (data entry) position. I was asking her where she came from and so on. In our conversation I found out she graduated with a degree in Journalism, and had come from western Michigan having been a reporter for a local news station. She was one of those reporters that report on a story live from the scene. But because of an abusive and stalking relationship, she felt she had to flee and came to Chicago. Knowing he could track her down if she appeared on T.V., she took whatever job she could land, and that happened to be the clerical data entry job she had currently.
    Our company was bought out, and a merger ensued, and she lost her job. She decided enough time had passed and returned to live near her mom in Michigan. She landed a job as an admissions administrator at a university in her town. It was quite an impressive job. When the executive I mentioned above was organizing a reunion a few years later, she asked us to let her know what we were currently doing so she could put together a kind of update about everyone. The executive was astounded this woman got such a job. Again, she was incredulous at the talent and true skills of the people working for her. She didn't know. And truth be told, she didn't want to know. She assumed she knew us based on our position in the company, but she never bothered to find out anything more. She assumed there was nothing more to know. She judged on superficial attributes.

    Maybe the people in the group you speak of truly are not interesting, and are "beneath" you. I don't know what attributes you are looking at that makes you say that. But my former boss could not let go of her status at the company, even though the company merged with another and she lost her job. She continued to act as if she was still our manager, even at reunions or by email. She still acted as if she were delegating and leading, and truly, it was kind of ridiculous (and insulting). And she still felt the hierarchy of status at the company was maintained regardless of what happened to everyone since.

    I felt she didn't have any identity except the one she developed and earned at the company. She couldn't let it go. It was her reality. Sad really.

    I hope this is not you. I hope you aren't hanging onto who you were, and the status Ford gave you, assuming it is yours forever, even outside the context of the company.

    And I hope what I have said is only food for thought, and does not offend you, because that will not help you to get where you want to go.

    Peace. ~ Fran

  5. Thank you for your concerns, Fran. No, I don't think I am hanging onto or seeking status --- if anything I want to flee from it. I put the word "beneath" in quotes in my prior response as I struggled for the right word. Their monthly gatherings (not the individuals) are narrow-focused, and their spiritual expectations much less than mine. I was seeking a group with which to expand and share my faith, but the meetings leave me feeling I must narrow my focus and watch my mouth, not to be seen as a know-it-all for knowing in great depth topics they are just beginning to think about. They are a fraternal group which meets once a month for a couple hours; by that definition my weekly class of 3 hours must all be family. By analogy, maybe I'm yearning for a month-long retreat, and they are offering a one-hour lecture. With patience, the hours will add to a month ---- lots of patience. It's like signing up for an algebra class and someone asks the teacher: what does 1 + 1 equal? And then the class spends years gradually watching and participating in the youngster's growing up. Do you say "Maybe God brought me here to teach (or just sit and love) children, or do you go an seek another algebra class? Is that "worrying" they are "beneath" you because you see this, or is that your trying to grow in faith and knowledge? The answers aren't always easy, or cut and dried. I DID say I was struggling with my perceptions and decision.

    If you'd like to converse more on this -- or any topic, Fran --- my email is