Charlie's Blog: Charlie's Recipe for Temporal Happiness


Charlie's Recipe for Temporal Happiness

In perfect happiness the entire man is perfected, in the lower part of his nature, by an overflow from the higher. But in the imperfect happiness of this life, it is otherwise; we advance from the perfection of the lower part to the perfection of the higher part.

Happiness is the end we all seek. Yet, happiness eludes us. Why is this? Why do even those who seem to have it all in life--health, wealth, good looks, youth--end up destroying themselves in their misery? The answer to this conundrum is no mystery. Happiness can be found only in God. As Aquinas teaches, perfect happiness is only found in contemplation of the Beatific Vision. Perfection is found in the completion of the quest. Once you are happy, you no longer seek or desire anything else. Consequently, Heaven is our ultimate end where all that we seek and desire find their satisfaction.

Can we be happy outside of Heaven? St. Augustine said that we can't, but Aquinas disagreed with him. Aquinas said that we can enjoy an imperfect happiness in this life. This imperfect happiness is found in seeking God and becoming like God. This is the advancement to perfection. We experience this advancement when we perform a good deed or behold a beautiful work of art or watch a sunset. We have all experienced these moments. As St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:12, "We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known." Happiness is found as we seek to move in the direction of God.

This happiness we experience on this plane of existence I call "temporal happiness." It's like living in a tent until your home is built. The tent isn't your home, but it is not unreasonable to expect it to keep you warm and dry. Some people live better than others, but this is not to be confused with living larger than others. To live well is not to live comfortably or pleasurably but to live virtuously. People can see this in comparing the miserable rich man to the virtuous but happy poor man who knows and loves God. Though he lacks in material things, this poor man has joy while the rich man ties the belt from his bathrobe and hangs himself from a doorknob in his hotel room. Take it from me, you want the temporal happiness because it will carry you to the eternal happiness of God. The alternative is temporal misery leading to eternal misery which is the loss of the Beatific Vision.

The reason Augustine and Aquinas differ on the issue of happiness is because of their philosophical foundations. Augustine read Plato. Aquinas read Aristotle. With Platonism, everything is either perfect or nothing. With Aristotle, there are grades in between. I think even Augustine would admit that as a saint he was happier than when he was a robust sinner. Then, there is St. Paul who gives us this command to be joyful in his epistle to the Philippians:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice. Let your modesty be known to all men. The Lord is nigh. Be nothing solicitous; but in every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. 
Clearly, St. Paul believes that we attain and enjoy some measure of joy and peace in this life. If he didn't believe this, he would not have given this exhortation. It would be like telling a legless man to walk.

So, how do we get this temporal happiness? That is easy to understand. Essentially, you have to build a bridge from the temporal to the eternal. This is known as interior life. The saints have a lot to tell us about this.

1. Turn your back on the world.

In order to have interior life, you have to come to a point where you are sick of this world. For those who have suffered terribly, they are already there. For others like the writer of Ecclesiastes, you get there as you realize that all of the good things in this world are vanity. Happiness cannot be found in the world. It is only found in the divine. Once this is firmly established in your mind, you are ready to build this bridge and cross it. As Thomas a Kempis put it,
"The kingdom of God is within you," says the Lord. Turn, then, to God with all your heart. Forsake this wretched world and your soul shall find rest. Learn to despise external things, to devote yourself to those that are within, and you will see the kingdom of God come unto you, that kingdom which is peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, gifts not given to the impious. Christ will come to you offering His consolation, if you prepare a fit dwelling for Him in your heart, whose beauty and glory, wherein He takes delight, are all from within. His visits with the inward man are frequent, His communion sweet and full of consolation, His peace great, and His intimacy wonderful indeed. Therefore, faithful soul, prepare your heart for this Bridegroom that He may come and dwell within you; He Himself says: "If any one love Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and will make Our abode with him."
God does not come to you only when you die. He wants to be with you here and now. But if your heart is cluttered with the desire for the things of this world, there is no room for Him. You see this sort of thing with people who change the conversation when spiritual matters come up. "I'm not there yet," they say. "Maybe some other time," they say. They know God is the source of happiness, but they have to go down all the other fruitless paths before they will settle on God.

Jesus condemns this sort of thing such as when He called the rich young man to sell all he had and to come follow Jesus or when Jesus condemned those who put their hand to the plow and looked back. Then, there is the illustration of Lot's wife who turned to look back on Sodom and its destruction and was turned into a pillar of salt.

2. Become Catholic.

It is very difficult and virtually impossible to develop a deep interior life apart from the sacraments and the grace those sacraments impart. To partake of those sacraments, you must become a Catholic. I do not believe in the disorganized religion known as "spirituality" or the do it yourself religion known as Protestantism. The closest you will ever come to God in this life is the communion found in the eucharist.

In addition to the eucharist, you also must seek out and receive forgiveness and absolution in confession. This is another sacrament that you will absolutely need in order to grow closer to God. As you grow closer to God, the knowledge of your sins will cause you grief and anguish. God forgives. We must seek this forgiveness and mercy.

By becoming Catholic, you are drawn into the worship of God on God's terms. God does not need our worship. We need our worship of God. God is to be worshiped and adored. The Church offers additional helps and aids. You will learn faith and morals through catechesis. You will learn to be still in adoration. You can avail yourself of pilgrimages and retreats. The Roman Catholic Church is a treasure box of spiritual treasures and opportunities that will aid you in developing interior life.

3. Develop a deep prayer life.

Outside of the Church is the life of prayer. This is the personal dimension of your life with God. In prayer, you speak intimately with God. In this area, you will find the greatest advancement in interior life. You must learn to examine your conscience and express remorse for sins and imperfections. You can express your love and thanksgiving to God. And you will find that God also talks to you. You will also find consolation and aid in the communion of Mary and all the saints who are not dead but are a great help to us in our journey. They pray for us and are our friends on our journey to perfection.

The best prayer you can do on a daily basis is the Rosary. No day should go by without praying this awesome prayer. There are many other prayers in addition to the Rosary, and you should avail yourself of them. But those beads and the prayers that go with them will become a comforting and constant presence in your prayer life.

When you can, you should pray before the Blessed Sacrament. Holy hours spent with Jesus exposed in the sacrament or reposed in the tabernacle are very fruitful times of prayer and intimacy. These hours may seem like a waste of time, but they aren't. Jesus is truly present, and these times are the closest thing you can have to Heaven on earth.

4. Do daily spiritual reading.

The Holy Bible is the single best book for spiritual reading. You should read Scripture daily. but the Church has a vast library of books and writings to help you with interior life. I recommend reading all that you can from the saints like Augustine, Aquinas, Teresa of Avila, Ignatius of Loyola, Saint Josemaria Escriva, and others. A great book to begin with is The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis. All of these writings will help you in learning to pray, do an examination of conscience, and learn more about God.

5. Sanctify your ordinary activities.

It would be nice to retire to a Trappist monastery for a life of silence and contemplation. But people still have work and families to tend. But these things are no impediment. Even Trappists have to work. But you can learn to turn these ordinary activities into offerings and prayer to God. In this sanctification of ordinary activities, you can be a contemplative in the world. God is with you even in your work. Offer this work as a continual prayer to God. You will find that you do your work better and with greater joy and fulfillment when you offer it to God.

6. Become indifferent to worldly things.

At the beginning, I told you to turn your back on the world. This is not a one time thing but a daily practice. As you grow in your interior life, you should place that life in a sort of mental fortress. The cares of this world are always trying to lure you back into the world and away from your interior life. You must learn to treat the world with a sort of indifference. You care enough to do your duties, but you don't allow those cares to grow larger than the life you have with God. So often, temptations and trials cause us to lose interior life. We must always find our way back to that life.

A great way to build this inner fortress is through mortification especially corporal mortification. This helps you to disdain pleasures as a source of happiness and to endure pain with tranquility. You can still find enjoyment in things, but you hold them in their proper place in relation to God. So often, these things can become idols and stumbling blocks for us. Their presence or absence in life should cause us no dismay. The world is emptiness. God is fullness.

When the storms of life hit, you will find stability and tranquility in this inner fortress. God is with you in all circumstances. He will never leave you. Like St. Peter learned as he walked on the water, he was fine until he turned his eyes from Jesus. But even when he did, Jesus was still there to catch him.


No single essay will suffice on this subject, so treat this as a starting point. The interior life is a long and wonderful journey as you grow closer to God and in the perfection of your soul. The happiness you experience in this journey beats anything that this world has to offer. People are desperate for this happiness, but they insist on looking in the wrong places for it. Yet, it is there for everyone to find. God has provided a way. But we disdain this way to our dissatisfaction and peril. The bottom line is that happiness is found in God. Once your compass is set on the true north of God, everything else falls into place as it should. The journey will not always be easy. It may be painful. You will experience ecstasies but also dark nights of the soul. This journey is worth it.

God made us to love us. We were made to love God. This is the essence of interior life. This is happiness. If you do not love God, you will never be happy. The best you can do without God is to be beguiled by a few worldly pleasures for a time that lead to emptiness of soul. But with God, you will experience true happiness even in this temporal realm. It's like being away from home, but you can still make phone calls. In Heaven, our happiness is made complete. Strive for Heaven. You were made for Heaven. And in this striving, you will find temporal happiness.