Saint Thomas Aquinas will talk about the rectitude (the correctness, the rightness) of the will (i.e., supernatural charity) which is an antecedent requirement, that is, a requirement before all else. Hence, he wants us to see that before we talk of happiness, we need to determine where our heart is. We ought to ask of ourselves: Is our desire for happiness rooted in the Infinite, in God, or in the created world (money, power and fame)? Aquinas then mentions concomitant requirements– 2 of them: the absolute and the relative. For the absolute Aquinas speaks of the love of God, delight in God, rectitude of our will, the love of the real good that is present in created things; as for the relative (subjective) he speaks of bodily delight, friendship with others , especially those who share beatitude, that is, the beatific vision (God in heaven).
Can we attain happiness?
Yes, we can attain happiness Aquinas tells us echoing the teaching of Scripture and the Church Fathers, but
- not [perfectly] in this life;
- not by our natural powers;
- not without rectitude of will;
- not without supernatural grace healing us and elevating us.
While the first point above seems to contradict an earlier point, consider that for Aquinas true, lasting, and perfect happiness exists only with God. So, the Catholic will say that he or she can be happy in this life –though not perfectly in this life because beatitude comes when we meet God face to face.
Happiness in this life more than material pleasure, human fulfillment, or satisfaction with all the factors of reality. Happiness in this life exists when the person finally accepts the true nature of oneself and not some artifice, some false self. Self-acceptance from the point of what and how God has made us brings true happiness. A life of sin, broken relationships, frustrated life-plans and the like do not contribute to human flourishing. Let me cite an example: a true and honest friend brings happiness.
So what do we ask of God in prayer? Do we ask God for the right things?
The Catechism gives us a lesson to be attentive of. In numbers 2735-2737 we read:
In the first place, we ought to be astonished by this fact: when we praise God or give him thanks for his benefits in general, we are not particularly concerned whether or not our prayer is acceptable to him. On the other hand, we demand to see the results of our petitions. What is the image of God that motivates our prayer: an instrument to be used? or the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ?
Are we convinced that “we do not know how to pray as we ought”? [Rom 8:26] Are we asking God for “what is good for us”? Our Father knows what we need before we ask him, [Cf. Mt 6:8] but he awaits our petition because the dignity of his children lies in their freedom. We must pray, then, with his Spirit of freedom, to be able truly to know what he wants. [Cf. Rom 8:27]
“You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” [Jas 4:3; cf. the whole context: Jas 4:1-10; 1:5-8; 5:16] If we ask with a divided heart, we are “adulterers”; [Jas 4:4] God cannot answer us, for he desires our well-being, our life. “Or do you suppose that it is in vain that the scripture says, ‘He yearns jealously over the spirit which he has made to dwell in us?'” [Jas 4:5] That our God is “jealous” for us is the sign of how true his love is. If we enter into the desire of his Spirit, we shall be heard.
Do not be troubled if you do not immediately receive from God what you ask him; for he desires to do something even greater for you, while you cling to him in prayer. [Evagrius Ponticus, De oratione 34: PG 79, 1173]
God wills that our desire should be exercised in prayer, that we may be able to receive what he is prepared to give. [St. Augustine, Ep. 130, 8, 17: PL 33, 500]
This is a question of seeking the good of the Kingdom of Heaven. The caution here is our need to be aware of the misplaced motives which can hinder the prayer life. The spiritual life needs to be scrutinized so that we are not trapped by spiritual idolatry. Pride will blind you and me to our deepest needs. Pride is a ordered you of yourself manifested in thinking of yourself better than others. It is heard when we say: Don’t talk to me that way. Don’t use that tone with me. You know, I’ve got more experience than you.
Friendship with the world is sharing the values of the world. It turns us from God (see James 4 where he speaks of untruthful adultresses: seeking pleasure with another husband.
Saint James in Letter suggests:
1. Submit to God: get in a right relationship with God by saying: I give myself to you. Go to the sacraments, speak with a spiritual director, pick up a good spiritual book, do lectio divina, close your mouth and listen;
2. Resist the devil –the deceiver who places negative influences our lives (see Matthew 4): Jesus fights the devil with sword and spirit: the Word of God says…. flee from youthful lusts; stop the sin and submit to God; Saint Augustine tells us that the devil doesn’t have
access to our soul but he does have access to our senses –sin comes through the senses. Read 1 John 4:4. Do you believe it?;
3. Draw nearer to God: in worship and personal prayer;
Cleanse your hands and purify your hearts. Keep undefiled by the world. Be careful not to share the view of the world. The believer says that people are not expendable; sacrifice trumps comfort. Receive the sacraments of Confession and Eucharist;
4. “Be wretched, be mournful and weep.” James describes repentance and penance: the metanoia: the change of mind and heart from what is killing you so that you move in a different direction
Humble yourself before the Lord. Humility is the opposite that leads to disorders; defeats pride, binds people together and forgives. The joy of repentance is better than all else.