III. CAN WE ATTAIN PERFECT HAPPINESS ON EARTH?
1. Earthly goods, such as riches, honor, pleasure, cannot by themselves make us happy, for they cannot satisfy our soul; they often only make life bitter, and invariably forsake us in death.
Earthly goods deceive us; they are like soap-bubbles, which reflect all the colors of the rainbow but are really only drops of water. Earthly joys are like artificial fruit, beautiful to behold, but disappointing to the taste. Earthly pleasures are like drops of water; they do not quench the fire of the passions, but only make it burn more fiercely. Man can no more be happy without God than a fish can live out of the water. Hence St. Augustine says: “Unquiet is the heart of man until it rests in God.” No sensible or material goods will nourish or satisfy the soul. Hence Our Lord says to the Samaritan woman; “He who drinks of this water will thirst again.”
Riches will no more satisfy the soul than salt water will quench thirst. In the days of the early empire of Rome, when riches and sensual pleasures abounded, suicide was most widely prevalent. Earthly possessions are a continual source of anxiety; he who rests in them is tormented by them, like a man who reposes on thorns. As the fresh waters of the rivers are changed into the salt waters of the sea, so all earthly pleasures sooner or later turn to bitterness. Forbidden pleasures soon bring misery after them, like the forbidden fruit. They are like bait that has a hook concealed within it. Earthly goods all forsake us when we die: “We brought nothing into the world, and certainly we cannot carry anything out of it” (1 Tim. vi. 7). When the Pope is crowned, a handful of tow is kindled, and while it blazes up the choir sing: “Thus passes the glory of the world.” As the spider spins a web out of its own bowels and in a moment the broom sweeps it all away, so man labors for long years to obtain some honor, or possession, or office. Some obstacle comes in the way, death or sickness visits him, and all the labor is gone for naught. As the glow-worm shines in the night, but in the light of day is but an ugly insect, so the delights of earth are brilliant during the night of life on earth, but under the light of the Day of Judgment will show themselves vain and worthless.
Earthly goods are given to us only that through them we may attain to eternal happiness.
Every creature on earth is intended as a step to bring us nearer to God. As in the workshop of the painter, brushes, colors, oils, are all destined to serve to the completion of the picture, so all things in the world are intended to contribute to our eternal happiness in heaven. Not to use earthly things for this end is to lose the hope of eternal happiness; but to make them our end and to be dependent on them no less deprives us of the end for which we were created. Earthly goods are like the surgeon’s instruments; if they are ill-employed, they kill instead of curing. We must therefore use them only in so far as they help us towards the attainment of our last end. When they hinder us we must cut ourselves free from them. We must not serve them, they must serve us.
2. Only the Gospel of Christ is capable of giving us a partial happiness on earth, for he who follows the teaching of Christ is certain to have peace in his soul.
This is why Christ says to the Samaritan woman: “He that shall drink of the water that I shall give him, shall not thirst forever” (John iv. 13). And again: “He that cometh to Me, shall never hunger” (John vi. 35). The teaching of Christ can alone satisfy the heart of man. The reason of this is, that earthly sufferings do not render unhappy the man who follows Christ.
3. He who follows Christ will have to endure persecution; but these persecutions can do him no harm.
St. Paul tells us that “All who will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. iii. 12).
The whole life of the Christian is a carrying of the cross and a suffering of persecution. Christ Himself says: “The servant is not above his master” (Matt. x. 24). That is, the servant of Christ has no claim to a better lot than his Master Christ. We must expect the men of the world (that is, those who seek their happiness in this life) to regard us as erratic people and as fools, to condemn us and to hate us (1 Cor. iv. 3, 10; John xvii. 14; xv. 20). To be loved and praised by the world is to be the enemy of Christ. The principles of the world are in contradiction with those of Christ, and the world regards as a fool him whom Christ declares blessed (Matt. v. 3, 10).
Yet Christ tells us: “Every one that heareth My words and doeth them, shall be likened to a wise man, that built his house upon a rock” (Matt. vii. 24).
He who trusts in God builds on solid ground. The patriarch Joseph derived advantage, not harm, from being persecuted; the pious David was persecuted, first by Saul, and then by his own son Absalom. From his own experience he was able to say: “Many are the afflictions of the just; but out of them all the Lord will deliver them” (Ps. xxxiii. 20). All the saints of Christ have been persecuted, but God has turned to good the evil that their enemies thought to do them. “If God is with us, who can be against us?”
4. Hence perfect happiness is impossible on earth; for no man can entirely avoid suffering.
The end of the worldling is misery as we have seen, and the just man is persecuted. No one can escape sickness, suffering, death. The world is a valley of tears; it is a big hospital, containing as many sick men as there are human beings. The world is a place of banishment, where we are far from our true country. In the world good and ill fortune succeed each other like sunshine and storm. Prosperity is the sure forerunner of adversity. In life we are on a sea, now lifted up to heaven, now cast down to hell. Society is always sure to be full of all kinds of miseries, whatever efforts may be made to improve the condition of mankind. Vain indeed are the hopes of the modern school of social democrats who dream of gradually abolishing all evil and misery from the world.
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