Seeking Happiness At All Costs Will Cost You Everything

“The Beatitudes respond to the natural desire for happiness. This desire is of divine origin: God has placed it in the human heart in order to draw man to the One who alone can fulfill it.” (CCC 1718)

Heinrich Hofmann (1824–1911), “Christ and the Rich Young Man”
Heinrich Hofmann (1824–1911), “Christ and the Rich Young Man” (photo: Public Domain)

“All men have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. All men are now undeservedly justified by the gift of God, through the redemption wrought in Christ Jesus. Through His blood, God made Him the means of expiation for all who believe. He did so to manifest His own justice.” (Romans 3:23-25)

I had a disturbing conversation with a parish acquaintance with whom I’ve had exactly two other previous conversations. She told me she wanted a divorce from her husband of 35 years. They have an adult daughter. Her husband is a practicing Catholic and goes to Sunday Mass.

Sensing that I might be of some help, I allowed myself to pry into this woman’s business and asked her why she wanted to divorce her husband.

“He’s boring,” she said.

“Anything else?” I asked.

“Isn’t that enough!” she yelled in response.

Recovering from her inappropriate tone, I said flatly, “Ah! Okay. You can’t get divorced.”

She yelled at me saying I didn’t know what I was talking about and that she had already done her research. As long as she refrained from remarriage, she thought she was “in the clear.” Instead of arguing with her, I pulled up the Catechism on my cellphone and showed her the relevant passages. I explained to her that divorce is forbidden except for a very specific set of criteria, none of which was present in her marriage.

“Oh, no! I did my research!” she countered. “As long as I don’t get married again, divorce is perfectly fine!”

I quickly offered a silent prayer for her husband.

I pointed out the relevant chapters in the Catechism of the Catholic Church on my phone, but to no avail.

“Don’t I deserve to be happy?” she said.

Well, no. No one deserves to be happy. Why would anyone think otherwise? Its sounds like a grand rationalizing battle cry someone yells before throwing caution to the wind and embarking ―once again― down the Road to Perdition.

How many lepers must you wash in order to deserve happiness? Would bringing peace to warring nations suffice for some modicum of happiness? Would discovering the cure to cancer get you the “Ultimate Hall Pass?”

Nope.

No matter how many fires you put out, you can’t attain Heaven by deeds. (Galatians 2:16) Not even these heroic, herculean tasks would shield someone from God’s justice or otherwise hand them a mulligan. As Paul reminds us: “Everyone has sinned and is far away from God's saving presence.” (Romans 3:23)

And again: “God has consigned all men to disobedience, that He may have mercy upon all” (Romans 11:32).

This is Basic Christianity 101 ― no one deserves happiness. But, by the awful grace of God, he lovingly bestows moments of happiness upon us ― wretched sinners, one and all.

Sin creates a proclivity to sin; it engenders vice by repetition of the same acts. This results in perverse inclinations which cloud conscience and corrupt the concrete judgment of good and evil. Thus, sin tends to reproduce itself and reinforce itself, but it cannot destroy the moral sense at its root. (CCC 1865)

Sin is an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law. It is an offense against God. It rises up against God in a disobedience contrary to the obedience of Christ (CCC 1871). Sin is an act contrary to reason. It wounds man’s nature and injures human solidarity (CCC 1872).

Christ teaches us that the root of sin is in man’s heart ― in his free will ― according to the teaching of the Lord (Matthew 15:19-20): “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man.” To deliberately choose sin over God’s love ― something gravely contrary to the divine law and to the ultimate end of man — is to commit a mortal sin. This destroys in us the charity without which eternal beatitude is impossible. Unrepented sin brings eternal death (CCC 1873-1874).

As Christ reminds us: “And if your eye makes you lose your faith, take it out and throw it away! It is better for you to enter life with only one eye than to keep both eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell” (Matthew 18:9-11). If the pursuit of your own happiness leads you to sin, cast it out! it’s better to enter Heaven without having experienced earthly happiness than to beleaguer God and risk losing his grace:

Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ's kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. (CCC 1861)

Though God wants us to share in his love both here on this plane of existence and on the next several ones, we don't “deserve” it. Forgiveness, life, children and happiness are gifts of God. His grace, which he bestows upon both the good and wicked alike are never “deserved,” nor are they earned (Matthew 5:45).

Did Christ deserve happiness? He never asked for it. He humbly thanked his Father went it came his way but he never demanded it. His entire life was dedicated to saving souls, even to the point of death ― death on a cross! (Philippians 2:8) And, in that torturous, horrifying death that very few other individuals would willingly call upon themselves, he showed that personal happiness isn’t as important as the hedonists among us insist.

And all of us are guilty of sin. As C.S. Lewis points out in his Mere Christianity, “If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.”

Nicolas Poussin, “Sts. Peter and John Healing the Lame Man,” 1655 — “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.” ... He leaped up, stood, and walked around, and went into the Temple with them, walking and jumping and praising God.” [Acts 3:6, 8].

No Reason for Being Sad

“For man was made an intelligent and free member of society by God who created him, but even more important, he is called as a son to commune with God and share in his happiness.” (Gaudium et Spes, No. 21)