Monday, February 14, 2005


Not all service is at the third level of happiness. If you only engage in service on your own terms, instead of responding to the real evident needs of those around you (and if you are actively seeking to discover the real needs of those around you), then your service is only being engaged in for the sake of your own ego gratification, rather than for the real good of the other, a requirement for pursuing happiness on the third level.

George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life is the archetypal pursuer of happiness on the third level. Bedford Falls didn't appear to him to have much to offer in the way of making his own personal dreams come true. But (with the encouragement of his wise father), he chooses to respond to the real needs of those around him rather than pursue the ego gratification that his dreams of travel and success would give him.

What is a sign that you are stuck on the first or second level?

Recall that Fr. Spitzer's first level of happiness is physical pleasure and his second level is ego gratification.

The best sign of being stuck on the lower levels is ingratitude. If you are more likely to spontaneously complain that God is not being generous to you or responsive to your obvious needs rather than spontaneously giving thanks for all the generous and wonderful gifts God is showering upon you daily, hourly, by the minute, then you are stuck on level one or two. If the people God puts in your life daily seem to you to be either obstacles to your happiness or at least irrelevant, then you are seeking ego gratification. God never withholds opportunities for pursuing happiness on the third and fourth level (service and spiritual growth respectively). We are never at a loss for opportunities for service nor for spiritual growth and deepening our relationship with the Lord.

I think about this when I want to complain about something not being right in the Church or at the seminary. If something in the Church, such as an approved liturgical translation, is not gratifying me, then it is because I am seeking a lower level of gratification that God is offering me at this time.

The Schoenstatt movement has a wonderful saying: Mother takes perfect care. We are NEVER abandoned, even when we feel abandoned (as Jesus seems to have on the Cross).

Remember the Suscipe of St. Ignatius:

Receive, O Lord, all my liberty. Take my memory, my understanding, and my entire
will. Whatsoever I have or hold, You have given me; I give it all back to You
and surrender it wholly to be governed by your will. Give me only your love and
your grace, and I am rich enough and ask for nothing more.
Exercises, #234)

Or this prayer, also by St. Ignatius:

Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve you as you deserve; to
give without counting the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and
not to seek for rest; to labor and not to ask for reward, except to know that I
am doing your will.


No, Kevin, not the animal.

Fr. Anthony Cirignani, our pastor at St. Anthony's, gave an excellent sermon on sloth this Sunday. (Maybe I should post this on Amy's website? Nah, I don't want to bother.) He mentioned that we mistakenly think that sloth means inactivity. In fact, especially in America we engage in frenetic activity because of sloth, because we are avoiding the real spiritual good that we ought to be pursuing such as service or spiritual exercise. So, hyperactivity and sloth can go together. I think that was Pascals' point about diversion as well.

This fits in very well with Fr. Spitzer's Life Principles that I have been mentioning a lot lately. He makes the point that pursuing happiness on the higher levels, service and and spiritual growth, often requires more effort and gives us less immediate and intense personal gratification. We therefore prefer to stick at the lower levels of either pleasure or ego gratification. That is why, for instance, those who discover that ego gratification cannnot give long-term happiness often resort to the lowest level of seeking physical pleasure--drinking, watching t.v., pornography, rather than responding to the call of God to move to a higher level of service and pursuit of the absolute good, true, beautiful, love, being, etc..

St. Thomas describes sloth as "sadness about one's spiritual good, on account of the attendant bodily labor." This is precisely what prevents us from moving from the second level to the third, even when we know it is the right thing. We are resisting the suffering involved. We are sad and afraid.