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10 Ways to Find Happiness this Lent and Always (Part 1 of 2)

March 10, 2015 by  
Filed under Book Club, Cardinal Virtues, Vicki Burbach

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The Four Cardinal Virtues (Week 10 of 12)

An unchaste man wants above all something for himself; he is distracted by an unobjective “interest”; his constantly strained will-to-pleasure prevents him from confronting reality with that selfless detachment which alone makes genuine knowledge possible…In an unchaste heart, attention is not merely fixed upon a certain track, but the “window” of the soul has lost its transparency, that is, its capacity for perceiving existence, as if a selfish interest had covered it, as it were, with a film of dust. – The Four Cardinal Virtues (Temperance: Chapter 3, Paragraph 27)

10 Ways to Find Happiness this Lent and Always (Part 1 of 2)

At the beginning of his book, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway quotes a poem by John Donne :

No man is an Island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well is if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee. 

While this is a beautiful poem, our faith teaches us something even more beautiful. We aren’t all merely part of the continent, we are each part of the very body of Christ. As part of His body, we are as intimately connected to our neighbor as our arms are connected to our hands. Or our legs to our feet.

This is a message the unchaste man is lacking. When he pursues his own interest to the exclusion of others, he destroys his very self because he infects the body of Christ with his perversion of the Truth. And this self-interest affects every area of his life (and the lives of those he meets) in a destructive way.

Unfortunately, like the unchaste man, many of us fail to recognize the intimate relationship between ourselves and our neighbors, and we are at risk of damaging those relationships and harming the very SELF who's highest interest we seek. Sadly, the culture only serves to exacerbate the problem. According to the world, life should be all about ME. MY happiness, MY goals, MY schedule, MY things. MY comfort. And it doesn’t take much to buy into the rhetoric.

In a way, our experience in the world stunts our growth, preventing us from moving much beyond infancy. A baby expects his every need to be met immediately. Because he is only self-aware, he insists on the immediate satisfaction of his every need.  He cries when he is wet, hungry, tired or uncomfortable, giving no thought as to how he might be infringing on the needs or plans of others. The process of growing up involves moving beyond our limited infantile perception. But all the worldly focus on immediate gratification and self-satisfaction discourages us from seeing beyond our own desires. As a result, our spiritual lives are often stunted in adolescence, and can remain there throughout adulthood.

Pieper makes clear that this absolute “interest” in obtaining for SELF is deadly to the growth of the individual. It places the soul in a shadow of lies, drastically limiting its ability to grow in virtue.

If I don’t recognize the very intimate connection that exists between my neighbor and me, I may cut off my nose to spite my face. If my hand is infected with frostbite, it won’t be long before I lose my arm. Gangrene in my toes can lead to the loss of my leg. Ultimately, these things can lead to the death of the entire body. My body. Your body. Christ’s body.

So how do we begin to direct our attention outward – raising our eyes toward our neighbor and away from ourselves?

That's a tough proposition.  Most of us have become accustomed to the instant satisfaction of every inclination.  We have been sucked into a world of instant café lattes and mochaccinos. We have dual heating and air in our cars, instant TV with no commercials and gourmet meals available on every corner. We pamper ourselves from morning till night without even giving our luxuries a second thought. In fact, for most of us, luxuries have (in our minds) become basic necessities.

Our spoiled nature makes the very idea of sacrificing for our neighbor a little difficult to digest.  It’s sort of like eating our veggies. We know they’re good for us, but somehow we just can’t get ourselves to like them.  Sure, we admire sacrifice….from afar. We are inspired by those stories in Chicken Soup for the Soul, or amazing heroics posted on YouTube or Facebook. But when the notion of actual “sacrifice” draws close to home, we get extremely uncomfortable, fidgeting in our chairs, avoiding eye contact, and hoping no one points in our direction. We love the idea of sacrifice. But that’s about as far as we are willing to go.

But we mustn't give up hope.  Sacrifice is like spiritual muscle.  The more we work it, the easier it gets.

In the interest of space, this week, we'll address one practical way to step outside of SELF – Next week, we'll address nine more.  Each of these practices will begin to draw back the shadows that cover our souls, allowing the light of Christ to fill our hearts, and by extension, to brighten those around us:

1. Serve someone you don’t know.

Sounds simple enough.  But the rewards are innumerable.  In Life is Worth Living, Archbishop Fulton Sheen says that if you suffer from anxiety in life, it’s because you are too wrapped up in your SELF. According to Sheen, the greatest solution to that problem is to serve others:

Go out and help your neighbor. Those who suffer from an anxiety of life do so because they live only for themselves. Their mind, their heart, each has been dammed up; and all the scum of the river of life makes of the heart and mind a kind of a garbage heap. And the easiest way out of this is to love people whom we see. If we do not love those whom we see, how can we love God, whom we do not see? Visit the sick; be kind to the poor; help the healing of lepers; find your neighbor – and a neighbor is someone in need. Once you do this, you begin to break out of the shell, and discover that your neighbor is not “hell” as Sartre says, but your neighbor is part of yourself. And is a creature of God.  

Sheen illustrates this profound point by sharing the story of a father who was beside himself with a selfish, very conceited, wise-mouthed teenage son.  His son had given up his Faith, and was bitter with himself and everyone he met. Sheen advised the father to send him to a certain school in Mexico. About a year later, the boy came back to Archbishop Sheen and asked for prayers and moral support for a project he'd initiated, explaining to him about how he and a group of boys had built a little school in Mexico, gathered all the local children to attend, and had hired a doctor to come to the village once a year for a month to take care of all the sick people of the neighborhood. In the process of his living in a needy area, this boy had recovered his Faith and all of his morals. According to Archbishop Sheen, the boy “found himself in his neighbor.”

 

Join us next week for Part Two of this post, where you'll find nine more ways to happiness!  (I know – I'm a little off-balance, but what else could I do outside of a 3000+ word post?:))

Note: Congratulations to my book club partner and fellow blogger, Sarah Reinhardt, on the safe arrival of her son, Jacob Anthony, who was born in the early morning hours of Friday, March 6! Many prayers and blessings for your family, Sarah!!

Reading Assignment:

Temperance: Chapters 4-7

Discussion Questions:

1. There are innumerable ways to serve that will bring happiness and prepare our souls for a chaste life, that is, a life that is open to truth and knowledge, and guided by a love for others.  Do you have any suggestions for next week's list?

2. Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!

Read More: http://spiritualdirection.com/topics/book-club

For More Information on the Book Club:  http://spiritualdirection.com/csd-book-club

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the SpiritualDirection.com book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at pelicansbreast.com

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  • theresa lynch

    When Paul tells us, “take captive every thought,” he’s actually (among other things) giving us the formula for preventing depression. It’s positive thinking, yes — but, of course, it’s also much more than that. When I think of all of the Biblical passages advising me to be joyful and to mold my thoughts by my faith, I see how responsible I am for my own moods. But if I’m already depressed, the story is different. It’s much more difficult to backtrack — to elevate myself from depression before I can feel joy. But if I regularly, over time, focus on my faith, and on the love that God shows me by the favors I enjoy, setbacks and material losses become more and more minimized. So one danger is that we play the blame game with people who fell into depression before they were aware of means of preventing it.

    Bishop Sheen didn’t have the advantage of the results of brain scans of people in various mood states. I believe he was right on target in his advice to us to look outward from our own needs and desires. But I also think there’s much more to the overall picture of depression among Catholics today. I think we’re seeing that depression starts small, but grows if we fail to focus on our faith and gratitude rather than the individual preferences of our everyday lives. And we’re seeing that those who were not helped in the earlier, milder stages of depression may need longer and/or more intensive help.

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