Happiness: A Hecker Reflection
This is the ninth in a series of previously unpublished reflections from the 1854 spiritual notebook of Paulist Founder, Servant of God Father Isaac T. Hecker. The reflection series is being made public in conjunction with Father Hecker's cause for canonization. Following the reflection is a response from Father John Lynch, CSP, Paulist archivist.
God in commanding us to love Him with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength only enjoined upon us to seek our highest and greatest happiness. God alone is the health of our intelligence and the delight of our will; the completion of our desires, wants and faculties.
Our true happiness consists in the simultaneous development of all our faculties directed in the order of divine grace towards their highest end. This end is no other than God; and religion is able to bring the soul in perfect complete relations with God.
One may say that the summit of all human perfection and happiness on earth consists in finding the source of all pleasure in the sole execution of God’s will.
Paradise was to behold all things in God face to face. Sin caused us to lose this union. Eliminate sin and all affection for it, and this union will again be restored to us. This restoration is the work of the church. For the church not only seeks to save man’s soul for all eternity but also to restore him on earth to his paradisiacal state. For proof of this she puts in God’s hands the lives of the saints.
The end of our intelligence is contemplation, as that of our will is charity. Our blessedness is found in this completion.
Response: Father John Lynch, CSP
Goethe once wrote: “Happiness is a ball after which we run wherever it rolls, and we push with our feet when it stops.” A contemporary journalist might observe that happiness is a ball which we watch whenever and wherever it goes and switch the channel when it stops. Those who disdain the couch potato argue that real happiness follows a vigorous workout. The more intellectually inclined may suggest a gripping murder mystery or the successful completion of the Sunday NY Times cross-word puzzle.
At a certain age and breadth of experience, however, most adults will admit that lasting happiness is not to be found in physical or trivial pursuits. They will locate it in a good marriage and family, a fulfilling career, good health, financial security, and the respect of one’s peers. Still, no matter how much we love and are loved, how much we possess, how free we are from care or worry, will any of these survive death?
St. Augustine succinctly summed up the human condition in a memorable line: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” Since we are made in the image of God, we have the desire for union with God. “Whoever sees God has obtained all the goods of which he can conceive” (St. Gregory of Nyssa). Or, as Fr. Hecker notes, in commanding us to love Him wholeheartedly, God is only directing us to “our highest and greatest happiness.”
The highest earthly happiness will be found in conforming oneself to God’s will. Perhaps the most famous sermon of Jesus dealt with beatitude, the state of deep happiness. He taught that the truly happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who are poor in spirit, the clean of heart, the peacemakers. It is God’s will that we love Him with all our being and our neighbor as ourselves.
Paulist Father John Lynch CSP is a Professor Emeritus of History and Canon Law at The Catholic University of America and is the Archivist of the Paulist Fathers in Washington D.C.
About Father Isaac Hecker’s 1854 Spiritual Notebook:
Servant of God, Father Isaac Hecker wrote these spiritual notes as a young Redemptorist priest about 1854 and they have never been published. Hecker was 34 years old at the time, and had been ordained a priest for five years. He loved his work as a Catholic evangelist. The Redemptorist mission band had expanded out of the New York state area to the south and west, and the band’s national reputation grew. Hecker had begun to focus his attention on Protestants who came out to hear them. To this purpose Hecker began to write in 1854 his invitation to Protestant America to consider the Catholic Church, “Questions of the Soul” which would make him a national figure in the American church.
Hecker collected and organized these notes that include writings and stories from St. Alphonsus Liguori, the Jesuit spiritual writer Louis Lallemant and his disciple Jean Surin, the German mystic John Tauler, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Jane de Chantal among others. These notes were a resource for retreat work and spiritual direction and show Hecker’s growing proficiency in traditional Catholic spirituality some ten years after his conversion to the Catholic faith. They are composed of short thematic reflections.
Publishing and disseminating the writing of Servant of God Isaac Hecker is the work of the Office for Hecker’s Cause.