The past eight Wednesdays I have gone through my book Idol Thoughts, laying out the traditional doctrine of the eight thoughts that take us away from God, from the happiness He promises us. The eight ‘idols’ that promise us happiness on their terms, but which of course are false in their promises.
Having established in the book that happiness is not found in the satisfaction of the body (gluttony), in the body of another (lust), in material security (avarice), or in revenge (anger), in getting one’s way (despondency), in oblivion (acedia), in human respect (vainglory) or in mastery (pride), an obvious question arises.
Namely, so what is it, then? If all of these thoughts are the idol thoughts, the lying thoughts that tell us false things about happiness, what is the true happiness? As the blog title says, ‘Get To The Point’, Lemieux. What will bring us happiness, many say? (Psalm 4).
OK, it’s the Eucharist, then. Satisfied? Well, you should be.
That is, it is God and the possession of God which is the happiness of the human person. Everything the thoughts seem to promise us, all the drives and desires of our natural humanity that they distort due to our fallen condition, all of this is fulfilled in a perfect and everlasting way by our communion with God.
Ultimately, heaven. But here on earth, Holy Communion. He gives Himself to us as food and drink, and so heals our gluttony. His Body is given to us in an intimacy of communion beside which sexual intercourse pales in comparison, and so heals lust.
His gift of Himself to us assures our life in the most profound security—goodbye, avarice! He is the Divine Justice, and comes to heal all the evil and injustice of the world, and so meets our anger with the power of mercy. He does not give us our own way, or oblivion, but rather shows us that what we really want is really real, and is found in Him and in the path of love and communion in this world—take a bow, despondency and acedia. You both had a good run.
In His gift of Himself to us in this way He ‘validates’ our existence in the most radical sense possible, pays us direct personal and intimate attention and lavishes us with Himself—no need for vainglory. And in all of this we become true sharers of His Divine Life, truly ascend through, with, and in Him to the heights of heaven itself—so, pride – what were you offering us again?
All that the lying thoughts promised us, He gives to us, all in that little Host that is the whole of Himself, the whole of His life. It is not a symbol. It is not some strained metaphor. It is not some vague abstraction. It is Jesus, really and truly Jesus, and because of that, ‘It’ is God Himself, giving Himself to us here and now in the most profound way possible.
In all the discussions of who can receive communion and who cannot, I am sometimes grieved that there is little sense that the gift of the Eucharist is what it actually is, what we all say we believe it to be. And so it is worth making great sacrifices to receive it. Worth making radical changes in one’s life. Worth losing everything, if need be. Worth ‘selling all you possess and following [Him]’, as I read somewhere or other. There seems to be little sense of that in the conversations going on in the Church now—at least I haven’t heard anyone put it so baldly.
People may object at this point (it’s OK – I don’t mind!) that when they receive the Eucharist they don’t ‘feel’ all of the above. Don’t feel entirely happy, shall we say. That they tried all of that Catholic stuff, and IT DIDN”T WORK. So then what?
The question of ‘feelings’ in the spiritual life is a tricky one. We know that we cannot gauge life in general simply by how we feel about it at any given moment (and of course ‘feelings’ are always of the moment). At least, people who are not entirely foolish know this.
But at the same time, a happiness that has no reference to any kind of experience is a bit unreal, to say the least. The Eucharist will make you happy! But I don’t feel any better or different. Well, it’s not that kind of happiness! Uhhh…. OK? Not terribly satisfying.
While there are complexities in all this, some of which go into physical, chemical, and psychological depths I am neither prepared nor qualified to discuss, there is one aspect I am qualified to discuss. Namely, that some of our dissatisfaction with Jesus lies in the fact that we approach the Eucharist still in the grips of the thoughts. In other words, that we come to Jesus in hopes that He will gratify us in our selfish pursuit of self-directed, self-defined, self-ordered happiness. ‘Prosperity Christianity’ – the idea that we should have faith in God and in Christ so that He can make us rich and successful… according to our lights, our desires, our hopes and dreams.
When really, we should have faith in God and in Christ so that He can make our lives successful and yes, rich… but according to His ideas under those headings, which may be a bit different from the world’s.
At any rate, I see from my word count that I have written quite enough for one day, so I had better wrap this up. And that’s it for my little tour of Idol Thoughts. I do encourage you to buy it – American readers may prefer to use this link. Next week in this space we will begin to look at the Year of Mercy – you may be surprised to know that I have some thoughts about that subject. Until then!