The Beatitudes and the Search for Happiness

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The Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes states that the Son of God, reveals man to man. That means that Jesus shows us (man) what the perfect man is – in other words, how to be perfectly human.[1] Jesus explains this during his sermon on the mount[2] where he espouses the Beatitudes which are at the heart of his mission.[3]

The Beatitudes or ‘Blessings’[4] depict the countenance of Christ and portray his charity[5]; just as we are created in the image and likeness of God[6] and they respond to the natural desire for happiness inherent in our being. This desire is therefore of divine origin.[7] Hence, as we share in the life of Christ, the Church places this teaching at the forefront of her teaching on the moral life.

Whilst the world constantly showers us with all manner of good things (and bad) for our own pleasure, St Thomas Aquinas asserts that it is God alone who satisfies our desire for happiness.[8] This is the goal of human existence[9] and it is the quest for happiness that leads us ultimately to God.[10]

This is not the happiness which comes from an agreeable pleasure, which ‘belongs to the domain of the senses’[11] such as consuming a delicious meal or drinking fine wine. That form of pleasure is brief as the purpose of consuming food and drink is to satisfy the need for healthy nourishment required by our bodies which has to be repeated continuously. This form of pleasure satisfies an exterior good, though over indulgence may lead in the opposite direction – to the sin of gluttony.

The happiness revealed by the Divine Beatitudes is by contrast caused by an interior action, such as bearing trials that are ‘accepted with courage and with love.’[12] So, for example, when Christians are persecuted for their faith, they are indeed blessed, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.[13] The Beatitudes are free supernatural gifts from God that prepare man to enter the kingdom of heaven. We still have free will, we still have choices, but Jesus imparts to us that true happiness is not found in wealth, power or human achievement but by following the Beatitudes day in day through the power of the Holy Spirit.[14]

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Bibliography

Sacred Scripture

New Jerusalem Bible, Reader’s Edition: London, Darton, Longman and Todd (1990).

Books and texts

The Holy See: Catechism of the Catholic Church: Revised in Accordance with the Official Latin Text Promulgated by Pope John Paul II. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana (1997).

Church Documents

The School of the Annunciation, Catechist Foundations Course for the New Evangelisation Part II: The Search for Happiness, Unit IV: What is man?

[1] Gaudium et Spes 22 quoted in The School of the Annunciation, Catechist Foundations Course for the New Evangelisation Part II: The Search for Happiness, Unit IV: What is man? (Abbreviated hereafter Unit 4), p. 19/

[2] Matthew 5-7.

[3] The Holy See: Catechism of the Catholic Church: Revised in Accordance with the Official Latin Text Promulgated by Pope John Paul II. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana (1997). (Abbreviated hereafter as CCC) 1716.

[4] Unit 4, p.19.

[5] CCC 1717.

[6] Genesis 1:27.

[7] CCC 1718.

[8] CCC 1718.

[9] CCC 1719.

[10] Unit 4, p.21.

[11] Servais Pinckaers, OP, Morality: The Catholic View, trans Michael Sherwin, OP (South Bend, Indiana: St Augustine’s Press, 2011) in Unit 4, Appendix 1, (Abbreviated hereafter as Unit 4, Appendix 1), p.78.

[12] Unit 4 Appendix 1 p.78.

[13] Matthew 5:10.

[14] CCC 1722-1724.

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