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The Most Important Goal in Life

Today is the Feast of Christ the King.  The script that calls out the liturgical year on this site simply refers to this as the Sunday before Advent, and that’s what it was for centuries.  The idea of this feast–at the end of the liturgical year–comes from the “new theology”, one that generally gets a reaction of horror from traditionalists.  The concept is simple: since we have Christmas (for Christ’s birth) and Good Friday/Easter (for his death and resurrection) we should have one for his coming return.

The idea that history has a purpose and an end is not uncontroversial but it’s one that bugs many of us: why are we here? where did we come from? where are we going?  We can’t do much about the first two, so it makes sense that we should concentrate on the last, and in doing so some answers to the first will become clear.

Many goals have been proposed over the centuries.  Some say that we have no goal, that when we die that’s it.  Others say that, through a series of cycles, we end up being reabsorbed into the Godhead, however that it defined.  Both of these have an air of pointlessness about them.  Why speak of a goal when the grave is the end? And why be here in the first place when we’ll be sucked up in another?

The French preacher Bossuet tells us that “man’s chief aim in life is to be happy”.  That sounds like something everyone can like.  But how to be happy forever?  Every form of happiness we see in this life is transient.  People wonder whether there will be pets or golf or football or even work in heaven.  But these come and go.  With football, it’s easy: you have sixty minutes to play and that’s it.  The others have less predictable starts and stops but they’re there.

St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that both the goal and the source of happiness in life is the following:

Final and perfect happiness can consist in nothing else than the vision of the Divine Essence. To make this clear, two points must be observed.

  1. First, that man is not perfectly happy, so long as something remains for him to desire and seek:
  2. Secondly, that the perfection of any power is determined by the nature of its object. (Summa Theologiae, 1-2, a.3, q.8)

Aquinas is always a little technical (which is why, I guess, I like him) so it helps to break things down. We all know people who go through life looking for the “maximum thrill”.  But when all the passing thrills are gone we are left with God, who is eternal.  Seeing him as he is (which is what the vision of the Divine Essence is all about) is the maximum thrill par excellence, not only for the sheer impact of the experience (2) but also because it lasts forever (1).

Getting back to the happiness, Aquinas notes the following:

If therefore the human intellect, knowing the essence of some created effect, knows no more of God than “that He is”; the perfection of that intellect does not yet reach simply the First Cause, but there remains in it the natural desire to seek the cause. Wherefore it is not yet perfectly happy. Consequently, for perfect happiness the intellect needs to reach the very Essence of the First Cause. And thus it will have its perfection through union with God as with that object, in which alone man’s happiness consists, as stated above (1,7; 2, 8).

We need to do more than believe that God is, although that’s a start.  We need to connect with him and know him as he is.  That’s starts in this life and reaches its goal–not an end in time–in the next.  And then we can find the happiness we’ve been looking for all along.

To start that journey, click here


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