Corpus Christi Blog

Great Inner Peace or Fleshpots?

08-19-2018Weekly ReflectionFr. Richard Heilman

Make no mistake about it, God wants you to be happy. Yes, that's right. And, not just some kind of superficial and fleeting happiness, but a deep and abiding happiness; an inner peace. This is the kind of happiness that is meant to fill that void in your life; to lift you up into that place of all meaning and purpose in your life. So, what does this void-filling happiness look like?

Fr. Robert Spitzer has done extensive research in this area. Fr. Spitzer writes,

"The Greek Philosopher Aristotle (394-322 B.C.) observed that no person deliberately chooses to be unhappy. The purpose and end of man, Aristotle argued, was happiness - for happiness is self-evidently what all men seek and strive for ... it is what he directs all his powers towards. So, this universal quest for happiness defines humanness. 'Happiness,' Aristotle pointed out, 'is the only thing willed by man for its own sake. Everything else is willed for the sake of happiness.'"

The Spitzer Center explains,

"Based on his study of the great philosophers and theologians over the years, Fr. Spitzer refined this model of the Four Levels of Happiness. We can see that the level that is dominant in our lives will dictate our actions, choices, and ethics. We cannot understand ethics without understanding happiness. Furthermore, whichever level of happiness dominates our lives will determine the depth and endurance of our happiness."

Let's take a look at Fr. Spitzer's Four Levels of Happiness. (For more information on the Four Levels of Happiness, visit

Happiness Level 1 (HL1) - Happiness Level 1 is simply physical/material gratification: enjoying a good meal, sexual gratification, owning the latest BMW or gadget, watching a good football match, etc. The pleasures of HL1 are intense but short lived. There is nothing wrong with Happiness Level 1 unless one puts the little word ONLY in front of it. When you do this, you will sooner or later hit a crisis where life seems to be pretty shallow and empty.

Happiness Level 2 (HL2) - Happiness Level 2 is ego gratification: being the best, the fastest, smartest, funniest, most liked and esteemed, admired, powerful etc. Again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with happiness level 2, it's what drives progress, makes us build the Sydney Opera House, etc., and it's what makes the fundamentals of Happiness Level 1 healthy - we now eat and relax to perform better.

There is nothing wrong with Happiness Level 2, unless one again puts that little word ONLY in front of it. When we do this, others become competitors, a challenge, problems. Men locked into Happiness Level 2 may have several failed marriages. Friends and wives are, for such people, there to stroke their ego and tell them how wonderful they are. When they cease to do this, they are rejected for a new relationship. The worlds of politics and entertainment are filled with HL2 types.

Happiness Level 3 (HL3) - Happiness Level 3 is best summed up by the word "love." It is reached when we genuinely move from the self to the other. That is, when we start to live to serve another, or others, or a cause that will be of benefit to others. HL3 involves commitment, giving, loyalty, care, concern, forgiveness, acceptance, compassion and above all self-sacrifice. HL3 again makes HL2 healthy: we start to achieve, to serve. I want to be a good lawyer so that I may give my children a good education and represent the poor well, for example. Other people are now no longer mere competitors or ego-strokers. Others become partners with whom I can work in a much more noble enterprise than my own ego-gratification.

But HL3 also has its crisis when we again put ONLY in front of it. Why? Because human beings do not just want love, we want ultimate unconditional love. We do not just want truth, we want ultimate unconditional truth. We do not just want beauty, we want ultimate unconditional absolute beauty. We do not merely want being, we want absolute being.

But I cannot be an ultimate unconditional infinite anything for you, nor you for me. Why not? Because I'm a creature, finite, limited. The more deeply we know one another, the more apparent that becomes and the more disillusioned we become. The crisis in the HL3 person leads to cynicism, the feeling that whatever I commit myself to inevitably disappoints me in the end. The philosopher John Paul Sartre summed it up when he wrote: "I seek perfection, but perfection does not exist, therefore life is absurd."

Happiness Level 4 (HL4) - The Happiness Level 4 person simply acknowledges his human desire for the ultimate and consciously seeks a relationship with God, the ultimate truth, love, goodness, beauty and being. HL4 involves surrender. The kernel of HL4 is summed up in the prayer: "Thy will be done." The true HL4 person enjoys a great inner peace. HL4 makes HL3 healthy, for you no longer need to be perfect for me and I no longer seek the ultimate in you. I'm easy and comfortable with the fact that we are deeply flawed and very finite. This liberates me to love unconditionally.

Returning to Our Fleshpots?

Let's say you are choosing to live that "liberated life" in Happiness Level 4; that you want that great inner peace. Great! Like the Israelites who left behind 400 years of slavery (Exodus), you are choosing to leave behind a slavery. A slavery that allows sensual gratification to rule your life (HL1); a slavery that allows ego gratification to rule your life (HL2); a slavery that allows your unrealistic expectations of others to rule your life (HL3). But, like the Israelites, we can become tempted to abandon our new self and return to our old self (Eph. 4:20-24).

Although freed, the Israelite wanted to return to sit by their fleshpots:

The whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, "Would that we had died at the LORD's hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!" (Exodus 16:2-3)

The literal meaning of fleshpot is a pot for cooking meat, but a modern definition is: "bodily comfort; luxury; a place of lascivious entertainment." Fleshpots symbolize for us the forces of backward pull that operate upon us when we hit snags of hardship, tiredness, discouragement in our pursuit of good goals. We get a little depressed and we complain and gripe and sometimes long to go back to what we are familiarwith instead of pursuing our new adventure.

In essence, we are choosing victimhood over victory. This is one of Satan's most effective tactics. He gets in our head and convinces us that because that person treated me poorly, or the job isn't working out, or the challenges of life are too hard ... whatever ... we "deserve" to return to our "old self" ... to our fleshpots.

Remember, Jesus said that no one who has laid his hand to the plow and then looks back is fit for the kingdom or rule of God (Luke 9:62). Every farmer knows that to make straight rows on flat ground you must keep your eyes on the mark or goal that lies ahead. Those who have made attempts at health and fitness call it, "derailing." We use very convincing arguments to excuse "getting off the path we had chosen" ... we get derailed.

Now is a perfect time to "get back on track" and do what we know in our heart we must do. It will be challenging, we will find every excuse in the book to "derail," but we must stay the course. Now is a time to unite your prayers for living the victorious life of a champion (Happiness Level 4), as hundreds of thousands of prayer warriors are united in prayer for all of us to live in "strength" and "peace."