"I serve You and worship You that I may be happy in You,
to Whom I owe that I am a being capable of happiness."
~ Augustine, Confessions
To be sure, things in the created world can fulfill many of our needs. Yet we also have a most significant need that only God can satisfy. If there is both a Creator and a creation, then the mistake of all mistakes is to think that created things on their own can replace and satisfy the need we have for the Creator. The creation can't do it; it is simply not designed to do so. Only God can fulfill the role that God is supposed to fulfill i n our lives. That's why the greatest commandment demands that we love him with everything we are, everything we have, and in everything we do - with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (see Deut. 6:5; Matt. 22:37). A relationship of supreme love with God is the only thing that can satisfy the longing for the infinite that is so deeply rooted in our hearts; nothing else will do. Hear Pascal again:
What is it, then, that this desire and this inability proclaim to us, but that there was once in man a true happiness of which there now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present? But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.
The genius of the Christian faith, however, is that it does not call upon us to eliminate our love for things on earth out of our love for God in heaven. It's not either God or the world, but both God and the world in a proper relationship. When he is at the top of our list of loves, we are able to love and enjoy all things in the context of our relationship with him.
That's why Jesus said that the second greatest commandment, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, is like the first (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:39). The two greatest commandments are integrally connected. In loving our neighbor, who is a creature made in God's image and likeness, we love God. In loving God, who is the Creator, we love our neighbor, whom he created. Thus, love for God and neighbor - that is, love for the Creator and his creation, people and other things too - are inseparable.
. . .
In Christianity, the happy life is a sacramental life, in which we see and love God supremely in relationship to all things, and in which we see and love all things properly in relationship to God, whom we love the most. In Augustine's apt phrase, we "learn in the creature to love the Creator; and in the work Him who made it."
Thus, if we refer all our human activities and experiences to God in love - work, marriage, sexuality, children, family, friends, food, rest, recreation, place, and anything else you can think of - then we discover contentment, satisfaction, fulfillment, joy, and happiness in life, all summed up in the word shalom [peace]. If God is the proper reference point for all aspects and things in life, then God gives them their true meaning and puts them in the proper order in our lives. This grand union of God, ourselves, and the whole cosmos in a sacred synthesis of rightly ordered love constitutes the deep meaning of happiness.
by David K. Naugle