Summary: Contentment is a trap, because it keeps us from growing in ability and interior commitment.
Recently we were viewing one of the original episodes of the Twilight Zone. A successful but elderly actor was ruminating over his long career, and his multiple marriages, and told his butler a secret. He said that in his whole life, he had only one length of time in which he had felt true contentment. He recalled his first wife, and the short time they had together before her death, and labeled that a time of contentment.
Of course, the rest of the episode let him relive some of that time of contentment, and let him realize that those days were nothing like what he remembered. Time had acted like sandpaper on his memory, had smoothed out the rough edges and erased the memories of spats and disagreements. It had deluded him into a memory of a contentment that never was.
Human beings are not designed to be content with their state, because our state, even in the Garden of Eden, was imperfect. Genesis teaches that God created every contingent being: light, stars, earth, beasts both wild and domestic, and man. Each day ended with a commentary: God saw that it was good. When God created man, the summit of His work, he even said, it is very good.
But then God said that something is not good: it is not good that the man–the male–should be alone. No other creature is his equal, because no other creature is created in the very image and likeness of God. So God created woman, and family, and human love. The human community is in God’s image and likeness because it is family. It is in the image of God, a family of three divine persons united by the Holy Spirit, who is love. God tasked this human family to be fertile, to multiply, and to cultivate and be stewards of the earth, the Garden He made. We would do this work, God’s work, and gradually learn and grow in love so that we could be united as sons and daughters of God in eternal joy and peace. That was the plan–for Adam and Eve and their offspring–ultimately us–to know only goodness.
But being in the image and likeness of God also means being given the freedom to choose the good. And if we can freely choose good, we can also freely refuse good. This is what our first parents did. They knew God’s plan, but listened to the father of lies and chose what they thought was a better plan, to be like God by knowing evil. They already knew goodness, but not contentment. But by taking the path of disobedience, they also chose rebellion, helplessness, alienation from God and each other, and death.
God could have written humanity off as a failed experiment. But the One who loved us into existence, as Scripture says, has mercy and loving kindness that endures forever. He showed that mercy and love to Abraham and his heirs, the Hebrew people. Time after time He forgave their countless sins and saved them from their enemies. In the fullness of time the Son of God even took flesh as a Jewish boy in Mary’s womb, lived, healed, preached the loving kindness of God to Jew and Gentile alike. Even though they–and, let’s face it, we–killed Him, you can’t keep God in the ground. He rose again and through the operation of the Holy Spirit in the Church, gave us new life and the hope of Resurrection.
In other words, God did not make us to experience contentment until we are, after this earthly life, fully in union with the Blessed Trinity, enjoying adopted filiation in the fullest sense. God made us, the Fathers taught, with a God-shaped hole in our hearts. Only God can fill that gap. Only in the Beatific Vision can we feel true contentment. Until we are in union with the Trinity, we will always feel a sense of emptiness in our souls. It’s true. We are all like the man, who, unable to hear and unable to speak, had a desperate need to communicate with others, especially with God. For us, like the deaf man, the only route to that communication is through Jesus, Our Lord.
This is why, every time I or any other deacon or priest administers baptism, we touch the lips and ear of the baptized and pray that the ears may be opened to hear the Word of God and the mouth will be opened to proclaim God’s praise.
Now the fellow who had no ability to communicate with words, in either direction, knew just by looking around that he had a big problem. But we, in our fallen state, even after baptism suffer the lingering effects of original sin. We tend to fall for the promises of a materialist contentment. I can look around school every day and see hundreds of teens who can’t hear the quiet voice of God calling to their hearts, because they have an earbud blaring non-musical noise into their ear. To the best of my knowledge, God doesn’t use Twitter, or post on Facebook. (I do have great respect for those Catholic evangelists who do that.) There are a couple of actions you can take, however, that will help your family turn their backs on a false, materialistic contentment, and grow in faith, hope and charity.