St. Augustine has it right
February 29th, 2016
By Deacon Faiva Po’oi
There was an unusual auction that took place in Washington, D.C. Thousands of old patent models of unique and unusual inventions were up for sale. Since 1800, thousands of old patent models had accumulated in the U.S. Patent Office. And now, one by one, these strange gadgets went under the auctioneer’s hammer. Some were clever. Some were clumsy. For example, someone had invented an automatic bedbug buster. There was also an illuminated cat, created to scare away mice at night. Another device consisted of a long tube with a mouthpiece. It was supposed to enable a person to warm his feet, while sleeping, with his own breath. To most people, these inventions were just good for a laugh. One man even wrote an account of the auction and called it “The Shattered Dreams of a Century.”
The same story could be written about many areas of life. There are financial illusions – dreams of ways to “get rich quick.” There are political illusions: “Vote for me, and I promise this and that.” There are religious illusions: “Send in your donations, and you will never be lonely. You will always be happy.” All of these plans have one thing in common. They are based on the idea that happiness is the goal of life and that pleasure is the highest good.
Unfortunately, the reality is that these plans don’t work. Happiness is not the sole goal of life nor is pleasure the highest good. People who make a mission of happiness are seldom happy. The author of Ecclesiastes was determined to be happy. He worked at it. He said, “I kept my heart from no pleasure. Then I considered all that my hands had done. And behold all was vanity and a striving after the wind” (2:10, 11).
Most of us are neither great inventors nor great composers, but all of us are dreamers. The poet was thinking of you and me when he wrote: “Man is a dreamer: He glimpses the hills from afar. And plans for the things out yonder; where all his tomorrows are.”
Thrills do not last. That is why the dream of the prodigal son could never come true. He was chasing an illusion that could never be realized because it had no relationship to reality. In a sense, each of us is like the prodigal son. We are discontented with things as they are, and we dream of life as it might be. We should never feel too old to dream. If our trust is in the Lord, the possibilities of life are limitless, and the future is forever bright. But there is a catch: not all of our dreams can be trusted. Some of them are merely illusions.
There is a law in life that is as real as the law of gravity. It is this: There can be no happiness without holiness. This is simply the way we are—the way we were created. We cannot seek to satisfy our lower nature at the expense of our higher nature and expect to ever be genuinely happy. The author of Ecclesiastes says, “In my opinion, nothing is worthwhile; everything is futile” (1:2).
Some people think it is very sad that physical pleasures do not last and, worse yet, do not satisfy. But I disagree. In part, it was his unhappiness that ultimately saved the prodigal son from himself and from his sinfulness. His sadness was a sign of his remorse and repentance. It moved him to begin thinking about his former life and his father, and eventually drove him back home.
Truly, as St. Augustine has written, God has made us for himself, and our souls will find no rest until they rest in him.
Deacon Po’oi serves at St. Timothy Parish, San Mateo.
From March 3, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.