For a Doctrinal Homily Outline for the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary time, click here. The themes are Central idea: Be awake and prepared to meet Christ. Doctrine: Christ will make all things subject to him. Practical application: Prudence.
The second and higher level of happiness Fr. Spitzer’s recognizes he calls ego gratification. Right off the bat this might seem like an evil happiness, given words that we associate with ego, like egotistical or egomaniac, or the associations of the word with Sigmund Freud and abnormal psychology. But it is not, per se, an evil happiness, although it is limited and can definitely go wrong.
If physical pleasure can be thought of as the love the material world can give us (even though people can also impart it), ego gratification is more the affirming love that we receive from other persons. We feel physical pleasure in our bodies and ego gratification in our souls.
Ego gratification happens when we approve of ourselves or feel the approval of others. If we are better at something than someone else, we are pleased, although a humble person would keep that pleasure on the down-low so as not to bruise the egos of the others. If God said to us what He said to his own Son, “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” we would be rightly gratified. Instead, we often hear from the world (or from our own minds), “What the heck is wrong with you?” Praise can make us happy. Putdowns wound.
We are made to feel good about ourselves and ought to, given that we are created in the image and likeness of God and that we, the baptized, are Children of God. Before the fall, Adam and Eve were in a state of friendship with God, within themselves, with each other, and with all the created world. Of course, given our present state we are injured and weak and experience alienation.
The crisis in ego gratification
The desire to be pleased with ourselves and for others to admire us can motivate us to be as good at some good thing as we can possibly be. But the pursuit of this level of happiness can also make us miserable when we fall into what Fr. Spitzer calls the comparison game. We measure ourselves against others who appear better. We can get sad, angry, depressed, and envious, engage in gossip and calumny, and even become vengeful.
While the first Biblical instance of the negative side of ego gratification was Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God’s command in their desire to “be like gods,” the bitter fruit of their pride was fully ripe in their son Cain, who murdered his brother Abel because God approved of Abel’s offering but not Cain’s.
And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4: 4-7)
A few generations later, ego gratification went into the psychopathic regions with Cain’s descendant Lamech, the first polygamist and mass murderer (Gen 24:23-24).
While the desire for physical pleasure can lead to gluttony for food and drink and other sensual enjoyments, the desire for ego gratification can end with a kind of gluttony for praise. That is the dark side, but the bright side is to be pleased with the good things we have received, happy for others’ good fortune, and hopeful that one day Christ the King will say to us “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Mt 25:34).