Karlo Broussard
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Karlo Broussard is a Catholic Apologist, speaker, and writer, known best for his work with Catholic Answers and personal work at karlobroussard.com

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St. Thomas’s Prayer Tips

The Church has always emphasized prayer as one of the spiritual practices that we should undertake during the season of Lent. So, it’s worth our while reflecting a bit on it. And we can let St. Thomas Aquinas be our guide. Aquinas has many things to say about prayer.[1] But here are three practical things that are worth highlighting. First, our prayer shouldn’t only be mental. We should practice vocal prayer as well.[2] Our verbal words keep the mind focused on the meaning of the prayers, which in turn increases our affection for God. Moreover, using verbal words in prayer serves God with all that God has given us, both mind and body. Second, don’t stress over whether you’ve been fully attentive in your prayer. It’s true that Aquinas says continued attention is necessary in order that the end of prayer—i.e., union with God—be better attained. But, as Aquinas points out, our lack of being fully attentive in prayer doesn’t mean our prayer isn’t fruitful.[3] The original intention with which one sets about praying is sufficient, both with regard to the prayer’s merit and the effect of our request. Third, the duration of prayers needs to be guided by reason.[4] Although prayer should be continual with regard to the desire of charity, which Aquinas identifies as prayer’s cause, prayer considered in itself, which is understood as the actual saying of prayers, need not be continual. Aquinas teaches that our prayers need to be commensurate with their end, which is to arouse fervor of the interior desire for God. This being the case, Aquinas counsels that if our prayer “exceeds this measure, so that it cannot be continued any longer without causing weariness,” we should stop.[5] For Aquinas, our attention doesn’t have to be forced if we’re unable to keep it up. So, there’s no need to fret over whether your prayer was effective because you got distracted or weren’t fully attentive to the words. Let’s try to keep these practical points in mind from the Angelic Doctor so that our Lenten observance of prayer can bear the fruit that our Lord wants it to bear.
[1] See Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae II-II, q. 83. [2] See ST II-II, q. 83, a. 12, resp. [3] See ST II-II, q. 83, a. 13, resp. [4] See ST II-II, q. 83, a. 13, resp. [5] ST II-II, q. 83, a. 14, resp.

Desire & Happiness: Part 2

In a previous musing, I stated that the quest for happiness is the quest to discover the goods that really perfect us as human beings and posed the question, ‘What are those goods?’ The short answer to this question is the ends to which nature directs our innate human powers—the things that our human powers are made for. For example, the powers of our animality are by nature ordained to acquire those things that secure our bodily wellbeing—food, drink, shelter, clothing, etc. (material goods), and when we acquire such things, they bring about a real kind of happiness. The powers of our soul are by nature directed to acquiring that which constitutes our spiritual wellbeing. Our intellect is made to know truth. Truth, therefore, is a good the possession of which constitutes a real kind of happiness. Willing the good for others and for ourselves is in itself a good, and thus perfective of our nature, since the pursuit of the good is the very purpose of our will. From this purpose of the will follows the ordination of our nature to love, friendship, and social living (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I-II, q. 4, a. 8.) The goods mentioned above all give legitimate or real happiness. But the happiness that these goods give can never be complete or perfect, at least for some when found in a limited way (e.g., truth). The reason is because they are goods that in principle will leave us desiring more. As Thomas Aquinas teaches, man can’t be perfectly happy “so long as something remains for him to desire and seek” (ST I-II, q. 3, a. 8, resp.). Food and drink, obviously, never completely satisfy. Even material goods that we acquire for shelter and comfort (e.g., house, car, clothing, etc.) do not completely satisfy. First, there is always something bigger and better that we desire. Second, such goods are only sought for the sake of doing other things that belong to the higher part of our human nature: pursuing education, succeeding at our jobs, supporting self and family, pursuing friendships and relationships, etc. Also, there is always the looming threat of having such goods taken away from us (e.g., theft, natural disaster, financial hardship, death, etc.). Given that such goods cannot completely or perfectly satisfy, the question becomes, “Is there a good the possession of which would never leave us seeking more—a good that does not leave something remaining to be desired or sought?” It would have to be a good such that there is no good greater than it. No such good can be a creaturely good because all creaturely goods are limited. For whatever good we consider pursuing, there will always be a good higher or better than it to pursue. The only good that fits the bill is infinite good, which is God. Therefore, in the words of Aquinas, “God alone constitutes man’s happiness” (ST I-II, q. 2, a. 8, resp.). St. Augustine was right: “Our hearts are restless [O Lord] until they rest thee.” (Augustine, Confessions, I.1.1)

Desire & Happiness: Part 1

In 2013, the United Nations declared March 20th the International Day of “Happiness.” That same year Pharrell Williams released his widely popular song “Happy.” A simple search on Amazon lists thousands of books on happiness. I think it is safe to say that our culture is fixated on happiness. But what is happiness? What does happiness consist of? Why is it important that we get the happiness question right? Pharrell Williams seems to leave the happiness question up to us: “Clap along if you know what happiness means to you?” In other words, we define what happiness is for ourselves. But what if we’re wrong? Being wrong about happiness could lead someone to think their life is not worth living. Our view of happiness is connected to our view of the meaning of life because the desire for happiness is built into the very fabric of our being. We cannot help but desire to be happy (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I, q. 19, a. 3.). Consider, for example, that when we choose to do something we do it only insofar as we seek to acquire something that we perceive will in some way perfect, satisfy, or fulfill us. In other words, we perceive it as good for us—that which will help us to be happy. This insight was expressed in St. Thomas Aquinas’s teaching that whatever we choose we choose sub specie boni—under the aspect of good (ST I-II, q. 8, a. 1.). Consequently, the desire for happiness is at the heart of everything that we do and every decision we make. It determines the people we enter friendship with, the person we choose to marry, the career that we pursue, the associations we associate with, the groups we belong to, and everything else of relevance in life. Given that our desire for happiness is so bound up with how we live our life as human beings, our view of happiness will determine whether we think our lives have meaning, whether our lives are a success, and whether our life is even worth living. In short, our view of happiness can either make us or break us. As such, it’s imperative that we take the happiness question seriously and inquire as to what happiness is. For the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, and medieval philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, happiness is rooted in our nature as human beings. For them, happiness is best understood as human flourishing—the perfection of our human nature. Such perfection comes about when the goods to which our nature directs us are achieved—the goods relevant to both our physical and spiritual wellbeing. Acquiring such goods constitutes the good life—man fully alive. The quest for happiness, then, is the quest to discover the goods that really perfect us as human beings. What are those goods? That’s a topic for another time.

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St. Thomas’s Prayer Tips

The Church has always emphasized prayer as one of the spiritual practices that we should undertake during the season of Lent. So, it’s worth our while reflecting a bit on it. And we can let St. Thomas Aquinas be our guide. Aquinas has many things to say about prayer.[1] But here are three practical things that are worth highlighting. First, our prayer shouldn’t only be mental. We should practice vocal prayer as well.[2] Our verbal words keep the mind focused on the meaning of the prayers, which in turn increases our affection for God. Moreover, using verbal words in prayer serves God with all that God has given us, both mind and body. Second, don’t stress over whether you’ve been fully attentive in your prayer. It’s true that Aquinas says continued attention is necessary in order that the end of prayer—i.e., union with God—be better attained. But, as Aquinas points out, our lack of being fully attentive in prayer doesn’t mean our prayer isn’t fruitful.[3] The original intention with which one sets about praying is sufficient, both with regard to the prayer’s merit and the effect of our request. Third, the duration of prayers needs to be guided by reason.[4] Although prayer should be continual with regard to the desire of charity, which Aquinas identifies as prayer’s cause, prayer considered in itself, which is understood as the actual saying of prayers, need not be continual. Aquinas teaches that our prayers need to be commensurate with their end, which is to arouse fervor of the interior desire for God. This being the case, Aquinas counsels that if our prayer “exceeds this measure, so that it cannot be continued any longer without causing weariness,” we should stop.[5] For Aquinas, our attention doesn’t have to be forced if we’re unable to keep it up. So, there’s no need to fret over whether your prayer was effective because you got distracted or weren’t fully attentive to the words. Let’s try to keep these practical points in mind from the Angelic Doctor so that our Lenten observance of prayer can bear the fruit that our Lord wants it to bear.
[1] See Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae II-II, q. 83. [2] See ST II-II, q. 83, a. 12, resp. [3] See ST II-II, q. 83, a. 13, resp. [4] See ST II-II, q. 83, a. 13, resp. [5] ST II-II, q. 83, a. 14, resp.

Desire & Happiness: Part 2

In a previous musing, I stated that the quest for happiness is the quest to discover the goods that really perfect us as human beings and posed the question, ‘What are those goods?’ The short answer to this question is the ends to which nature directs our innate human powers—the things that our human powers are made for. For example, the powers of our animality are by nature ordained to acquire those things that secure our bodily wellbeing—food, drink, shelter, clothing, etc. (material goods), and when we acquire such things, they bring about a real kind of happiness. The powers of our soul are by nature directed to acquiring that which constitutes our spiritual wellbeing. Our intellect is made to know truth. Truth, therefore, is a good the possession of which constitutes a real kind of happiness. Willing the good for others and for ourselves is in itself a good, and thus perfective of our nature, since the pursuit of the good is the very purpose of our will. From this purpose of the will follows the ordination of our nature to love, friendship, and social living (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I-II, q. 4, a. 8.) The goods mentioned above all give legitimate or real happiness. But the happiness that these goods give can never be complete or perfect, at least for some when found in a limited way (e.g., truth). The reason is because they are goods that in principle will leave us desiring more. As Thomas Aquinas teaches, man can’t be perfectly happy “so long as something remains for him to desire and seek” (ST I-II, q. 3, a. 8, resp.). Food and drink, obviously, never completely satisfy. Even material goods that we acquire for shelter and comfort (e.g., house, car, clothing, etc.) do not completely satisfy. First, there is always something bigger and better that we desire. Second, such goods are only sought for the sake of doing other things that belong to the higher part of our human nature: pursuing education, succeeding at our jobs, supporting self and family, pursuing friendships and relationships, etc. Also, there is always the looming threat of having such goods taken away from us (e.g., theft, natural disaster, financial hardship, death, etc.). Given that such goods cannot completely or perfectly satisfy, the question becomes, “Is there a good the possession of which would never leave us seeking more—a good that does not leave something remaining to be desired or sought?” It would have to be a good such that there is no good greater than it. No such good can be a creaturely good because all creaturely goods are limited. For whatever good we consider pursuing, there will always be a good higher or better than it to pursue. The only good that fits the bill is infinite good, which is God. Therefore, in the words of Aquinas, “God alone constitutes man’s happiness” (ST I-II, q. 2, a. 8, resp.). St. Augustine was right: “Our hearts are restless [O Lord] until they rest thee.” (Augustine, Confessions, I.1.1)

Desire & Happiness: Part 1

In 2013, the United Nations declared March 20th the International Day of “Happiness.” That same year Pharrell Williams released his widely popular song “Happy.” A simple search on Amazon lists thousands of books on happiness. I think it is safe to say that our culture is fixated on happiness. But what is happiness? What does happiness consist of? Why is it important that we get the happiness question right? Pharrell Williams seems to leave the happiness question up to us: “Clap along if you know what happiness means to you?” In other words, we define what happiness is for ourselves. But what if we’re wrong? Being wrong about happiness could lead someone to think their life is not worth living. Our view of happiness is connected to our view of the meaning of life because the desire for happiness is built into the very fabric of our being. We cannot help but desire to be happy (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I, q. 19, a. 3.). Consider, for example, that when we choose to do something we do it only insofar as we seek to acquire something that we perceive will in some way perfect, satisfy, or fulfill us. In other words, we perceive it as good for us—that which will help us to be happy. This insight was expressed in St. Thomas Aquinas’s teaching that whatever we choose we choose sub specie boni—under the aspect of good (ST I-II, q. 8, a. 1.). Consequently, the desire for happiness is at the heart of everything that we do and every decision we make. It determines the people we enter friendship with, the person we choose to marry, the career that we pursue, the associations we associate with, the groups we belong to, and everything else of relevance in life. Given that our desire for happiness is so bound up with how we live our life as human beings, our view of happiness will determine whether we think our lives have meaning, whether our lives are a success, and whether our life is even worth living. In short, our view of happiness can either make us or break us. As such, it’s imperative that we take the happiness question seriously and inquire as to what happiness is. For the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, and medieval philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, happiness is rooted in our nature as human beings. For them, happiness is best understood as human flourishing—the perfection of our human nature. Such perfection comes about when the goods to which our nature directs us are achieved—the goods relevant to both our physical and spiritual wellbeing. Acquiring such goods constitutes the good life—man fully alive. The quest for happiness, then, is the quest to discover the goods that really perfect us as human beings. What are those goods? That’s a topic for another time.