In Plato’s Gorgias, the ambitious Callicles accuses Socrates of turning human life upside down with his teaching that happiness consists in a life of virtue.
To our fallen, grasping souls, it somehow seems that satisfying our incessant desire for more of this, and loads of that, is the only road to contentment.
Socrates’s insistence that getting more can wound us where it hurts the most (the soul), so that we do better (for ourselves) to suffer justice rather than commit it, certainly sets worldly wisdom on its head.
At bottom, however, Socrates’s shocking advice is rooted in a clear perception of what is, and what is not. For though the will is a vital part of human nature, the same will that can move mountains when it acts in accordance with objective reality is powerless to achieve anything when it turns against that nature from which it springs.
Just as no one chooses whether or in what form to exist, no one chooses what will (or will not) make his existence worthwhile. It is only in surrendering our will to the order of things, Socrates sees, that we can fulfill our destiny and achieve the end we truly desire.
Though we have a crucial role to play in achieving our own perfection, at bottom happiness consists in fully accepting what has been given to us. Only when we are willing to receive ourselves as a gift can we truly become a gift to ourselves, to other souls, and to God himself.
Our Lord makes this dimension of happiness prominent by proclaiming that the essence of human fulfillment is to be blessed.
As Fr. Jeffrey Kirby notes, Christ’s Beatitudes (Mt. 5:3-12) demonstrate that the key to happiness is recognizing our utter dependence on God, and ordering our lives to the reception and sharing of his gifts.
The Church Fathers tell us that Christ not only sits at the right hand of the Father (Acts 7:55-56), but is himself the right hand of God. The right hand is the hand of strength, of virtue, and of blessing.
When we follow Christ, we allow him to lead us from virtue to virtue, from blessing to blessing, to our “very great” heavenly reward: the gift of seeing God, face to face, forever.
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