“They are restless until they rest in thee” – St. Augustine.
The book Peace of Soul was written by the inspirational Venerable Fulton Sheen in 1949. It’s easy to think that a lot has changed in society and the field of psychology since 1949, but his words speak truth of modern anxiety and questions of the heart. This article is Part I in looking at Sheen’s Peace of Soul which inspired this blog.
Sheen was not your typical Catholic Bishop after winning an Emmy for his television show Life is Worth Living. His book Peace of Soul has been a great inspiration in looking at the intersection of psychology and faith and how it plays out in living the virtuous life. In his book he looks at the heart of man where we find tension. He describes that in the beginning it was not so, but due to original sin and pride a tension has formed in being separated from God. This tension in our heart creates a battle within ourselves for what we were made for and what we live by and often choose. As many of us try to plug things into our lives to find peace, contentment, and happiness, we are always left wanting more. Arguably no one can honestly look in the mirror and think “there is nothing left I can learn and there is no way left in which I can grow”. We are all faced with discontent, and even the greatest of childhood Christmas mornings, with the most unbelievable Christmas gifts, leave the mind wanting and the heart searching for more. We have a certain God-shaped hole in our heart that only God can fill.
Ven. Fulton Sheen describes the anxiety of life in our modern age primarily as an anxiety of the body. He describes that as in past generations there has been an anxiety of the soul but current moods are largely generally anxious about our physical attributes, potential physical harms, and physical acquisitions of stuff. We forget that peace is not something acquired physically, but something that is found when we attend to our soul. Fulton Sheen describes three ways in which we can transcend this general anxiety of life and reach true peace of the soul.
1. By Controlling Our Desires.
Sheen describes that peace is ultimately found in being free from our addictions, false beliefs of self, and false notions of necessity. Wealth isn’t associated with monetary success alone and material goods are not what measure happiness. In knowing what we need vs. what we want, we are better able to find our sense of true peace. In questioning our desires and controlling our unbridled ones we ask ourselves “what are my priorities?”. As humans we will never eliminate desires, (and shouldn’t want to), but need to put in check the hierarchy of these desires. If our desires make a pyramind of priorities with money at the top we might understand why we are so discontent with a low paying job or why we are so reluctant to offer volunteer work. If God is our top priority it is easy to tell that material possessions are not the end-all-be-all. Uncontrolled desires often cease to be desires and become addictions in some way. Someone who has a desire for ultimate success or approval at work can often grow into a work addiction, or an obsession with personal image. Someone who’s top priority is to be liked or to be beautiful may grow into an addiction of passivity for others to like them or even a eating disorder to stay physically appealing to others.
2. Transferring Concern From the Body to the Soul.
Fulton Sheen’s second point is fairly simple in that we need to be reminded that our material goods and even our bodies don’t last forever. It is not the physical alone that brings about happiness. It is not that material goods are bad in of themselves, but that they cannot acquire the peace of soul that goes on after the body has passed away. In transferring our anxiety from concerns of our body to that of the soul we remember that many of the greatest things in life are not material objects. Our priorities show us where our values lie and if our anxieties focus more on the material vs. the eternal.
3. By Increasing Our Trust in God.
The last way in which we are able to transcend the anxieties of life is by increasing our trust in God. Simply enough, we have to seek out the God who created us with an intended purpose, from selfless love. There is peace in knowing that we are made for, and in, such perfect love. It is simply put but it is a lifelong journey. It is no easy task. As God seeks us out in every way possible, we must return the search in knowing who He is.
Peace of soul is not found in our wallets or by what we have ordered on Amazon. We cannot find peace by giving into our every desire or whim. The giving into all of our basic desires only leaves us addicted to something and often ashamed. Humanity struggles with a tension in the heart in trying to acquire the physical when we were made for the non-physical. Though these three points are only a start, they speak to the battle in every person’s heart that tries to seek true peace. In reflecting on these points it is good to ask ourselves, “where do we find peace?” and “how do we order our priorities in our lives?” [Peace of Soul – Part 1]
“Our hearts were made for thee.”- St. Augustine