SOMETIMES people ask, does it pay to serve, e..g the Lord, as Martha did? And, does it pay to pray as her sister Mary did? One cynic claimed, no one gets rich by serving others and the Lord, much less by praying to Him.

While not exactly dealing on “how to be a millionaire” St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the finest intellects in the Church, wrote already in the 13th Century on happiness and its four levels.

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First, there is happiness or pleasure which is sensual or physical, and such happiness comes from drinking, eating, sleeping or even having sex inasmuch as these are goods given to us by God. However, the pleasure derived is temporary and, if not controlled by our intellect and, above all, by our faith, is open to abuse. People who suffer from obesity, alcoholism, drug and sex-addiction are sad testimonies thereof.

Second, there is pleasure or delight in the race for money, prestige, power or position. However, in this regard health, friendship and even families are at times sacrificed. Once again, the words of the Lord ring true, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but suffers the loss of his soul?”

Third, is the happiness that surprisingly comes from relating to others by way of service. On this regard, the Legion of Mary, the Knights of Columbus and many other Catholic/Christian organizations stand out as associations composed of men and women—in general ordinary folk—who happily serve the sick, the poor, the prisoners and the forgotten. Even their mere presence proves to be a source of delight.

Fourth, is the happiness of those who dedicate their lives in loving God and serving Him alone. Examples of these souls are the Carmelite nuns, the Pink Sisters and the Poor Clares: holy women whose lives are hidden from the eyes of the world but are living prominently before the Lord who loves them and is loved in return.

Those souls who serve others in whom God is found are the busy Marthas. Those who by faith dedicate their lives entirely to God are the Marys of today.

While the writings of St. Thomas on happiness date back to the 13th Century, contemporary research shows that people who serve others and, more so, people who spend their lives kneeling or sitting before the Lord in prayer, as the holy nuns do, are surprisingly happy. The only explanation for their uncommon happiness is because they, like Mary, have “chosen the better part.”

“Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.’ The Lord said to her in reply, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.’” Luke 10: 39-42.