Tag Archives: happiness

Charity

O my Jesus, Thou who art very Love, enkindle in my heart that Divine Fire which consumes the Saints and transforms them into Thee.
O Lord our God, we offer Thee our hearts, united in the strongest and most sincere love of brotherhood; we pray that Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament may be the daily food of our souls and bodies; that Jesus may be established as the center of our affections, even as He was for Mary and Joseph. Finally, O Lord, may sin never disturb our union on earth; and may we be eternally united in heaven with Thee and Mary and Joseph and with all Thy Saints. Amen.

What do you think of when you see the word “charity”? Is it not works of altruistic love? Mother Teresa said: “The fruit of faith is love, and the fruit of love is service.” Faith without works is dead,1 and so is love. As St. Anthony of Padua declared, “actions speak louder than words.”2 Love is an act of the will. It is impossible to be charitable without an act. Just try it. When you love, you naturally want to do things or to sacrifice for your beloved. In fact, the word “altruism” comes from the Latin alteri, “to the other.”3 To love is to will the good of the other; and the good of the other is always in accordance with the will of God. Thus, to exercise charity is to become Godlike, to live out our baptismal priesthood as an Alter Christus ministering to the children of God. Charity is thus not only what we do, but the essence of who we are; as the hymn goes, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” St. Augustine says, “When the question is asked whether a man is good, one is not interested in what he believes or what are his hopes, but only what he loves. For beyond any doubt, a man with a right love also has the right faith and hope. But one who has no love, believes in vain, even though what he believes may be the truth.”4 After all, “the devils also believe and tremble.”5 St. Paul tells us that “the true faith of Christ is… faith that works by charity.”6 Therefore, “charity is not merely the supreme virtue… it is further an abiding condition and state without which any knowledge or other term of the Christian life would be impossible.”7

As the Catechism notes, “Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbour as ourselves for the love of God.”8 When we are charitable, we see Christ in our neighbor, even the most intolerable one. St. Thérèse recounts that a nun whom she found highly annoying asked, “My dear Sister Thérèse, tell me what attraction you find in me, for whenever we meet, you greet me with such a sweet smile.” The saint explains, “Ah! What attracted me was Jesus hidden in the depths of her soul—Jesus Who maketh sweet even that which is most bitter.” Thérèse tells us, “A heart given to God loses nothing of its natural affection—on the contrary, this affection grows stronger by becoming purer and more spiritual.”9 Charity goes far beyond tolerance. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver wrote,

“Tolerance is a working principle that enables us to live in peace with other people and their ideas. Most of the time, it’s a very good thing. But it is not an end in itself and tolerating or excusing grave evil in a society is itself a grave evil. The roots of this word are revealing. Tolerance comes from the Latin tolerare, “to bear or sustain,” and tollere, which means “to lift up.” It implies bearing other persons and their beliefs the way we carry a burden or endure a headache. It’s actually a negative idea. And it is not a Christian virtue. Catholics have the duty not to “tolerate” other people but to love them, which is a much more demanding task.”10

“Authentic love is an act of the will. Genuine love has two essential elements: self-sacrifice and commitment. Perfect love is total self-sacrifice and complete commitment.”11 Charity is not a one-off thing – it must be an ongoing part of our lives. As Nicholas Sparks wrote, “Love is more than three words mumbled before bedtime. Love is sustained by action, a pattern of devotion in the things we do for each other every day.”12

The Catechism continues: Our Lord Jesus Christ ‘makes charity the new commandment.13 By loving His own “to the end,”14 He makes manifest the Father’s love which He receives. By loving one another, the disciples imitate the love of Jesus which they themselves receive. Whence Jesus says: “As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you; abide in My love.” And again: “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”’15 St. Thomas Aquinas understood charity as “the friendship of man for God”, which unites us to God.16 According to Aquinas, charity is an absolute requirement for happiness, which he holds as man’s last goal,17 our telos.18 This is evinced in the Last Judgement account of Matthew 25, where men are judged by their works of mercy.19 As St. John of the Cross says, “In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.” Christ tells us: “If any man say, I love God, and hates his brother; he is a liar. For he that loves not his brother, whom he sees, how can he love God, whom he sees not?”20 We Chinese have a saying: 爱屋及乌 – “love for a person extends even to the crows on his roof”. To love God is to love His family. St. Augustine declared, “Extend your love over the whole earth if you desire to love Christ, for Christ’s members are all over the earth.”21

“The love that is caritas is distinguished by its origin, being divinely infused into the soul, and by its residing in the will rather than emotions, regardless of what emotions it stirs up. The infused habit of charity increases any will’s natural ability to love. Furthermore, charity is also responsible for a morally good act becoming meritorious, that is, meriting an increase in grace or charity in this life and beatitude in the life to come. Since this refers to the supernatural order, namely, the capacity to share more intensely in the inner life of God through acts of love, it is a gratuitous gift dependent on what God freely deigns to give as a reward for loving Him. Over and above the added intensity a habit like charity imparts to one’s act of love of God, the habit also serves as a lasting mark in the soul, even when it is not eliciting an act of love. Charity indicates that the nature possessing it ‘is formally accepted by God as habitually able to be beatified and that the acts elicited with its help are accepted as meritorious.’ Using St. Augustine’s simile comparing the will to a horse and habitual grace or charity to its rider, Blessed John Duns Scotus explains that the horse is free to throw its rider (destroy charity through mortal sin) or it may not follow the guidance of the rider (and then its actions are not meritorious, but are either indifferent or venially sinful), or, thirdly, it may choose to follow where charity leads (and then its action is meritorious).”22

Professor William May writes:

“According to Aquinas, the principle of our moral-spiritual life is charity or the love of God, whereby we are ordered to Him as our final end. If charity within the person is lost, there is no inner source within the person to repair the harm he has done in sinning. Mortal sin destroys charity or the principle of our moral-spiritual life.”23 The two precepts of charity, to love God and to love our neighbor, constitute the life of the soul. “The practice of all the virtues is animated and inspired by charity, which ‘binds everything together in perfect harmony’;24 it is the form of the virtues; it articulates and orders them among themselves; it is the source and the goal of their Christian practice.”25

So, how exactly may we practice charity?

As you well know, St. Paul tells us in his First Letter to the Corinthians: “Charity is patient, is kind: charity envies not, deals not perversely; is not puffed up; is not ambitious, seeks not her own, is not provoked to anger, thinks no evil; rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Charity never falls away: whether prophecies shall be made void, or tongues shall cease, or knowledge shall be destroyed.”26

God is love,27 and again, to be charitable is to be Godlike. “[God] is patient and kind; [God] does not envy or boast; [He] is not arrogant or rude. [He] does not insist on [His] own way; [He] is not irritable or resentful; [He] does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. [God] bears all things…, endures all things. [God] never ends.”28 Here is the template for the Christian life, to love always and everywhere, especially when it is most difficult. The Dominican Fr. Herbert McCabe said, “If you truly love, one day, you will be crucified. If you do not love, you are dead already.” “Christ died out of love for us, while we were still ‘enemies.’ The Lord asks us to love as He does, even our enemies, to make ourselves the neighbor of those farthest away, and to love children and the poor as Christ himself.”29

St. Thérèse writes,

I read in St. Matthew: “You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thy enemy: but I say unto you, Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you.” There are, of course, no enemies in the Carmel; but, after all, we have our natural likes and dislikes. We may feel drawn towards one Sister, and may be tempted to go a long way round to avoid meeting another. Well, Our Lord tells me that this is the Sister to love and pray for, even though her behavior may make me imagine she does not care for me. “If you love them that love you, what thanks are to you? For sinners also love those that love them.” And it is not enough to love, we must prove our love; naturally one likes to please a friend, but that is not charity, for sinners do the same.30

Thus, you can see that true charity is not some feel-good thing, but requires strength, sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears, and often involves doing what you’d rather not do. Peter Kreeft says:

“God is love. And love is not “luv”. “Luv” is nice. Love is not nice. Love is a fire, a hurricane, an earthquake, a volcano, a bolt of lightning. Love is what banged out the Big Bang in the beginning, and love is what went to hell for us on the cross.”31 God so loved the world, as to give His only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in Him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.32

Moreover, charity fulfills and perfects the divine law given in the Ten Commandments.33 We as Christians live no longer merely by negative moral precepts, but by the positive law written in our hearts; in fact, this life of charity present in our hearts is God Himself, the Divine Law-Giver, the Holy Spirit. Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est: “Since God has first loved us,34 love is now no longer a mere ‘command’; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us.”35 He continued:

“The love-story between God and man consists in the very fact that this communion of will increases in a communion of thought and sentiment, and thus our will and God’s will increasingly coincide: God’s will is no longer for me an alien will, something imposed on me from without by the commandments, but it is now my own will, based on the realization that God is in fact more deeply present to me than I am to myself. Then self-abandonment to God increases and God becomes our joy.”36

Citing John Duns Scotus, the Pope Emeritus observed, “Just as God’s love, God’s charity, was at the origin of all things, so too our eternal happiness will be in love and charity alone: ‘willing, or the loving will, is simply eternal life, blessed and perfect.’”37

“Charity, as St. Paul writes, ‘is not self-seeking’, meaning that it places the common good before its own. So whenever you show greater concern for the common good than for your own, you may know that you are growing in charity.”38 St. Paul told the Romans, “Avoid getting into debt, except the debt of mutual love. If you love your fellow men you have carried out your obligations. Love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbor; that is why it is the answer to every one of the commandments.”39 “Charity, especially fraternal charity, is opposed to self-love. As it was self-love that originally destroyed the unity of man and the harmony of his powers, so it is charity, made possible to us in Christ, which restores that unity and harmony.”40 Supernatural charity is, “properly speaking, a ‘catholic’ (universal) love”,41 a disinterested love that moves you to act like the Good Samaritan or like Maximilian Kolbe. This is not a vague affection for the mereological sum of humans. Linus said to Charlie Brown, “I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand.”42 Supernatural charity moves you to sacrifice even for the particular neighbor you can’t stand!

By this time, you may well be frightened at the demands made upon you by charity. But fear not! Mother Teresa said, “If you are discouraged it is a sign of pride because it shows you trust in your own power. Your self-sufficiency, your selfishness and your intellectual pride will inhibit His coming to live in your heart because God cannot fill what is already full. It is as simple as that.” To live a life of charity, you must depend completely on God and be nourished by Christ present in the sacraments. Pope Benedict wrote in Deus Caritas Est,

eros and agape—ascending love and descending love—can never be completely separated. The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realised. Even if eros is at first mainly covetous and ascending, a fascination for the great promise of happiness, in drawing near to the other, it is less and less concerned with itself, increasingly seeks the happiness of the other, is concerned more and more with the beloved, bestows itself and wants to ‘be there for’ the other. The element of agape thus enters into this love, for otherwise eros is impoverished and even loses its own nature. On the other hand, man cannot live by oblative, descending love alone. He cannot always give, he must also receive. Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift. Certainly, as the Lord tells us, one can become a source from which rivers of living water flow (cf. Jn 7:37-38). Yet to become such a source, one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God (cf. Jn 19:34).”43

Moreover, living by love doesn’t mean just pouring it all out on your neighbor; it is also a great charity to accept and express gratitude for their kindnesses to us, no matter how small or clumsy they may seem. Think of a parent allowing a child to help with the cooking, although he might make a mess and get in the way – that’s an image of how God allows us to participate in His great work of redemption, and how we can respond to others. I read somewhere that when you accept help, you’re actually allowing your fellow man to work out his salvation in deeds of grace-filled love. Love is a two-way street.

One final important point. St. Maximus the Confessor reflected that “Charity unites (us) with God and deifies (us).”44 It draws us into the life of the Holy Trinity. At the same time, as explained by Professor Wadell, charity “makes us like God, but it does not make us God… it makes us more fully ourselves. If charity made us identical to God, then our friendship with God would be over for we would no longer be the ‘other’ every friendship requires… The likeness to God charity brings is really the most radical individuation.”45 Indeed, Jesus declared that He came that we may have life to the full,46 and St. Irenaeus said that the glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God. When we live by charity, God’s kingdom will come and His will shall be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. God love you! Let us pray: “Lord God, living light of eternal love, grant that always aglow with charity, we may love You above all else, and our brethren for Your sake, with one and the self-same love. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

____

1 James 2:20.

2 St Anthony of Padua, homily [http://catholicradiodramas.com/saints/a/anthony-of-padua/actions-speak-louder-than-words/] (accessed 12 October 2014).

3 Douglas Harper. Online Etymology Dictionary [http://etymonline.com/index.php?term=altruism] (accessed 12 October 2014).

4 Augustine, Enchiridion De Fide Spe et Caritate. The Newman Press, (Westminster, Maryland, 1952), p. 108.

5 James 2:19.

6 Augustine, op. cit., p. 109, cf. Galatians 5:6.

7 Polycarp Sherwood OSB, STD, St. Maximus the Confessor: The Ascetic Life; The Four Centuries on Charity. Ancient Christian Writers Volume XXI. The Newman Press (Westminster, Maryland, 1955), p. 92.

8 CCC 1822.

9 St Thérèse, Story of a Soul [http://www.storyofasoul.com/?page_id=18] (accessed 12 October 2014).

10 Abp. Charles J. Chaput, Render Unto Caesar [http://saltandlighttv.org/store/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=54] (accessed 12 October 2014).

11 Jim Seghers, “The Sacrament of Confirmation” [http://www.totustuus.com/TheSacramentOfConfirmation.pdf] (accessed 11 October 2014).

12 Nicholas Sparks, The Wedding.

13 Cf. John 13:34.

14 John 13:1.

15 John 15:9-10; cf. Matthew 22:40; Romans 13:8-10. CCC 1823.

16 Paul Wadell, “The Christian Life as Friendship with God: What Aquinas Means by Charity” in Friendship and the Moral Life. University of Notre Dame Press (Notre Dame, Indiana, USA, 1990), p. 120.

17 Ibid., p. 128.

18 Ibid., p. 121.

19 Matthew 25:31-46.

20 1 John 4:20.

21 St Augustine, Sermon on 1 John 10:7.

22 Allan B. Wolter, Duns Scotus on the Will and Morality. CUA Press (Michigan, 1997), pp. 93-94.

23 William E. May, “Sin and the Moral Life”, in An Introduction to Moral Theology. Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., (Huntingdon, Indiana, 1994), p. 167.

24 Colossians 3:14.

25 CCC 1827.

26 1 Cor. 13:4-8.

27 1 John 4:16.

28 Aaron Ross, “The 1 Corinthians ‘Love Chapter’ Isn’t Just for Weddings” [http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/practical-faith/1-corinthians-love-chapter-isnt-just-weddings] (accessed 11 October 2014).

29 CCC 1825.

30 St Thérèse, op. cit.

31 Peter Kreeft, “Perfect Fear Casts Out All ‘Luv’”. [http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/fear.htm] (accessed 11 October 2014).

32 John 3:16.

33 Cf. Matthew 5:17.

34 1 John 4:10.

35 Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est.

36 Ibid.

37 Benedict XVI, “John Duns Scotus”, General Audience 7 July 2010 [http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2010/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20100707_en.html] (accessed 11 October 2014). Cf. Gérard Gillmen S.J., The Primacy of Charity in Moral Theology. Burns & Oates (London, 1959), p. 129.

38 Rule for Monasteries 5:2.

39 Romans 13:8,10.

40 Sherwood, op. cit., p. 93.

41 Gérard Gilleman S.J., The Primacy of Charity in Moral Theology. Burns & Oates (London, 1959), p. 304.

42 Charles M. Schulz, Peanuts.

43 Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est.

44 Sherwood, op. cit., p. 93.

45 Wadell, op. cit., p. 139.

46 John 10:10.

The Great Lie: Relativism and False Freedom Left Me Depressed

The saddest I have ever been was when I was living on the beach in Destin, Fl. I had the beach as my front yard with the Gulf of Mexico beyond that and nothing between my view of the water but the white sand. On top of that, I had money, drugs, alcohol, parties, and total freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted. Basically, everything the world said was needed for true happiness and fulfillment. Only, even in my tolerant and self-declared open-minded mindset, what we are told we need for peace and happiness, I was utterly depressed.

I could get out of bed in the morning, so maybe it was not as bad as some have it, but my life, for me, was at the lowest I have ever been. I was seeking the thing I grew up believing would make me happy: pleasure, enjoyment, the rockstar lifestyle I modeled after the icons I watched on MTV and in movies as a young suburban teenager.

My philosophy was the new classic, “People should be able to do what they want, as long as they don’t hurt others”. My slogan: “Do what feels right.” And that I did; even putting my desire for what feels right before others. I was utterly selfish. My comfortability and drive to feed my senses was the compass I used to navigate through each day and, without any inner or outer constraints, I did whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.

However, the compass and false freedom I had did not lead me to the happiness and fulfillment that was promised. The more I chose to serve myself, the more depressed I became. The more depressed I became, the more I served myself. A vicious cycle of actual vices and, unlike what some might declare, I was unable to break it. I was a slave to it. In my false freedom, I was the least free out of many of my classmates at the college I attended, who still lived at home with their parents. It was the opposite of what I perceived when I was younger.

Things picked up a little bit when I found Jesus during a long drive to a new apartment in Fort Walton. I realized that everything I tried in my search of happiness was leaving me more empty, but I never gave Jesus a true chance. (Now that I type this, I think this might not exactly be true, I did have moments of faith in childhood and my early teens, but never a deep, more mature faith in Him).

So I determined to give Jesus a firmer try and felt something that night that was big enough to lead me back through the doors of a Catholic Church and attend Mass on Sunday. I believed in Jesus and things were looking up. However, my understanding was still flawed as I thought that I could continue to do whatever I liked as long as I loved Jesus. My misunderstanding of Jesus and what love is would lead me down a path that was strikingly similar to the one that I thought I left behind.

I still had the same false notion of freedom. I thought that I was free of the rules placed on me by others. I thought that without these rules, I could finally be happy. I thought that I knew Jesus and that He would not set any rules for me other than to be happy.

Looking back, I see the error in the ideology that I followed. If only I knew the teaching of St. John Paul II. If only I were present when he said, “While it is true that we ourselves decide what paths we will take, our decisions will lead us to true joy and fulfilment only if they are in accordance with God’s will” (PASTORAL VISIT IN NEW ZEALAND, 1986). If only I understood that true freedom is the ability to choose the good and that external constraints placed upon us in order to lead us to the good and defend us from evil are necessary to protect us from internal restraints that will enslave us.

I would slowly come to understand this through experience (a.k.a. the hard way) after continuing down the road of selfish pleasure seeking. After a bad Spring Semester, I finally agreed to attend a Catholic College where I still had another bad Spring Semester, after a slightly better Fall semester, but slowly began to understand that God had more in mind for humans than just intellectual acceptance of Him.

I took a Theology class in which I learned that the Catholic Church was not like what many people say it is. Furthermore, through praying the Rosary everyday, attending daily Mass, having deep Philosophical and Theological conversations with others, and reading the words of the Saints, I learned that God wanted me to love Him and show my love for Him through obedience. Moreover, obedience to God was not merely a power grab by Him, but the path for true happiness. Directions on how to live as a human, found in the Bible and sacred Tradition.

It was in following these directions that I finally found what I had always longed for. Jesus. Not just the idea of Him, but a personal relationship, a true friendship full of memories that I can look back on. My days were filled with miracles, my life was being put back together before my eyes.

Through the help of the Holy Spirit, I eventually quit my deadly vicious cycle on April 24, 2007 and I have gone without drinking and drugging ever since. Each day since then has been better than the one before it. I realize the truth now that through placing upon myself the external restrictions, I am able to be loosed of the internal shackles of addiction, bitterness, and misery.

I thought I had everything on the beach, but in reality I had nothing. It was in giving up what I thought was everything, that I truly gained it all. I still go back to Destin and the beach for vacation, but I will never got back to a life without knowing Jesus. Nothing could be worse than a life without Jesus. I know from experience. Praise Him.

How to be Happy

What is this existence within which we humans find ourselves? Every morning we wake up and perceive the world through our senses. A perception onto which we put all of our memories to establish what we might call our point of view, one that might differ from the point of view of another. However, we humans all live in the same world, made up of similar material with a similar shape, and for the most part, want the same thing. Every human being wants to be happy.

We can be as different from each other as Voldemort differs from Emma Watson, but the fact is, even if one finds it in different ways, everyone desires happiness. There are only positive connotations with the word “happy”. Besides in a fit of hyperbole, no one claims to want a life without it. But what is this common treasure that all seek?

What Happiness Isn’t

There are a few false notions of happiness in the world today that should be pointed out to help clear our trajectory. Some would put forward the utilitarian definition that misidentifies happiness as sensual pleasure.  They would say that we must seek pleasure and avoid pain at all times, even at the expense of others, to find happiness. If this were true, what a pitiful state we would all be in! How fleeting!

While delight is an accident of happiness and pleasure might correspond with happiness, it would be impossible to remain happy if one was only happy when pleasure was experienced. First, pleasure, as well as all experiences that come to us through the senses, cannot last, and therefore, happiness would not last. Second, as great as pleasure can be at times, it cannot satisfy as happiness does. Pleasure remains on the surface and can be distinguished from the satisfaction it might accompany, yet differs from. The quenching of thirst found in drinking water might feel pleasurable, but that pleasure is only an added bonus, not the satisfaction we seek when we are thirsty.

Furthermore, if happiness is only found in pleasure then why do those who chase after pleasure the most, i.e. addicts, seem the most miserable? Unless their addiction is met, they might never be happy. Furthermore, we have the happiness of those who seek happiness outside of sensual pleasure to counter this.

There have been stories of many saints in various instances of suffering who have remained, and sometimes increased, in a state happiness. Whether it was St. Lawrence’s jovial manner while being filleted alive, St. Therese of Lisiuex’s excitement at the possibility of death, or the prime witness of the joy and happiness of St. John Paul II who knew suffering better than most, the saints show us the transcending quality of true happiness. There is no substitute or reduction that can replace it.

Happiness of the Saints

The saints show us with their lives that happiness is more than what the world offers and is possible to obtain. Thankfully, many holy and happy saints have left us with directions to find what they did.

1. St. Alphonsus Liguori tells us, “Those who love God are always happy.” As the patron saint of confessors, we can assume that the Italian saint of the 18th century knew the human condition well. One can say that those who love God desire to please Him and do His will.

2. St. John Vianney  similarly states, “To pray and to love, that is the happiness of man on earth.” He goes on to explain, “Prayer is nothing else than union with God. When the heart is pure and united with God it is consoled and filled with sweetness”  Prayer, love, and a pure heart. The patron saint of priests, who usually only ate 1-2 boiled potatoes a day, proves to us that man cannot live on bread alone and that happiness transcends the mundane.

3. St. Josemaria Escriva points out the source of the opposite of happiness: “Sadness is the end product of selfishness. If we truly want to live for God, we will never lack cheerfulness, even when we discover our errors and wretchedness. Cheerfulness finds its way into our life of prayer, so much so that we cannot help singing for joy. For we are in love, and singing is a thing that lovers do.”

4. “The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for all that He, in His goodness, sends to us day after day. -St. Gianna Molla

A beautiful reminder for us to live in gratitude. There are always good reason to be thankful.

5. St. John Paul II teaches us, “People are made for happiness. Rightly, then, you thirst for happiness. Christ has the answer to this desire of yours. But He asks you to trust Him.” We are meant to be happy, but happy through Jesus. Sometimes, to give us this great happiness, He leads us to step out of our comfort zones.

5 Steps towards Happiness

Keeping in mind the wise words of the Saints shared above, we can take certain steps to not win happiness for ourselves, but form and dispose ourselves to receive great Happiness from God. A few I have in mind are:

  1. Prayer. Yeah, I know, duh. I actually left my computer in a room alone with a monkey and he typed this. But really, it’s a good reminder. Padre Pio said, “Prayer is like oxygen for the soul”. We need it to feed ourselves spiritually, to shape ourselves and grow in our relationship with God. A relationship without which it is impossible to be happy. And of course this includes frequenting the Sacraments.
  2. Putting others First. There is a great acronym for the word, JOY, that tells us that you can find Joy through prioritizing Jesus, Others, Yourself. Some might find this cheesy, but it still helps to remind us that we find ourselves and our happiness by serving others. It is an age old paradox, one best explained throughout St. John Paul II’s teachings as he reminds us of the peace and fulfillment we can find when we make “a sincere gift of self”.
  3. Avoid Sin. Another way of articulating this is to keep God’s Law. Psalm 8:32 tells us, “happy are they who keep my ways”. This is because God made us to live a certain way, and when we fail to follow the instructions, we cannot find the fulfillment we desire. Furthermore, in this way sin weighs us down and in some cases breaks. While some venial sins might still plague us, we are able to stay in the state of grace and never mortally sin again!
  4. Practice Heroic Virtue. The opposite of sin! We can see that avoiding sin would merely be the bare minimum. We want to be as happy as the saints. In this endeavor, it is good to know that in the process of declaring one worthy of canonization, a committee first looks at the life of the person to see if he or she lived a life of heroic virtue. If they pass this test, they are declared Venerable and only two miracles stand in their way of Canonization. We can find outrageous joy in pushing ourselves to always choose to be just, meek, temperament, fortitudinous, and prudent.
  5. Hope. Even when we fail at some of these steps, we can keep our peace through hope. God is always seeking our friendship. Therefore, we always have reason to hope. The wise Fr. Jacques Phillipe teaches that we can keep our peace, even after a great mistake, by telling God the following:

1. I am sorry for what I’ve done.

2. Thank you for not letting it be worse.

3. Please help me to do better next time.

While happiness on earth will always lack that final satisfaction that only eternity with God can satisfy, it can still serve it’s purpose of leading ourselves and others closer to God while we are here. I know there are many other steps that can be taken to find happiness in this life. What are some ways you find happiness on earth today?

The Key to Happiness: Relationships

A while back a friend sent me a TED talk about a study on happiness. The results did not surprise me, but confirmed exactly what I’ve been pondering on for the past few years: relationships are what make us happy, their quality and quantity. I would add even more to that: relationships are what we are here on this Earth for.

This TED talk states at about six minutes in, “… Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.” This comes as no surprise to me, but it seems to be a surprise to the cultural norm. We live in an ever more disconnected society. We are virtually connected and “friends” online, but severely individualistic, consumerist and anonymous as neighborhoods and communities. Pope Francis alerts us to our “virtual” and consumer society and to this becoming more and more disconnected and less and less relational as a common theme. Connecting simply over a meal or cultivating friendships are becoming lost arts and less frequent priorities.

I watched a popular movie the other day, The Intern, with Robert DeNiro, in which a clear theme was that your job brings you happiness. The main character was a widower, didn’t want to depend too much on his son, and so to “fill his void”, as he himself stated, he got a job. And he found happiness that way! How many people relentlessly change career paths and try to find fulfilment through their jobs? When really, according to this TED talk, relationships will make you happy and it’s not even your work relationships. In fact, the speaker states that the happiest people “actively worked to replace workmates with playmates”.

God is not one person, but three, the Holy Trinity. As a glance at Rublev’s Trinity Icon will show, God is a relationship. He made us to be in relationship with Him and with one another, to be part of the communion of saints. Sin is when we distance ourselves from Him or from our brothers. So it makes sense from a Christian worldview that relationships are what make you happy. Not only that, but loneliness kills the study says, more than tobacco. Good relationships protect our brains. In your 80s, people with good memories are sharper and longer.

However, not all relationships are good for you. It’s the quality of close relationships that matter. It’s that level of intimacy, of vulnerability, of being able to open up oneself to another and to the Other. This might have been easier 50 or 100 years ago, when family was still the nuclear cell of society, when extended family was more close-knit and when people lived more locally in neighborhoods and villages. Now it is easy to be anonymous or to create a fake life online. It is easier to be “globally connected” and not locally connected, which can make it harder to build true relationships. As Jesus teaches us time and time again, especially with the Eucharist, true communion and intimacy requires physical presence. That’s just how we are: we are human, physical creatures.

It is hard work to live in a way that fosters quality relationships but, as this TED talk reflects, it is worth it. The expression of “the work of tending to family and friends” is used in the talk and that is exactly what it is, work.

Maintaining an active prayer life and relationship with God is work. Finding time to be with Him physically, giving Him our time, showing our vulnerability in the sacrament of Reconciliation is hard work. Of course, it is worth it, to have a quality relationship with our Father.

Living out the primary relationship we’ve been called to in our vocation is hard work. If that vocation is marriage, making our relationship with our spouse number one priority, even above children and career, is difficult. Lifelong fidelity in any vocation doesn’t come at an easy price. But you will have a sharper memory in your 80s, says this TED talk!

Of course, tending to family and friends is much harder than secluding yourself in a comfort-filled, entertainment-overloaded house, but it is worth it. There are many ministries and online articles about creating community among families, about the value of meals together or about becoming a more relationship-based culture. I’ve heard that watching soap operas makes people feel happier because you feel as if your social circle has been broadened, as if those characters are you real friends.

As Catholics, let’s not let soap opera characters be our only friends. Let’s not let anyone die of loneliness, what Mother Teresa called the greatest poverty of the United States. We are a people of communion and of outreach. We are called to ever pursue our relationship with God, our maker, and of deeper communion with our brothers and sisters.

The Importance of Childhood

A very wise teacher once told me that “good things are hard.” While rich with fulfillment and abounding with joy, parenting is definitely something that fits the bill as a great good while being extremely difficult at the same time (like putting clothes on a toddler who is running away from you difficult). However, it is precisely this degree of difficulty in our parenting that will aid us in the raising and sanctification of our children and ourselves.

St. Theophan said, “What good fortune therefore it is to receive a good, truly Christian upbringing, to enter with it into the years of youth, then in the same spirit to enter into the years of adulthood.” Childhood has a profound impact on a person’s life. If a person’s life is a tree, then childhood is that stage in which the roots of the tree grow in order to establish a person in a life of either joyful abundance or despairing emptiness. However, unlike the house built on a foundation of sand set on a course of irreparable destruction, God’s grace can rescue anyone, regardless of his or her childhood experience. Yet, we can still see that a moral and uplifting childhood mixed with other positive elements can pave the way for a good and fulfilling life.

Three of the most important aspects of childhood that can lead to a good life are: 1. Innocence, 2. Playtime, and 3. Imagination. Each of these can help lead the youth toward truth and grow in virtue, two of the main ingredients for this life of peace and joy. One might say that people can be happy without them, but it seems that it would be easier for people to find happiness and fulfillment if they are allowed to experience these naturally occurring aspects in their early years.

First, Innocence is powerful in childhood as it aids in avoiding sin and assists the child to maintain purity. Innocence is a return to Eden before the Fall when lust and other evils were left unknown. It is that joyful part of life when one almost lives exactly as man was created to be, without the annoyances, stress, fear, and responsibility of knowing the sinfulness of lust, almost free from the chains of brokenness.

While children are still born with Original Sin and it’s effects, there is still much about the world they do not yet know. This is a positive ignorance that should be sustained as long as possible. What true good can come from knowing the ways of sin during one’s childhood, particularly the sins of impurity? Would it not help a person to lead a better life later on in practicing the angelic virtues if he or she is able to more easily practice these as a child without the temptations of immorality?

I have heard that scuba divers learn to dive in swimming pools, firefighters train in difficult yet still controlled environments, and pilots train on flight simulators before climbing into a real cockpit.  Allowing a child to grow up with innocence could be like these various persons training in less dangerous environments, before facing the real danger later on. With a longer experience of innocence, a child could continue growing in grace and virtue in a less dangerous environment before facing the real dangers of sin later on.

Parents can help protect their children’s innocence by screening the movies and tv shows their kids watch to ensure they will not see corrupting images or themes. They can censor the music their child listens to so as to ensure age appropriate material. Furthermore, they could even help their kids find good friends with whom to spend their time.

The next important aspect that helps set a child up for a good life is playtime. A child at play might seem like silliness and nonsense to an adult, however playing helps children learn and prepare for their future. While studies show that playing assists in forming the brain to better handle emotions and practice critical thinking, I think the best benefit of playing is that it prepares the child for a life focused on heaven.

Children at play, whether pretending, participating in a game, putting on musical or theatrical performance, or other traditional modes of play, concentrate only on what is before them. They are essentially living in an eternal moment of joyful satisfaction. This experience is a beautiful image of heaven, in which all the souls of the just will live in an eternal moment of joyful satisfaction. In this way, children’s playtime is also a foretaste of the Liturgy, which itself is a foretaste of heaven that allows us a similar freedom from worries and struggles that childhood play can allow.

In his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, Romano Guardini compares the playtime of a child to the Church’s Liturgy. While not forgetting the sacred importance of the Object of our worship, Guardini notes that within both playing and Liturgical celebration is found the aspect of meaningful purposeless. To play, for a child, is to simply move, speak, and act in the realm of youthfulness without a cause that one might deem “productive”. So too could we find the same “unproductive” element in the Liturgy as it has not a specific goal in mind as it does not truly exist for the sake of man, but for that of God.

Moreover, just as the play of a child exists in a realm all its own, so too does participation  in the Liturgy. Guardini sates, “The liturgy creates a universe brimming with fruitful spiritual life, and allows the soul to wander about in it at will and to develop itself there.” The child truly plays in his or her own realm set apart from the world of adults, which includes stress, worries, and other burdens of life. This is what we should experience within the Liturgy, a time away from these discomforting realities so as to focus on Jesus and our relationship with Him. Therefore, the playtime of a child will help to train him or her for the Liturgy and seek the eternal playtime of heaven.

Finally, the imagination of childhood is of the utmost importance. The continual practice of believing without seeing helps to send the child down a path of Faith. While God is not just real, but the absolute center of reality, I think a child’s act of ‘make-believe’ or ‘pretending’ can lead him or her to understand that this world is not merely material or only validated by what immediately meets the senses.

Furthermore, following in the footsteps of J.R.R. Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton, I think that Fairy Tales are a great tool to foster imagination in children, first to assist with leading them to the realm of Faith, but also to better instruct them of the great important truths one needs to lead a faithful life. These truths, which are handed down with clever narratives and poetic imagery, can include that evil exists and can be defeated, that we are made to be happy and can be happy, and the true sacrificial character of love.

Tolkien writes of the nature and importance of Fairy Tales in his work entitled, “On Fairy Stories”, concluding that they pass on to us much more than important facts. They give us a slew of values and ways of being, not merely listed for memorization, but delivered beautifully in  a story that is easy to follow and retain. Tolkien expresses this poetically when he quotes George Dasent, a translator of ancient folklore, “’We must be satisfied with the soup that is set before us, and not desire to see the bones of the ox out of which it has been boiled.”

Moreover, the imagination sets the child up for meditative prayer. It is much easier to think about the life of Jesus with a well exercised imagination than without. Even more difficult would it be to read or hear the stories of the Bible for one who cannot imagine the events found within it.

The way we raise and form our children is of utmost importance. In the fabulous journey of life, this is the stage during which we hold their hands and teach them the correct way to travel this road. By concerning ourselves with the three aspects of childhood mentioned above I believe we can set them up for an easier joy-filled life.

Are You Happy?

One thing all humans have in common is that we all want to be happy. In America, it is enshrined in our Declaration of Independence as an inalienable right to pursue happiness along with the rights to life and liberty. It seems like all our energies go into pursuing happiness in these strange times. Everyone today seems to do what they do because it will make them happy, hardly anything could be more normal. It has always been this way. Can you imagine someone saying to themselves “I am going to do this because I know it will make me unhappy?” It is unlikely.

The pursuit of happiness is big business in America and it probably always has been. All of technology is geared towards making things that make us happy. All popular entertainment is directed at making us happy. Our schools, the mass media, politicians, psychologists and even our lawyers would like to help make us happy. We ourselves are encouraged nonstop to pursue happiness. What a great irony it is today to notice how unhappy everyone seems to be. The world can be a miserable place, especially considering the efforts we make to be happy. Have you ever wondered why so many people are so unhappy these days? We ought to try to figure out why. First, we must define the term happiness.

What is happiness?

money_bundlesThere are at least three different ways to understand happiness. There is modern American happiness we associate with wealth and health. We can call this appetitive happiness because it is grounded in our sense appetites. Winning the lottery is most likely to make us happy. We are content to get the new iPhone, or a new car, or a good job etc. The difficulty with this definition of happiness is that it is really more like contentment and it is temporary. The things that make us happy by this definition fade quickly and we must be off to pursue the next thing that will kick-start our serotonin production. If we take a step back from this kind of happiness we begin to notice that nothing really ever satisfies us for very long and no matter how much we end up getting, it is never enough.

Picture1A second kind of happiness we can associate with what the Ancient Greeks called “eudaimonia.”  This is a very good kind of happiness associated with the acquisition of virtue. Eudaimonia translates as a good and lasting spiritual state resulting from developing habits of excellence. This kind of happiness is particularly associated with the right use of the intellect and is grounded in the moral and intellectual virtues discovered and elucidated by the greatest minds of Ancient philosophy. The primary virtues associated with eudaimonia are the cardinal virtues of prudence, fortitude, justice, and temperance. The Greeks understood that to pursue and achieve excellence was the way to live the good life. Those who are able to achieve excellence in virtue are generally very happy, and the happiness is lasting and fulfilling.

Christ on the Cross by Diego Velazquez, 1632The third kind of happiness is blessedness. Christians call it beatitude. It is associated with the rightly ordered will. While eudaimonia obtains happiness in this life, beatitude aims at eternal happiness. The one who teaches us about this kind of happiness is Jesus Christ, the one true teacher in the Sermon on the Mount found beginning in Matthew 5. Beatitude is achieved when a soul submits his will to the will of God and cooperates with grace to become perfected. A soul inspired by the beatific vision is one who seeks excellence not only in the cardinal virtues mentioned above, but seeks to be perfected by the acquisition and infusion of the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.

What is the problem today?

We might easily observe today that the world encourages us to pursue worldly happiness. We ourselves may pursue this kind of contentment and wonder why all of us seem never to be content for very long. Even if we are pursuing the wrong kind of happiness, and even if we know it, and even if we can’t seem to stop, there is a much deeper and more difficult problem that lies at the root of our restlessness today. This is in our misunderstanding of the nature of how things work. We are likely to invert the right order of things concerning being and doing.

photographer Carl Warner
photographer Carl Warner

C.S. Lewis described a principle of first and second things. First things are permanent and lasting, like the virtues and God. Second things are temporary like cars and iPhones. He explained that we ought to put first things first and second things second because if we put second things first and first things second we will lose both first and second things. He goes on to explain that if we put first things first we will get both first and second things. To use an agricultural metaphor, we might see agricultural labor, seeds and roots as permanent things while the fruit that is produced from the tress as the second things. You can see that if we seek the second things of the fruits, as we often do today, that we may get the fruit, but whether we eat it or let it rot, it will not last long. On the other hand, if we focus on agricultural labor to create the proper conditions for the trees, the trees will grow, produce fruit, and continue to produce fruit.

Our problem today is that we put second things first. Perhaps our most fundamental mistake is that we have inverted being and doing. Being is a first thing and doing is a second thing. We believe that what we do will determine who we become, but this is exactly upside down. It is who we are that determines what we will do. So instead of doing things that we think will make us who we want to become, we ought to cultivate the habits of being constituting the moral and intellectual virtues acquired by the saints. When we have become what God intends for us, then we will do good works. If we try the opposite, our attempts at good works cannot be fruitful, we will not become saints. It is when we become like the saints that we can produce good works.

So we might understand by analogy that what the tree is (being) produces (doing) its fruit. If a tree is an orange tree it will not produce an apple, and it had to be an orange tree first before it could even produce oranges, not the other way around. In Matthew 7:16, Christ said “you will know them by their fruits.” What we do comes forth from who we are. We are not what we do, what we do comes from what we are.

Which kind of happiness will you pursue?

Jesus Christ Preaching the Sermon of the Beatitudes, by Henrik Olrik
Jesus Christ Preaching the Sermon of the Beatitudes, by Henrik Olrik

When the world talks about happiness, it is not the same kind of happiness God intends for us. The world’s notions of happiness are about the acquisition of second things. The Ancient Greeks and Jesus speak about the habits of being constituted by first things. Of course, the best kind of happiness is beatitude. It requires eudaimonia, the right use of the intellect, to serve in the acquisition of the truth in order to see rightly what is good and what is evil. It also requires that our contentment with second things be subordinated to the right use of reason that supports the rightly ordered will.

The grand irony in all this pursuit of happiness business is that those who seek primarily material happiness may end up getting what they want temporarily, but they always end in loss and despair. Those who seek beatitude also get what they seek, and it is a difficult endeavor, often beginning in loss and misery, but ending in glory. Job lost all the goods of second things and suffered greatly in the process, but because he maintained excellence in the virtues by his habits of being, he ended not only happy with his relationship with God, but contented by restoring the second things he had lost. It is a difficult thing to pursue virtue. It is not terribly difficult to pursue money. As we live out our inalienable right to pursue happiness, let us be wise in which kind of happiness we choose to pursue.

Embracing the Joy of the Gospel Again

Exhaustion, stress, feeling overwhelmed… These feelings can become a part of our lives, pushing all of the joy to the back burner. Life’s beautiful moments of happiness become almost an after-thought in the middle of the daily grind.

It always amazes me how God uses little moments in our day to speak to us. How often our blindness is reveled in the subtle ways. One such moment came my way at mass the other day. The homily focused on how our lives can get overrun when we spend so much time preaching the gospel we forget the joy of it. Father told the story of a pastor’s wife who crashed in a heap of desolation and begged her husband to preach the Good News to her again. She felt like she was so caught up in everything she was doing she had forgotten the mission.

girl-204327_1920
Picture courtesy of pixabay.com.

How easy to relate to that poor women. How quick we are to forget the mighty works of the Lord, and turn into grumbling Israelites. The reality is that without joy, our preaching is empty.

In a recent interview, Pope Francis spoke of happiness and the importance it plays in our lives. The pope tells us that “The Romans have a saying, which can be taken as a point of reference,” “They say: Campa e lascia campà (Live and let live). That’s the first step to peace and happiness.” He then went on to list other ways we can find including, “giving oneself to others.” “If one gets tired,” he said, “one runs the risk of being egoistic, and stagnant water is the first to be corrupted.”

Unfortunately the comments on this lovely piece about happiness were quickly overrun with unhappy people criticizing the pope. The people commenting seem to have forgotten the fact that Pope Francis is the same Holy Father who devoted his first Apostolic Exhortation to the topic of joy, specifically, the joy of preaching the Gospel.
Let’s revisit Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of The Gospel) again:

“The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.
I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”.[1] The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”. How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another “seventy times seven” (Mt 18:22) has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven. Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards!”

True joy is something precious that needs to be shared with all we meet.  To embrace the joy that comes from God is the goal in this life. Are we willing to embrace the kind of Christian joy that comes from authentically living the Gospel?

The Reason Why You Aren’t Happy.

I often wonder if people are as happy as they say they are. Then I see info-graphics like this:

happiness-rankings

and this:

happiness-rankings2

Washington Post 

and I start thinking, is it the money from the developed world that leads to its joy? What sustains happiness? 

When I was a pagan, I would have told you that happiness was personal. It required Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to be met, especially level three regarding personal attachment to someone (or some thing if you are a pet-lover).

Maslow

As a Catholic, I contest that everything I thought as a pagan was wrong. Every. Thing.

I’ve come to discover that, while Maslow’s Hierarchy and beloved friends/ family/ a spouse are indeed necessary for survival, they do not lead to happiness. On the contrary, if not anchored correctly in virtue, they become highly volatile. In fact, each of Maslow’s Hierarchy of “needs” can become a means by which we attach ourselves to ourselves, which can ultimately lead to self-destruction.

If you are unhappy, you’re probably attached.

“The world can win its joys, and the world can equally well lose its joys. A change in fortune, a collapse in health, the failure of a plan, the disappointment of an ambition, even a change in the weather, can take away the fickle joy the world can give. But the Christian has the serene and untouchable joy which comes from walking for ever in the company and in the presence of Jesus Christ.”*

How to Be Happy

Jesus’ words, not mine:

  • “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
  • Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
  • Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
  • Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
  • Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called sons of God.
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5: 3-12

Translation:

  • “O THE BLISS OF THE MAN WHO HAS REALISED HIS OWN UTTER HELPLESSNESS, AND WHO HAS PUT HIS WHOLE TRUST IN GOD, FOR THUS ALONE HE CAN RENDER TO GOD THAT PERFECT OBEDIENCE WHICH WILL MAKE HIM A CITIZEN OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN!
  • O THE BLISS OF THE MAN WHOSE HEART IS BROKEN FOR THE WORLD’S SUFFERING AND FOR HIS OWN SIN, FOR OUT OF HIS SORROW HE WILL FIND THE JOY OF GOD!
  • O THE BLISS OF THE MAN WHO IS ALWAYS ANGRY AT THE RIGHT TIME AND NEVER ANGRY AT THE WRONG TIME, WHO HAS EVERY INSTINCT, AND IMPULSE, AND PASSION UNDER CONTROL BECAUSE HE HIMSELF IS GOD-CONTROLLED, WHO HAS THE HUMILITY TO REALISE HIS OWN IGNORANCE AND HIS OWN WEAKNESS, FOR SUCH A MAN IS A KING AMONG MEN!
  • O THE BLISS OF THE MAN WHO LONGS FOR TOTAL RIGHTEOUSNESS AS A STARVING MAN LONGS FOR FOOD, AND A MAN PERISHING OF THIRST LONGS FOR WATER, FOR THAT MAN WILL BE TRULY SATISFIED!
  • O THE BLISS OF THE MAN WHO GETS RIGHT INSIDE OTHER PEOPLE, UNTIL HE CAN SEE WITH THEIR EYES, THINK WITH THEIR THOUGHTS, FEEL WITH THEIR FEELINGS, FOR HE WHO DOES THAT WILL FIND OTHERS DO THE SAME FOR HIM, AND WILL KNOW THAT THAT IS WHAT GOD IN JESUS CHRIST HAS DONE!
  • O THE BLISS OF THE MAN WHOSE MOTIVES ARE ABSOLUTELY PURE, FOR THAT MAN WILL SOME DAY BE ABLE TO SEE GOD!
  • O THE BLISS OF THOSE WHO PRODUCE RIGHT RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN MAN AND MAN, FOR THEY ARE DOING A GODLIKE WORK!”

-World renown scripture scholar, William Barclay’s words, not mine.

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If you are Christian, you are hard-wired to emit joy through the detachment of self and attachment to Christ. 

If you are unhappy, I question whether you are truly Christian.

 

The Secrets to Happiness

The Funeral of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati
The Funeral of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

How happy really are we today? How do we define that we have really ‘lived’?

We live in a marketing led world – a place of big dreams and bucket lists. Generally we have a high standard of living, yet we are constantly on the hunt to get more out of life.

We have everything we could possibly need, but still feel that our lives are incomplete. According to what comes across from the media this isn’t until we’ve taken selfies on the latest iPhone while flying over Europe wearing a size 0 designer dress and eating a sugar/grain/dairy free cronut. First world problems huh?

We are left feeling that our life is lacking because it is filled with impossible dreams that mean you haven’t lived. Impossible because they aren’t real. They are scripted, photoshopped, or we are unable to access them without personal trainers, dietitians, stylists, nannies, freebies and finances. All of them center on us as the individual and turn us into narcissists.

Unfortunately, most days of our lives are filled with what could be the mundane. Living every day can be hard.  Social media puts a glamorous face on everyday life, but underneath lurks despondency and depression.

The best secrets to everyday happiness (nay, joy) have been tried and tested by some wise people who went before us. People who lived not only through the trials of everyday life, but through true hardships – adversities like illness, wrongful imprisonment and concentration camps.

Their secrets?

“I will not wait. I will live the present moment, filling it to the brim with love.”
Servant of God Francis Xavier Nguyen van Thuan is a great source of wisdom about living happily everyday. This is coming from a man who spent many years of his life imprisoned, including nine years in solitary confinement in a small dark room. Yet to live the present moment to the fullest was the decision he made when he was first imprisoned to counter his feeling of sadness, abandonment and exhaustion. He decided not to live his life waiting for freedom.

“If I spend my time waiting, maybe the things I look forward to will never arrive. The only thing certain to arrive is death.”

If you focus on the present moment and doing it well, you can’t be too hung up on the past or the future. There can be no regrets that you didn’t live moments well in the past if you were focusing on them in the present.

“Do the Little Things with Love
St Therese of Lisieux was all about doing the little things with love. Hence, she was called the ‘Little Flower’. St Therese lived a relatively plain and basic life as a nun, though she often was ill. But what makes her a saint, famous worldwide was her resolve to “miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.”

Don’t seek all your satisfaction in earthly things
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati had it all. He was a handsome, fun-loving, athletic, courageous man born into a prominent Italian family. Yet instead of living the “good life” he spent much of his life giving to others: growing in spiritual life and prayer; serving the sick, needy orphans and veterans; being involved in political activism; giving constantly to charity; leading his friends in apostolic works and focusing on others. His wisdom was that we “must not squander the best years of our lives as so many unhappy young people do, who worry about enjoying the good things in life, things that do not in fact bring any good, but rather the fruit of immorality in today’s world.” Instead we need constant prayer, organization and discipline to be ready for action at the right moment and to sacrifice ourselves.

Through this he constantly gave himself with joy and called sadness a disease:

“A Catholic cannot help but be happy; sadness should be banished from their souls. Suffering is not sadness, which is the worst disease. This disease is almost always caused by atheism, but the end for which we are created guides us along life’s pathway, which may be strewn with thorns, but is not sad. It is happy even through suffering.”

He died at the young age of 24 and to the surprise of his family, who didn’t know the work he had done in secret, his funeral was attended by thousands of people lining the streets.

Remember, all the little things make a great life
Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, once explained it this way:

“A mother . . . goes home and begins her day made up of a thousand little things. Her life is literally reduced to crumbs, but what she does is no little thing: It is Eucharist with Jesus! A religious sister . . . goes to her daily work among the old, the sick, the children. Her life too might seem split by many small things that leave no trace at night—another day wasted. But her life too is Eucharist. . . . No one should say, ‘What use is my life? What am I doing in this world?’ You are in the world for the most sublime of reasons, to be a living sacrifice. To be Eucharist with Jesus.”

The “crumbs” of our lives are gathered together and bring hope to other people. Each one of us is a treasure.

Most of these ‘secrets’ involve seizing the opportunities that we are given on a daily basis. Enjoying each moment, offering what we have to others and putting away worry, in exchange for hope.

With that, we can weather whatever comes, with joy.

And that is what makes a good life.

Our Lady of the Smile: A Reflection

Special thanks to my sister-in-Christ, Liesl Grace Dowd, for helping me with this reflection! Her words are towards the end.

Our Lady has many titles, of which only some are official. That doesn’t mean the unofficial titles are invalid—and I found this particular title brought warmth to my heart. It’s so unknown that the first mention of it was strange but beautiful. Our Lady of the Smile is a title given to the Blessed Mother by St. Therese of Lisieux, in loving honor of the miracle that healed her from illness.

O Thou who cam’st to smile on me at dawn of life’s beginning! / Come once again to smile on me. / Mother! the night is nigh.
From St. Therese’s poem, 
Why I Love Thee Mary

Just hearing the title Our Lady of the Smile made me feel safe. It sank in how directly she is involved in our happiness. She intercedes for us to be full of joy! This is a comfort when we struggle to see the positive side of things. Even when life gets hard, with Our Lady there is always hope. We should find comfort in the unending promise of happiness!

She wants to share with us the joy that’s given in our Savior. We’re told in the Bible so many times to rejoice in Him! Even when times are hard, it’s possible to rejoice, and there’s no reason not to. Everything will work out for those who love and serve Him. So the Blessed Mother wants to share the joy she kept in her heart throughout His life. She intercedes for it, and her intercession is strong–take comfort in that joy is always within reach.

The Blessed Mother not only intercedes for the sake of my joy; she IS my joy. Jesus loves His mother dearly and wants us to do the same; to not only love and honor her, but to venerate her. She is so holy and pure, and deserves great recognition. Mother Mary helps me in every situation, and every time that I receive reconciliation, I can feel the Blessed Mother praying for me, as well as my sins being lifted from my soul, and washed away with the precious blood of Christ.

The Blessed Mother, I believe, is the reason why happiness exists, because she prays for all of her children, that they would all be filled with the joy and the love of her Son. Every time I laugh, I thank Mary for her prayers and for interceding, for through her faithfulness in God, we are given the gift of happiness. She is the Queen of heaven, and the Queen of happiness.

I believe we should spread devotion to Our Lady of the Smile. If anyone can intercede to make the world joyful again, it’s Mary. If we’d just turn to her and ask for happiness–or in other words, ask for Jesus–everything else will come to us in pleasant unexpected ways. There’s nothing to be lost at all! Here is a prayer to Our Lady of the Smile, and may St. Therese intercede for your spiritual happiness today.