Sunday, January 30, 2011

True happiness is...

NOTE: I am in New Orleans for a meeting this week and not preaching anywhere.  This is the homily that I delivered on this same day three years ago.
The philosopher Aristotle long ago said, “Happiness is that which all [people] seek.” Aristotle observed that the things that people do 24 hours a day, seven days a week, are the things that they believe will bring them happiness in one form or another. The problem, of course, is that what people think will bring them happiness rarely achieves that goal of true and lasting happiness. Things haven’t changed too much since the time of Aristotle.

A while back, Time Magazine dedicated an issue to “The New Science of Happiness.” They sought to uncover the secret of happiness. What did they discover? In one article, they wrote, “What has science learned about what makes the human heart sing? …Take wealth, for instance, and all the delightful things that money can buy. Research…has shown that once your basic needs are met, additional income does little to raise your sense of satisfaction with life. A good education? Sorry, Mom and Dad, neither education nor, for that matter, a high IQ paves the road to happiness. Youth? No, again. In fact, older people are more consistently satisfied with their lives than the young. Marriage? Married people are generally happier than singles. But, on the positive side, religious faith seems to genuinely lift the spirit.”

In our world, many people spend a great deal of time pursuing wealth, power, pleasure, popularity and fame – things which may bring a momentary thrill, but lack any true happiness. Yet, look at how much time and resources are often spent in their pursuit.

True happiness can only be found in other ways, and is often found in unlikely ways. And that is the theme of our readings today. And so God shows us that this happiness we seek, is found in places we wouldn’t normally expect. Another word for true and lasting happiness is “blessedness” or “beatitude.” Jesus gives us in the Sermon on the Mount that we heard in today’s gospel, the road to blessedness or happiness. The beatitudes constitute a road map for anyone who seeks to attain true happiness.

The world has its own idea of happiness. If a committee were set up to draw up the beatitudes, we would most probably end up with a list very different from that which Jesus gives us today. Where Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit” we would likely say “Blessed are the rich.” Where Jesus says “Blessed are those who mourn” we would say “Blessed are those having fun.” Where Jesus says “Blessed are the meek” we would say “Blessed are the smart.” Where Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” we would say “Blessed are those who wine and dine.” Where Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful” we would say “Blessed are the powerful.” Where Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart” we would say “Blessed are the thin and beautiful.” Where Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers” we would say “Blessed are the ones with the biggest guns.” And where Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” we would say “Blessed are those who can afford the best lawyers.”

The values prescribed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount are in fact counter-cultural. And so, we cannot accept these teachings of Jesus and at the same time accept all the values of the society in which we live. Jesus is calling us to put God first in our lives because only God can guarantee the true happiness and peace that our hearts long for. Nothing in the world can give this peace, and nothing in the world can take it away.

The Sermon on the Mount is in fact Jesus’ first homily, His first preaching. Jesus wants everything that will follow - the healings, the miracles, the journey towards crucifixion and resurrection – to be seen in this context. It all leads to happiness.

The question for us today, therefore, is this: Do we seek our happiness through the values of the world or do we live by the beatitudes of Jesus? If you live by the teachings of Jesus, then rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.

I will end with the words of Pope John Paul II, who spoke of the Beatitudes at World Youth Day in Toronto a few years ago. He said, “Jesus did not limit himself to proclaiming the Beatitudes, he lived them!...The Beatitudes describe what a Christian should be: they are the portrait of those who have accepted the Kingdom of God. The joy promised by the Beatitudes is the very joy of Jesus himself ….By looking at Jesus you will learn what it means to be poor in spirit, meek and merciful; what it means to seek justice, to be pure in heart, to be peacemakers. Today Jesus’ voice resounds in the midst of our gathering. His is a voice of life, of hope, of forgiveness; a voice of justice and of peace. Let us listen to this voice! The Church today looks to you with confidence and expects you to be the people of the Beatitudes. Blessed are you if, like Jesus, you are poor in spirit, good and merciful; if you really seek what it just and right; if you are pure of heart, peacemakers, lovers of the poor and their servants. Blessed are you!”

May we all pledge to live in God’s blessedness and may God give you peace.

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