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May 09, 2019 582 0 Deacon Jim McFadden
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True Happiness

These are ground-floor, basic, “rubber hitting the road” questions. There is a lot riding on our responses. If we get them wrong, then we have assigned ourselves to a miserable, unfulfilled life. While these questions are perennial, in our 21st-century world the answer seems to be that happiness consists in having the goods of the world—the more the better.

Are You ‘Having’ or ‘Being?’

By “having” lots of money and other stuff of the world, fulfilling all the material needs, one is assured of happiness. Along this line, we need to be in control of our lives, to have power to do whatever we want and whenever we want, as long as it does not interfere with others’ private interests. The assumption behind much of the assaulting commercial advertising is that we can be happy if we acquire stuff outside of ourselves! In short, being human means to embrace a lifestyle of having! It is akin to the voracious plant in the Little Shop of Horrors who demands “Feed me, feed me!” The teachings of Jesus, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, offers an alternative contrary view and raises the question of true happiness. Jesus challenges our easy assumptions that happiness is attained through money and possessions, status and prestige, control and dominative power, and self-indulgent pleasure.

Our Lord knows that true happiness consists not in “having” the goods of the world but “being” in right relationship with God. Being made in the image of God, who is love, we are most human when we are in love with God and our brothers and sisters. Money, fame, pleasure and power cannot bring us happiness because they simply cannot love us.

A Beautiful Way

Jesus insists that what can make us truly happy, and really blessed, is being in a singular relationship with God and living in His kingdom. That means our lives are no longer about us but about God, to whom we owe our total commitment and surrender. We move from having the goods of the world to being in a right relationship with God. Such a conversion will have a profound impact on how we live our lives and how we relate to others.

The Beatitudes are the prelude to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which describe what it is like to live a happy life, a freed life, a united life. Jesus is not presenting us another list of Commandments—a list of actions we must do or not do to get into the kingdom. Rather, He is teaching us that those who are living in the Kingdom of God will live in a certain way. They will strive to do the Father’s will here and now. What does that look like in our daily life?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

To begin with, they will be happy because they are poor in spirit. They peer into the depths of their hearts, where they realize that real security in life does not come from riches that come and go, but from the Word of God and His love that endures forever.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

They will do so not through intimidation, domination and violence but through humble submission to God’s will. They will be meek because they see God’s promises being performed in their lives. They recognize that God is the doer and they are His instruments which brings them joy.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

The world tells us to be attached to our feelings. If it feels good, go for it. A person who is present to others, however, is unafraid to join the suffering of others and walk with them in their pain.

The following story illustrates this point. A little boy was late coming home from school. When he finally showed up, his concerned mother asked, “Where were you?” He responded, “When I was walking home, I saw Jennie sitting on her step, crying.” I asked her, “What’s wrong?” She said, “My dog Champ just died.” His mother asked, “What did you say?” They boy shrugged his shoulders and said, “Nothing. I just sat down and cried with her.”

Yes, it is a paradox—we are mourning yet we are consoled. We find meaning in coming to the aid of those who are suffering.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Those who are living with Jesus go beyond satisfying their basic needs for survival. Knowing they are members of the universal Church, the mystical Body of Christ, they desire justice for everyone because they recognize that all human beings have inherent dignity so they pursue justice for the weak and vulnerable.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Those who are grounded in God’s love will have hearts that are simple and pure. Their hearts will admit nothing that might harm others or weaken their love for God and others. As they become less self-absorbed through self- emptying love, they begin to “see” God in their ordinary experience.

Blessed are peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

This Beatitude makes people bridge builders between conflicting parties. They run counter to what Pope Francis said upon his return from WYD/Panama: “The sad tendency toward hostile nationalism builds walls and is closed to universality, to the encounters of peoples.” Instead of fighting evil with more evil, violence with more violence, they are conduits of God’s generative love, which unites people in their true identity.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.

Brothers and sisters, living in the alternative consciousness of the Gospel we will have a target on our backs. We will be a challenge to the powers of the world, which are based on the false kingdom. If we cannot be happy “when people hate us, when they exclude and insult us, when they denounce our name as evil on the account of the Son of Man,” then we know we are not yet living in the true paradigm of eternal life—we are not yet Kingdom people.

Transformed for Happiness

Though we may not be there yet, we can set ourselves in that direction by accepting metanoia, conversion, as we embrace the process of being conformed to Christ’s mind and heart. We can honor the Sabbath by gathering together in a church assembly as we give God praise and glory. We can participate in trinitarian love through the mysteries of the Holy Mass, which is “fount and summit of our worship.” We can immerse ourselves in a regular, disciplined and deep prayer life so we can discern the workings of God in our lives.

If we live our lives dying to our false self and God substitutes, then we will gradually be raised to a new and transformed life. As we begin to believe that the Paschal Mystery is the template of genuine human existence, our lives will manifest that mystery. We will become walking billboards for the Beatitudes. Our belief that Christ has died and Christ is risen will be shown in the lives we live in faith. The challenge is to live by faith in the Risen Christ who actively dwells among and within us. If we do this, then surely we will find true happiness.

Deacon Jim McFadden

Deacon Jim McFadden ministers at the Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church in Folsom, California. He is a teacher of theology and serves in the Adult Faith Formation, baptismal preparation, spiritual direction, and prison ministry.

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