Are you truly happy?
Are you blessed?
Let’s be brutally honest for a few minutes. The world (secular society) holds up certain things for us and tells us we will be happy if we have them and miserable without them: pleasure, power, wealth and fame. Preachers of the “prosperity gospel” tell us that we are blessed by God when we are showered with a type of earthly success—primarily money and health. While wanting to have a good, happy life in this world is not a bad thing in and of itself, whenever we place our desire for things or on self above our love for God, we create a type of false god. Pleasure, power, wealth and fame can all become false gods in our lives.
What does Jesus teach us in the Sacred Scriptures? Let’s begin with a very difficult statement about the cross in our lives: "Then Jesus said to his disciples, Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt. 16: 24-25)
Moreover, the Beatitudes (Mt. 5: 3-12) seem to contradict what the world touts as essential for happiness. Blessed are the poor is spirit seems to rail against a call to accumulate material wealth. Blessed are the meek seems to undermine those seeking to obtain power over others. Blessed are they who mourn seems far removed from those who seek pleasure as their motivation. And blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me doesn’t seem to command the respect and honor craved for by so many. In fact, Jesus points out that those persons are blessed, when the direct opposite of what the world propagates is practiced and lived.
Why is this? First, worldly vision is shortsighted. Eternity and even God are seen as some pie in the sky ideas and we are told that we must live for this world only. Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die! I remind everyone that heaven and hell are eternal, not this world. In addition, Jesus demonstrated for us a sacrificial love (picking up the cross) which, unfortunately, requires some degree of pain and suffering. A cross was a means of public execution and the early Christians needed no reminder of its brutality. Yet, God freely chose it as a means of our redemption. Jesus accepted His cross.
The ultimate decision which we all must make is whether we choose to live for this world with its temporary pleasures and sorrows or to live for eternity and to desire union with God. It requires a modicum of faith to see things with the proper perspective. It also requires the support of a Church and its sacraments to strengthen our resolve and keep us on the right path. God’s grace is available, if we chose to accept it.
It has always intrigued me how many accounts of the martyrs tell how they sang, prayed and bore final witness even when facing brutal torture and death. Self-giving, sacrificial love can be contagious when we witness it. “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn. 15: 12-13)
I dare say that too few of us have come to such a realization in our lives.
Fr. Ed Namiotka