Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the lands!
Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the LORD is God!
It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him, bless his name!
For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
– Psalm 100
|Vietnamese martyr and saint, Paul Le-Bao-Tinh (1793-1857)|
If the answer is "Yes, I am happy" then we are told to continue doing what we are doing. But if the answer is "No, I'm not very happy" then we are advised to find a way to change our situation. The goal seems to be to attain a permanent state of happiness.
The problem with this approach to life is that it just does not work. It doesn't work because it bears no relationship to reality. It suggests that if we are not continually happy, then there is something wrong with our lives.
Corporations actively promote this false philosophy because it allows them to easily sell their products with the promise that they will make you "happy". They may not say this explicitly, but it is always implied by the smiling faces of those who have just purchased their products. See the man with the new iPad; see how happy he is? See the family on their vacation cruise; see how happy they are? See the woman using the latest form of contraception/abortifacient; see how happy she is?
Whatever it is they're selling, it's going to fix your problem and make you happy.
But life inherently involves suffering. We all get sick; we all die. We all have loved ones who suffer through hardships. And nothing is going to "fix" that.
I think that parents have totally bought into this phony philosophy and make the mistake of trying to keep their children constantly "happy". The modern parents motto is "I just want my child to be happy." So they plop them in front of the TV to watch happy shows. And take them to McDonald's to get their "Happy Meal". (At least McD doesn't beat around the bush. They claim right up front that their meal is going to make you "happy". )
This happiness mindset creates an expectation in young people that life is just one big party. And if they are not all smiles and upbeat all the time, well then there is something wrong with them. In fact someone will probably step up to them and ask them directly to their face, "What's wrong with you?" In other words, "why aren't you smiling?" Maybe their dog just died. Should they still be happy? The trained response from the "happy crowd" is always the same. "Oh, I'm so sorry. But don't worry. You'll get over it." And then you can quickly rejoin the "happy crowd".
Is there anything wrong with being happy? No, not at all. And in fact God wants us to be happy – just not all the time. Life is a series of happy moments and sad moments. That's what life is. And without the sad moments, the happy moments would lose their meaning.
But is there something else besides happiness that we should be seeking? Yes. Joy.
Joy is knowing that God loves you and unlike happiness, this is a constant. It is something that you can count on come rain or shine. In the deepest darkest night the light of God's love continues to shine on us.
Joy is expressed by loving God and loving our neighbor. Joy is true happiness. It is the happiness that we are truly seeking, not the one that corporations try to sell to us. And it costs us nothing in terms of money.
Joy comes not through receiving, but through giving.
In Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical letter Spe Salvi, he tells us about the Vietnamese martyr St. Paul Le-Bao-Tinh who was beheaded in 1857. He suffered terrible tortures and yet he writes...
"In the midst of these torments, which usually terrify others, I am, by the grace of God, full of joy and gladness, because I am not alone – Christ is with me."He is "full of joy and gladness". Was he "happy" that he was imprisoned and tortured? No, but that did not diminish his joy. And he has more to say...
"Beloved brothers, as you hear all these things may you give endless thanks in joy to God, from whom every good proceeds; bless the Lord with me, for his mercy is for ever ... I write these things to you in order that your faith and mine may be united."He says "give endless thanks in joy to God". The saints do not fear suffering.
Most of us will never be faced with torture, but we may have to suffer through a terminal illness. Let us pray that this suffering will serve to increase our faith in God by placing us at the foot of the Cross alongside the Virgin Mary. "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners; now, and at the hour of our death. Amen."