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Sunday, May 16, 2021

Sunday Meditation: If You Want to Be Happy for the Rest of Your Life......

O Lord, You made our hearts for Thee,

And ever restless will they be

Until they rest in Thee.

based on St. Augustine

The other day I wrote about happiness and the etymology of the word from Middle English meaning "luck, prosperity, and advantageous circumstances." That association can't hold up. Wealth and happiness are often mutually exclusive. How many rich people do you know or read about whose lives are a mess and families are miserable? Think of Hollywood, a glamorous hellhole filled with prosperous, unhappy people. A long-term marriage is rare, divorce and cohabitation the norm. How many wealthy people seek oblivion in drugs and alcohol. How many are addicted to sex and pornography? How many commit suicide?
But there was one association for "happiness" from the Welsh that links to the word, "wise." Wise comes from the Old English "wis" meaning "learned, sagacious, cunning; sane; prudent, discreet; experienced; having the power of discerning and judging rightly." Those attributes, in fact, are like road signs pointing to happiness as a possible destination. Of course, ultimate happiness is only attainable in heaven, but Jesus told his apostles, "the kingdom of God is within you." In other words, He tells us we can, indeed, experience a taste of the beatitude of the kingdom of heaven here and now. Do we have witnesses to that? Yes.

Think of the Roman martyrs who went to their deaths singing and praising God, in worldly terms inexplicable! What a demonstration of the "perfect love [that] casts out fear." On the scaffold, St. Thomas More joked with his executioner asking him to wait while he laid aside his long beard, "for that had committed no treason." Tradition has it that St. Lawrence was martyred by roasting alive on a gridiron and called out to his torturers, "Turn me over; I'm done on this side."

Many non-martyr saints are well known for their cheerfulness and good humor. St. Philip Neri is one of my favorites. He kept a notebook of jokes on his desk and had a sign over his door reading, "House of Mirth." As he gained a reputation for holiness, he pursued humility in some odd ways. He would often shave off half his beard and go about publicly to invite mockery and ridicule. He told his followers that, "The true way to advance in holy virtues, is to advance in a holy cheerfulness.” He's known as the laughing saint and if you want an experience of joy watch the film, I Prefer Heaven, about his life. It's somewhat fictionalized but delightful!

Philip Neri shows us the road to happiness is paved in humility and wisdom, and the beginning of wisdom, the Bible tells us, is "fear of the Lord." So a major prescription for finding happiness is to "fear the Lord." How can "fear" bring happiness? 

The Bible isn't talking about fearing a God of fire and brimstone. It challenges us to bend the knee with awe and wonder, to recognize the beauty and great love God has for us. It's a wonder and love that fills the heart to bursting. St. Philip Neri was so overcome with love that his heart expanded and actually broke two of his ribs. Think of the love that inspired Mary to such joy that she broke out in her song of praise, the Magnificat, when she met her cousin Elizabeth. Imagine her happiness as she glorified God saying, "My soul magnifies the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior."

Has your heart ever lifted up at a magnificent view in nature, the glory of a sunset, the majesty of the stars on a moonless night, or examining a single perfect rose? Doesn't beauty almost overwhelm your senses and fill you with joy? What mother's heart doesn't leap up when her newborn infant is laid in her arms?

Many poets get it. William Wordsworth, who called the Blessed Mother "our tainted nature's solitary boast," wrote this:

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

Wonder generates happiness, and we can experience it in the here and now. Children do, and if we keep a childlike spirit we will keep our sense of innocent wonder! 

But wonder and awe can only really live in those whose eyes are fixed, not on the world with its false promises, but on God. Conforming our wills to God's lets us begin heaven here on earth. We will still suffer, but it will be with the understanding that God only allows suffering for the good He brings from it. "Rejoice in the Lord always," says St. Paul. How can he urge his followers with that admonition unless happiness is possible here?

Happiness comes from doing the will of God, recognizing that His love for us is so great that nothing, even our deepest sorrows, can separate us from Him and that he will turn all mourning into joy in His time. "All things work together for good to those who love the Lord and serve according to His purpose."

St. John Bosco told his boys to "Love God and have as much fun as you can." He wanted to help children find God in the innocent pleasures of life. Happiness here ultimately begins within us when we dedicate ourselves to God and turn over our hearts and minds to Him. When we "rest in Him" here we will experience a foretaste of the happiness to come.

"Love God and do what you will," St. Augustine said. That's the secret of happiness!