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Which Way to Happiness?

February 13, 2022

A reflection for the 6th Sunday, Ordinary Time, Year C. The readings are Jeremiah 17:5-8; Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 15:16-20 and Luke 6:17, 20-26.

Everyone wants to be happy. And you know what? God wants you to be happy too. That’s all God wants. He wants you to be happy in this life but more than that, He wants you to be happy with him in Heaven. But if we listen to today’s Gospel, we might think that Jesus doesn’t want us to be happy at all. Blessed are you who mourn…? Who wants to be poor? Who wants to be hungry? Sad? Attacked and insulted?

I don’t think so.

Three hundred years before Christ, a Greek philosopher named Aristotle wrote about happiness. For Aristotle and the Greeks of his time, happiness was the ultimate end and purpose of human existence – so it wasn’t exactly the same as we define happiness today. It was a bit more. And Aristotle described that there are four levels of happiness. Have you heard of them?

Most of us probably experience the four levels of happiness are every day, throughout the day.

The First Level of Happiness is what we get through our senses. Every time you eat something you like; experience something fun – anything that gives us pleasure, that we experience through the senses, that we see, hear, smell, taste and touch. The first level of happiness is the happiness that we get from material things. On Valentine’s Day many of us will experience the first level of happiness because we will be enjoying things that we like with someone we enjoy being with. This kind of happiness is good – but it is not a happiness that is long-lasting. It’s a happiness that is short-lived and superficial. The chocolate ice-cream-bar that I had on Thursday, made me happy for a bit, but it didn’t last too long. If we only got our happiness from level one, we would constantly be chasing after the next purchase, the next thrill, the next sensation. It’s not long-lasting. So we have to go deeper to the second level of happiness.

The Second Level is the happiness that we get from personal achievements. It is what makes us do well, compete and win. Every time we feel good because we did well on a project or on an exam, or we won a game or won an award, we are experiencing the second level of happiness. That’s what the Olympics and the Super Bowl are about: doing your personal best. And those achievements bring us happiness. It is still very much self-centered and superficial and, this type of happiness, while it is good, is also not long-lasting. Sooner or later, there is going to be someone else who is better than you at anything; we can’t sustain this type of happiness. We can’t get all our happiness from this level; we have to go deeper.

The Third Level is the happiness that we get from doing good for others. It is the happiness that we get from helping someone else, making someone else happy and doing volunteer work. This level of happiness is higher than the first two, but, it is still not long-lasting. Anyone who works in charitable work knows that there is always going to be someone else in need. There is always going to be hunger; always going to be poverty. And so, if you hope to get all your happiness from this level, you are going to get disappointed and burn out pretty soon. It is not sustainable. It lasts longer than the first two, but it is does not last forever.

The people who don’t burn out doing charitable work are the people who also get their happiness from the fourth level.

The Fourth Level of Happiness is the only happiness that is true happiness and that is long-lasting because it’s the happiness we get from God. This is the happiness that can only come from God. People who don’t believe in God still look for truth, beauty, goodness, love, justice – those transcendental things that those of us who believe in God look for in God. I don’t have to convince you of this – you are probably a person of faith and practicing your faith. You have a relationship with God. This happiness is the highest level of happiness. It is the only happiness that is sustainable and it is long-lasting.

This is what today’s readings are about: the Fourth Level of Happiness.

The Beatitudes that we heard today are not the seven traditional ones we hear from the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew’s Beatitudes are abstract and spiritual: Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are the meek, the pure in heart, the merciful, the peacemakers, those who hunger for righteousness… The ones we heard today are from the Gospel of Luke. Luke only gives us four and they are much more down-to-earth. Jesus doesn’t say, “Blessed are the poor”, that’s abstract; he says, “blessed are you who are poor.” That’s real. He’s talking to real people: “Blessed are you who hunger now…” Blessed are you who weep now. Blessed are you when people hate you and insult you because of Jesus.

And then Jesus gives us the opposite: “But woe to you who are rich…” He means, “be aware” or “be careful, you who are rich.” Be careful, those of you who laugh now, who are satisfied, who are admired and praised. Be careful those of you who only get your happiness from material things, from what makes you feel good, from personal achievements and when people praise you, from the first three levels of happiness – be careful… because there is more to life that that.

St. Paul says it best in the second reading: If your hope in the risen Christ is all because of what it does for you in this life, then you are the most pitiable people of all. If you believe in Christ for the kind of happiness that it will give you in this life: material possessions, pleasure, success, friends and achievements, then you’ve missed the point.

That’s why the key to today’s message is found in the First Reading and Psalm: “Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.” Happy are they who trust in the Lord. Happy are they whose trust is the Lord. If you trust in the Lord (fourth level of happiness), you are like a tree with deep roots, planted near water, always green. If you don’t trust in the Lord, even if you’re rich, satisfied, “happy” and admired, you’ll be like a shrub planted in the desert: dry. If you trust in the Lord, even during the worst drought – even during this pandemic, even during the harshest trials – even if you are poor, hungry, sad, attacked and insulted, you will bear fruit.

Today’s message is very simple: Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, sad and persecuted; blessed are you because when you have nothing, then you have to trust in God. There’s nothing wrong with being rich, satisfied, happy and admired, but if you are rich, satisfied, happy and everyone loves you, be careful, because that’s when it’s easier to stop trusting in God. If you have everything you need, you don’t need to depend on God.

Trusting in God can be hard, but it’s not complicated. All you have to do is tell him, “Lord, I place my trust in You.” Ask him “Lord, I want to trust You.” Next time you pray or when you receive him in the Eucharist, tell him you want to trust in him. You may not be ready to trust all of your life to him, but you can start with a few things; those things that worry you. Do it every day and you’ll see how you will begin to experience that happiness that only comes from God. You will know that you are growing in trust when you stop worrying and feeling anxious and angry about the things of this world.

 God wants you to be happy in this life. But if being sad, hungry, poor and yes, persecuted, attacked and insulted in this life, will guarantee that you will be happy with him in the next, then blessed are you!

If you want true, long-lasting happiness, put your trust in God; get your happiness from God. Put your trust in the Lord and you will bear much fruit; you will be blessed and your reward will be great in Heaven!

From → English, Reflections

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