We are made for happiness. At the deepest level of our existence, God has made us to be happy. This happiness, we must remember, comes from God alone. He created us to find our total and complete joy within the Blessed Trinity. Everything else we experience in our daily lives is a shadow of the love and joy we will be filled with when we stand before the Beatific Vision. The mistake we can make is in thinking that happiness is something material, that it is something we can grasp. Rather, it is a letting go and a relinquishment of self to God’s Divine plan. It is to conform our will to God’s will and to love God completely and love our neighbor as God loves.
Happiness is not one more car, another promotion, prestige, the perfect body, more money, or any other material comfort we can find in this life. To quote C.S. Lewis, those things may bring us the occasional “pleasant inn”, but they can never in principle fill us up. We are body and soul. We are not just body; we are not just meat. We are not angels, so we are not pure spirit. We are the unification of body and soul; the great bridge between the material and immaterial. This means that purely material things cannot bring us ultimate happiness. In order to find happiness our souls and our bodies must be rightly ordered to God. How do we properly order our entire being to God?
Jesus tells us happiness is to be blessed
On the Sermon on the Mount, Our Lord lays out the path to happiness in the Beatitudes.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Christ re-orders us away from purely material comforts and pursuits and teaches us to focus on spiritual realities ahead of the material. This is not to say the material is evil. This is an ancient heresy. Instead, Christ reminds us to focus on God first so that we can be filled with joy. Since we are made by God and for God, He is the only one who can fulfill our heart’s desires.
Blessedness, or beatitudo, is an ancient term for happiness. God made us to be happy with Him for all of eternity. If we want to be happy, then we must give our lives over to Him each and every day, even when it is difficult or when we struggle with doubt. It is in relinquishing ourselves over to His care that the emptiness, brokenness, and sins within us are healed and we are made new. In focusing on His will, we stop seeking the riches of this world and begin to live lives of holiness. In growing in holiness, we are able to transform the world and bring others to Christ.
The Beatitudes are difficult
Living the call of the Beatitudes is deeply difficult and takes a lifetime to learn. This is not a call to false piety and sentimentality. The Beatitudes are demanding and even paradoxical. How can joy come from mourning?
The Beatitudes strike a vibrant, joyous chord. With their repeated promise of happiness overriding all the trials they evoke, they form one of the most consoling texts of the Gospel. And yet how disconcerting they can be at times. And yet how disconcerting they can be at times, for anyone who takes the trouble to spend time meditating on them in order to sound their depths.
The Beatitudes are demanding because they are supernatural in nature. They upset the order of this Fallen world. They teach us that happiness comes from doing the work of the Father. Christ constantly tells us that His mission and our mission is to do the will of the Father in Heaven. The will of God is for each one of us to live the Beatitudes in our own lives so that we may find the happiness we were made for by Him.
The beatitudes contain within them all the power of Jesus’ teaching. They actually dominate His teaching through the appeals and promises which they formulate and the paths of life which they trace…It is always a question of blessedness God gives to those who believe in His word and His promises, and who put His law into practice. Their happiness is the work of God.
Even though living the Beatitudes is challenging and we will fail each day, it is the path that will most readily lead us to God and the joy of His promises. The Beatitudes are what Christ calls us to live in order to attain holiness.
God desires our happiness
We are created for happiness, which means that God desires our happiness. This happiness is not going to come in a large house, fancy car, money, or other luxury. In fact, material possessions can hinder our path to holiness if we allow them to become a false idol. The happiness God has in store for each one of us is born of a relinquishment of self and total trust in God. This takes time and we are drawn into the Beatitudes throughout our daily lives. There are times we will truly follow the will of God and other times we will fall and choose sin. Even in those struggles we need to realize and believe that God desires our good and happiness.
God has placed the desire for happiness in the heart of every man as a fundamental thrust, and He wants to respond to it by sharing His own happiness with us, if we will allow ourselves to be led by Him along paths known to Him alone. Our God does not love unhappiness. He takes no pleasure in tragedies and terrors, as the devil would have us believe when he arouses the anxieties and fears hidden in our depths. God always has happiness and joy in view. He wants us to believe this for His sake, on His own word.
There may be times when we struggle to see the good that God has planned for us. In reality, this struggle is often born of erroneous understandings of happiness. We often become blinded by fleeting emotions and a desire for comfort. This eventually leaves us empty since nothing in the material universe can satisfy the deepest longing of our hearts. As Christ tells the Samaritan woman at the well, it is only Living Water that can quench our thirst. In order to be satiated, we must be willing to give our lives completely over to God. We must ponder and pray to live the Beatitudes. They are the roadmap God has given us on the path to Him. In the coming weeks, we will look at each of the Beatitudes and consider how we can apply them in our lives as we walk the path to holiness.
image: Christ Preaching the Beatitudes by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)