Resisting Happiness Week 1: Misery or Happiness?

(November 27, 2016)

Message: Here's the choice we face: misery or happiness?

Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord!

Welcome to Advent! You notice I am wearing the color purple. At the conclusion of the Prayers of the Faithful I will bless the Advent Wreath and the server will light the first candle. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord!

During these four weeks of Advent I will focus on the theme of happiness. On one hand it seems like an easy theme - everyone wants to be happy and we want others to be happy. Parents want their children to be happy. A boyfriend or girlfriend wants happiness for the other person. Business people want colleagues and customers to be happy. We desire happiness for others and ourselves. So, on one hand it should be easy to talk about happiness.

On the other hand, there is a problem. I fear talking about happiness because I know exactly what some are thinking: "Easy for you, Father. You don't know all the stress I am under. You don't know my problems."

I don't. At least for most of you. Some have shared, perhaps during confession, but even so I can enter other people's anguish only in a limited way.

In this series on happiness I don't pretend to offer a solution to problems. I do however want to explore this universal desire. You know, even though a person might not be happy at present we all dream about some moment when we will be. We might think, "Oh, when the Christmas rush is over and we sit down to that wonderful dinner, then I will be happy." Or maybe, "I'll be happy when we've finished dinner and, with beer in hand, I can relax and watch TV."

Some people ruin their lives with fantasies of future happiness: I feel awful now but I will be happy when I can get high - alcohol, drugs, porn. Maybe go on a shopping or gambling binge. Or rendezvous with some person. In seeking happiness these people create misery for themselves and those closest to them.

That's the paradox - the seeming contradiction - in seeking happiness we destroy happiness. In this series we will examine why we resist happiness. And how we can overcome that resistance. On completing the series I will have a surprise.

For today I conclude by telling you about a man who first resisted then chose happiness. He wasn't a Christian but not an atheist either. He struggled mightily with temptations of the flesh. He used to say this prayer, "God, make me chaste, but not yet!" One day he was alone in a garden when he heard a voice saying, "Tolle et legge." Take and read. He thought maybe it was child outside the garden fence and he tried to think about what children's game they might be playing. The voice became more persistent: Take and read! On a table was a book with St. Paul's letters. He opened to the exact passage we heard today:

"Not in orgies and drunkenness
not in promiscuity and lust
not in rivalry and jealousy,
but put on the Lord Jesus Christ 
and make no provision for the desires of the flesh."

At that moment the young man made a choice: to pray for purity of heart. Temptations did not cease, maybe there was even some fall I don't know, but that day he made a radical choice. It was a choice between misery and happiness.

You might have heard about this man. He went on to become the Church's most influential preacher (after St. Paul): St. Augustine of Hippo.

Jesus makes it clear that like Augustine we also face that choice: misery or happiness. "One will be taken and one will be left." Descent into misery or a horizon of happiness that extends to eternity.

We will explore that choice during these next weeks of Advent - the strange reality that we have happiness within reach, happiness that lasts, yet we keep resisting. My dream is that one day - maybe this very day - we will say together, Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord! Amen.

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Spanish Version

From Archives (First Sunday of Advent, Year A):

2013: One Taken, One Left
2010: Please Hold the Applause
2007: Not in Promiscuity and Lust
2004: The Night is Advanced
2001: The Noise Stopped
1998: Late, But Not Too Late

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