Third Advent Virtue: Happiness

(December 16, 2018)

Bottom line: Recognize happiness as a moral duty - one of the greatest gifts you can give to those you love.

So far we have seen two Advent virtues: patience and generosity. Today we see the third virtue or strength. I mentioned last week that this one might surprise you. The third Advent virtue is happiness.

You may ask how happiness can be a virtue. Much of happiness appears a matter of luck. I've known families where one child seems born cheerful while the other emerges from the womb with a little cloud over his head. The cheerful child attracts everyone while people keep their distance from the sullen child - and he prefers it that way.

We come into the world with different happiness quotients. And during life we have fluctuating fortunes. When things go well, we feel happy. When they go bad, we become glum.

So how can happiness be a virtue? The answer is that there is a part of happiness we do control and that part is one of the greatest gifts we can give. I've been a priest 47 years (tomorrow is my anniversary) and I know my moods can affect parishioners. To be a happy priest is a gift to others.

When we withhold that gift by clamming up, it hurts others. Consider the effect an unhappy parent has on a home. And parents of course desire above all that their children be happy. An unhappy child can bring never ending pain to his parents.

Now I can't tell anyone how to make a child happy. But I can say something about how a person can make himself happy. We need to begin by recognizing that happiness is a moral demand. St. Paul says, "Rejoice in the Lord always." Paul commands us to rejoice.

When I was in high school I learned the secret of a smile. Before entering a room think of something that makes you grateful. It will bring a smile. And you know what? when a person smiles, it makes him happy - at least for the moment. And of course a smile - like a common cold - is contagious.

So recognize happiness as a moral duty. If a grateful thought can bring a smile, how much more gratitude to Jesus? Rejoice in the Lord always.

If happiness is a moral virtue, a duty, that means we should pursue happiness. Like we say in the Declaration of Independence - life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. That doesn't mean pursuit of pleasure. Pleasure for sure is good. God created pleasure to accompany necessary activities - meals, exercise, sleep, procreation. If, however, we pursue pleasure in a disordered way, it brings sadness. When our founders spoke about pursuit of happiness they meant it in a classical sense: pursuit of excellence, realizing ones potential..

For that reason happiness is our third virtue. It follows patience and generosity. Patience and generosity provide the building blocks for happiness. By patience and generosity a person realizes his true potential.

Pursuing happiness does not mean being Pollyanna. You know, put on a happy face. Life brings terrible tragedies. Deception and disappointments surround us. And any of us can fall into the blues if a dear person dies. Summer didn't seem the same without Sister Barbara.

St. Paul knew suffering and betrayal. Yet he tells us to be happy always. "Rejoice in the Lord always." To drive home his point he adds, "I shall say it again: rejoice!" Turn off social media and turn to God. He has a perfect plan for you today. He allows trials for a purpose. Victor Frankl found meaning in a concentration camp and he became one of the most influential psychologists of the twentieth century. Immaculee Ilibagiza discovered peace even in the horrors of the Rwanda genocide. We'll see her secret next week when I present the fourth (and final) Advent virtue.

So far we've seen three virtues: patience, generosity and happiness. The fourth virtue ties them together and makes them work. That's for next weekend.

Today recognize happiness as a moral duty - one of the greatest gifts you can give to those you love. Whatever trial you face, the Lord has sent it so you can achieve your full potential. As St. Paul says, "The Lord is near." Because of that, "in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving make your request known to God..." (pause) "Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again, rejoice." Amen.


Spanish Version

From Archives (Third Sunday of Advent - Year C):

2015: Are You Missing Out? Week 3: Joy
2012: What Should We Do?
2009: Joy as a Duty
2006: To Be a Happier Priest
2003: Profile in Courage
2000: A Priest's Examination of Conscience
1997: Rejoice Always!

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)

Take the Plunge Bible Study (audio resources) *New episodes for Summer - Kings and Prophets*

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Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Pat Freitag (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bishop Robert Barron

Bulletin (St. Mary of Valley Parish)

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