Only God Can Give Us True Happiness
One of the greatest influences on my priesthood was our former bishop, Dennis Schnurr, now the Archbishop of Cincinnati. I was blessed to have the opportunity to work closely with him in many different areas, especially in the area of vocations.
I often wonder to myself what sort of priest I would be were it not for his influence and example. I think I would be quite different, so I thank God for his time in Duluth. It is not at all uncommon for me to refer back to things he regularly said. In both my homilies and in classes I teach I find myself quoting him, even if I don’t give him credit.
One of the things Archbishop Schnurr often explained was his belief that all priests generally have no more than four or five different homilies. We repeat these same messages in different ways throughout our priesthood. Looking at my own preaching, I have to agree, and I think my congregation would as well.
I see myself preaching the same basic subjects over and over in different ways and with different words. But doing so is not necessarily a bad thing. Repetition is the mother of memory, so if the message is a good one, we need to hear it over and over again, even if it’s not our intention to repeatedly preach on the same subjects.
Since Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year,” it is appropriate for me to tell you that one of my small handful of often-repeated messages is the message of happiness.
My parishioners often hear me tell them that they cannot find real joy and happiness apart from God or apart from practicing their faith. As St. Augustine famously wrote in his “Confessions,” “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O Lord.”
We were created for one thing only, and that is to be with God in heaven. Everything we do that does not get us closer to him might give us fleeting pleasure, but it cannot bring us joy or happiness.
I actually preach this message most often at funerals, because there are so many “unchurched” people who are there, wrestling with the meaning of life in the face of death.
People can look back on their lives and say they had many happy times during life, but we certainly won’t have them on our deathbeds. So what will give us joy even in the face of death? What is the only thing that will give us happiness that will last?
Our modern, secular culture loves to portray religion, especially the Catholic Church, as a killjoy. Nothing can be further from the truth. Nobody has ever been happier and more joyful than the saints, and every one of them lived in the “confines” of the Catholic Church.
Jesus addressed this himself. Speaking to his Apostles at the Last Supper, he said to them, “I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete” (John 15:11). Jesus himself wanted to give his followers complete joy, and the fact is, he is the only one who can offer it.
When we look for happiness in other places we will always come up short. No person, no experience, no thing or possession can give us true and lasting joy. If our only source of happiness lies in the things of this world, then we are not really happy.
Celebrities often give us the best examples of this. Think of the young, beautiful, talented, wealthy, famous person who seems to have it all, and generally that same person has more “issues” than People magazine. Yet we don’t have to look as far away as celebrities.
We all know people who try to fill their lives with things other than God. It could be clothes, money, their kids’ sports, their pets, their friends or whatever. None of these will give joy because we were not created for these things. We were created only for God.
It has been said that every one of us was created with a hole inside of us, and the more we try to fill that hole with things other than God, the larger the hole becomes, making us feel emptier. The hole can only be filled with God. We can only become whole with him.
As we approach Christmas, we will be shopping for the perfect gifts for our children and loved ones. With one exception, the gifts we give have a shelf life. If we give the gift of faith, especially to our children, it is the only gift with no shelf life. The faith is the only gift we can give that will last into eternity. (Thank you, Archbishop Schnurr, for that line as well.)
God and faith are the only sources of real happiness. Everything else will disappoint.
In Memoriam: Grace Fitzgerald