2002-02-17 In Lent the Liturgy calls these forty days a joyful season
February 17, 2002
In Lent the Liturgy calls these forty days a joyful season. Without a right understanding of the meaning of true happiness, this can seem forced, a self-conscious "grin and bear it" cheerfulness. Our cultural environment supposes that happiness is essentially a subjective feeling. "Follow your own bliss" wrote a popular writer on religious myth. But Jesus warned us in many ways that while we can follow our own bliss all the way to Heaven, we can follow it all the way to Hell, too.
Feeling happy in not happiness. So G.K. Chesterton (try one of his books for Lenten reading) said that a pessimist is an unhappy idiot, and an optimist is a happy idiot. Idiocy is the limitation of reference to the self. The self-absorbed cannot attain true happiness, for such happiness is an objective involvement with truth outside the self, and ultimately with God. Only the ignorant think that ignorance is bliss. Were that really true, our culture would be Bliss Itself. St.Thomas Aquinas calls happiness "the acquisition of the last end." Happiness is achieving what we were made for. For the man who thinks that life is only an accident of chromosomes, happiness will be nothing more than a whim; but God made us to serve him on earth that we might delight in him for ever in Heaven.
Sources of temporary happiness, such as wealth and fame and pleasure, become destructive if they are indulged for their own sake. Only when wealth is used to promote goodness, and fame reflects goodness, and pleasure is taken in goodness, can they lead to happiness. Even then, they can only lead to it. The greatest happiness the "Beatific Vision", seeing forever the uncreated goodness and truth of God.
Many have satirized at the nineteenth century professor of logic, Richard Whately, who said, "Happiness is no laughing matter." I think he has had the last laugh. The happiness of which he spoke is beyond the capacity of jocularity, although the outward smile is a serene tribute to it. A great saint prayed to be spared from gloomy saints. God came to us in Christ to show us our purpose, and to lead us to it. "Take up your cross" is not a pathology of suffering for its own sake,. but a movement of the self beyond the self to reach "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him"(1 Cor. 2:9).
Fr. George W. Rutler