CHOOSING THE GOOD LIFE OR THE GOD LIFE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [1 KGS 17:1-6; MT 5:1-12 ]
It is natural for us all to seek happiness in life. We all desire to be happy. No one wants to suffer, be deprived, or be incomplete. We seek fulfillment in life. The two most important questions we need to ask to find happiness is firstly, what is true happiness, and secondly, how do we attain true happiness? Unless we are clear of what happiness is, we will look for it in the wrong places. The real cause of unrealized happiness among many peoples is because they do not know what real happiness entails and therefore they search in the wrong places.
We are promised two ways to happiness. We can choose the good life or the God-life. The world promises us a good life. This is the mantra sung by all governments and corporate organizations. Elect me! Follow me and you will have a good life. However, what does this so-called good life consist of?
Happiness is defined as pleasures fulfilled. A good life is a growing economy, a bullish stock market, a city of fun and entertainment, sumptuous food, luxurious living, minimum working hours and holidays abroad. It is an illusion to think that when we have all the pleasures of this world, we will be happy and fulfilled. We forget that we are not just animals. As human beings, we have a spirit that seeks emotional, affective and spiritual needs. If happiness is defined as pleasure, then happiness is only for the rich and wealthy. So having more money and possessions is what will bring us happiness. Deceived into believing so, we seek to have more money, wealth and possessions because these will bring us happiness.
Secondly, happiness is defined in terms of glory and popularity. This means that if we are honoured, well known, popular and recognized, we will find happiness and fulfillment. To achieve this, we must dress well, wear expensive jewelry and clothes, and keep ourselves always looking young and attractive. Beyond physical beauty, we must display knowledge and eloquence, so that we can gain attention and admiration from others. Glory, therefore, means that we need to work hard, achieve many things in life, chase after academic degrees, public honours and recognition for our work, show success in whatever we do. Little do we realize that our life has no peace and joy because we will always worry about what people say and think of us. We live in anxiety and insecurity that society will forget us and we will no longer be important in the world. So it is ambition, achievements and success that will drive us to work day and night. As a result, some never get to enjoy life, be able to relax or have beautiful relationships because they are busy chasing after glory, achievements and success.
Thirdly, happiness is defined in terms of power. This desire for power has to do with absolute freedom. We want to control our lives and the lives of others. We want the power to do whatever we like. The more power we have, the greater is our freedom. We do not like God because we feel that He takes away our freedom to do what we want. We also do not want others to control us. We like to be our own boss and even that of others. Although we do not like to be controlled, we want to control others and dictate how they should live their lives. We desire control over others, not to serve them but to make use of them to serve our interests. So all the time, we are competing with others for power; whether in politics, business, or even in church. Yet, we fail to realize that no one is so powerful in this life that he or she can stay in power all the time. Those whom we think are powerful are actually being manipulated by their subordinates because, without them, the leader is nothing. The leader by himself cannot make things happen. He needs the support of his cronies and fans to put him in power. A leader is often at the mercy of those who support him. He is actually a slave to his many supporters and seeks to please them. Those elected are obligated to those who help to put them in power.
In contrast, the gospel offers us true happiness. What is true happiness in the understanding of our Lord? It is to live a godly life. If it is a godly life, it will always be a good life. What is a godly life? It is a life of compassion. Passion and compassion are what make us truly human. When we are compassionate towards our fellowmen, we are in touch with our humanity and with our human feelings. Our compassion for the sufferings of our brothers and sisters will give us the passion and impetus to help them. This is what the Lord said in the beatitudes. “Happy those who mourn. Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right. Happy the merciful. Happy the peacemakers.” Compassion means having a common passion; being identified with our fellowmen. Jesus is a man known for His compassion for the suffering, the sick, the possessed and the poor. Doing good, serving the poor and fighting for justice on behalf of the oppressed gives us a joy that cannot be described because we feel liberated and our hearts are enlarged.
Secondly, a godly life is a life lived virtuously. It is a life lived in honesty and integrity. Jesus said, “Happy the gentle: they shall have the earth for their heritage. Happy the pure in heart: they shall see God.” To live virtuously is to live the life of the Spirit. St Paul speaks of the fruits of a godly life. He compares those who live a worldly life with those who live the life of the Spirit. “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” (Gal 5:19-23)
Thirdly, a godly life is one of right relationship with others and with God. What gives us meaning in life is ultimately loving and caring relationships. This is why even many who are successful live empty lives because in pursuing success and achievements, they have no time for loving relationships. Their goal is to make more money, make a name for themselves, to be recognized and be famous, to have power, but they do not have good friends to be with to enjoy the beauty of love. Having no time for friendship and even for their families, they are alienated. They feel alone, with no one to share their success, luxuries, wealth and happiness. Hence the Lord said that it is only when we mourn with others, show mercy to each other, live in peace and love, that we are called sons of God.
In the final analysis, ultimate happiness is to see God. Jesus said, “Happy the pure in heart: they shall see God.” This is called the beatific vision, which is what can truly fulfill us. Only when we see God face to face, can all desires cease because to find Him is to find everything. All cravings stop when we see the Lord. St John says, “when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” (1 Jn 3:2f) Only because of this certainty of seeing God, are we ready to suffer persecution on account of His name, for “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Today, Elijah the prophet shows us what a blessed life is. He was sent to remind King Ahab where true happiness and security lies. Under his reign, the country was prosperous and his military might was growing in strength. He did not trust in Yahweh. Instead, he placed his faith in his military might, wealth, and in Baal, the god of fecundity, to bring rain to the crops, and life to the people. Instead of worshipping Yahweh, who is the creator, they worshipped Baal whom they thought to be the creator and the one who ensured fertility. Ahab lacked the poverty of spirit. He relied too much on himself, his power and his gods. So God sent Elijah to teach him that the only creator is Yahweh, and no one else. He had Elijah to call upon heaven to stop the rain for three and a half years. Imagine the disaster inflicted on the economy and the people! Just after a couple of months of lockdown and our world is near collapsing, not to speak of three years without economic activity! Their economy would be in total wreck, bringing their world to a standstill.
However, because Elijah was poor in spirit, the Lord protected him by sending him away from King Ahab who was furious with him and wanted to kill him. The Lord hid Elijah near a remote stream and sent the ravens to supply him food. Indeed, the Lord said, “How happy are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Relying on God and living a life of integrity and service, and in right relationship with God and our fellowmen, is what a blessed life is all about. Elijah’s is the example of a blessed life; a life lived in God’s protection and a life of integrity. He lived the life of the beatitudes as taught by our Lord in the gospel.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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