A LIFE OF JOY
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [JER 17:5-8; 1 COR 15:12, 16-20; LK 6:17, 20-26 ]
St Thomas Aquinas once said, “Man cannot live without joy; therefore, when he is deprived of true spiritual joys, it is necessary that he become addicted to carnal pleasures.” Indeed, even a theologian and monk like St Thomas Aquinas recognizes the basic need of man, which is to find joy and happiness in life. No one can live without joy or happiness. All of us seek happiness in life. Man is always afraid of suffering in all its forms, whether physical, emotional or mental. We all fear pain and seek to avoid pain and suffering as far as possible.
How can we find real happiness and joy in life? This is the theme of today’s scripture readings. There are two ways to search for happiness. One way is in individualism and self-indulgence, the other is in communitarianism and service.
The first way of individualism is that of the world. The way of the world, especially for atheists, secularists and humanists, relies on oneself. They believe that man has all the answers to the problems of the world. They do not need God, which they believe cannot be proven and therefore they dispute the existence of God. Not believing in anything beyond this earth, they only have themselves to rely on. But Jeremiah warns us, “A curse on the man who puts his trust in man, who relies on things of flesh, whose heart turns from the Lord. He is like dry scrub in the wastelands: if good comes, he has no eyes for it, he settles in the parched places of the wilderness, a salt land, uninhabited.” Those who rely on themselves will one day find that he is not that powerful and almighty after all. In the face of illness and death, he will realize his finiteness and powerlessness. Indeed, no matter how rich or powerful we may be, if we are struck by a terminal illness, even the best doctors in the world cannot cure us. When that day comes, we will realize that money, power and fame cannot save us.
Some of us put our trust in power and might, such as money, technology and influence. Again even the best technology can one day fail us. Money and influence alone cannot protect us from illness and death. Money can give us problems instead of being a help. There are people who are always seeking money from us. We do not know who are our true friends until we are poor and in need of help. People are good to us because they can get something from us. Fair weather friends are a plenty. Those of us who seek popularity and praises of men live in deep insecurity because those who praise us will condemn us when we are no longer in office or in power or are useless to them. They live in anxiety all the time, worrying how popular they are, and seeking to do things to please others and win their favour. They are slaves to public opinion. (cf Ps 33:16-20)
Some think happiness is found in worldly and sensual pleasures. Life is about enjoying and having fun without any regard for authentic love, respect for fellow human beings. Many in the world live as if there is no tomorrow. They are irresponsible and indifferent about the future of humanity and creation. All they seek is to take whatever they can from this earth but will not help creation to grow and to flourish. It is about themselves and not about others. When they indulge in the things of this world, eating, drinking, making merry, gambling, taking drugs, living a promiscuous life, they will end up living a futile life. Some will be led into crime, and fall into all kinds of addictions. Ultimately, they will destroy themselves, their body, their family and their career.
Those of us who choose the ways of the world will end up frustrated and be deprived of real happiness in life. The Lord said, “‘But alas for you who are rich. Alas for you who have your fill now: you shall go hungry. Alas for you who laugh now: you shall mourn and weep. Alas for you when the world speaks well of you!” Indeed, for those of us who are rich, thinking we have everything, these will be taken away by others, our competitors, our enemies, or illness and death. Those of us who have our fill now and never go hungry will never be able to feel with the poor or be grateful for what we have received. A man without gratitude will always be inward-looking, dissatisfied, demanding for more and more. Those of us who laugh and enjoy now, will one day mourn and weep because our self-centeredness will lead us to live an immoral life of licentiousness which will destroy our loved ones, our family, causing us to lose our job, become addicted to the things of this world, such as sex, womanising, drugs, drinking, gambling and committing all sorts of crime.
The life that the Lord wants to offer us is a blessed life. This blessed life is achieved through our solidarity with our fellowmen and with God. Happiness is to be identified with every man, especially those who are suffering, hungry, rejected and in pain. Only then will we be able to reach out in love and compassion. Jesus taught us, “How happy are you who are poor: yours is the kingdom of God. Happy you who are hungry now: you shall be satisfied. Happy you who weep now: you shall laugh. Happy are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, denounce your name as criminal, on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice when that day comes and dance for joy, for then your reward will be great in heaven.”
To be identified with our fellowmen, we need to be receptive of whatever the Lord wants to give us. Only the poor, those who recognize their limitations and finiteness will learn to trust in God and rely on Him. Those who are poor in spirit are always grateful for whatever blessings they receive in life. That is why those who are poor in Spirit are always generous towards others because they know what it means to be poor.
This is true for those who suffer much in life. When we suffer, we learn to identity with the sufferings of others. Those of us who are sick, have fallen ill, or even suffering from terminal illness, or have to look after those who are mentally and physically challenged, will know how to empathise with such people, and at the same time, thank God for their health instead of complaining about what they do not have. There are so many healthy people who are always lamenting that they do not have beautiful clothes, jewellery, positions in life, forgetting that health is the most precious of gifts. Indeed, if we have food, shelter and good health, it is more than enough for us all. What we need in life is more than just food but living a meaningful, challenging, fulfilling and enriching life.
Indeed, if we want to live a blessed life, Hellen Keller once said, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.” It is in relationship that we find meaning and happiness. Things that are free in this world and could really satisfy us are love, laughter and good relationships. That is why what we have are secondary compared to finding true friendships in life and eternal friendship with the God who never dies. It is when we reach out to others in love and service that we find real and lasting joy. To know that we have made a difference in the lives of others give us great joy. One of the best feelings in the world is to know that someone is happy because of you.
The best way to overcome our sufferings and unhappiness is by making others happy. When we are good to others, we are good to ourselves. Let us not forget that the things we do for ourselves are gone when we are gone, our wealth, power and status. But the good things we do for others remain with humanity as a legacy. That is why we must spread love everywhere we go. Let no one ever come to us without leaving happier. Let us therefore stop pushing so hard on the door looking for happiness because it opens inwards. That is why the book of Revelation tells us that Jesus is knocking at our doors. Only we can open our door to the love for people and God. We hold the keys.
In the final analysis, Jesus tells us happiness and security is found in God alone. Only with God can we love the way He loves. This is what Jeremiah advised us. “A blessing on the man who puts his trust in the Lord, with the Lord for his hope. He is like a tree by the waterside that thrusts its roots to the stream: when the heat comes it feels no alarm, its foliage stays green; it has no worries in a year of drought, and never ceases to bear fruit.” Only in God, can we find our security and refuge. This is because when we reduce love to humanitarianism, we end up frustrated, angry and bitter with the world because there will always be poor and the suffering among us. Not everyone will collaborate with us to help them and those whom we help will never think that they have enough. So we can end up in despair.
That is why, while we offer life on earth to the people we reach out to, it is but only a foretaste of the life that is to come. Jesus who is our resurrection and the life shows us that our real and ultimate life is not in this world but in God. St Paul wrote, even if we are Christians and “our hope in Christ has been for this life only, we are the most unfortunate of all people.” We cannot be living only for this world, as what worldly people who do not believe in God do. Rather, we are called to live our life for God and for our fellowmen. By so doing, we find life ourselves. In a nutshell, this means that happiness keeps us sweet, sorrows keep us human, trials keep us strong, failures keep us growing but only God can keep us going!
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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