Sometimes it’s seems hard to be an American Catholic. The Church preaches the Cross and the Constitution preaches our right to pursue happiness. How do we reconcile the two? It’s a challenge. Let’s face it, living here in the U.S., it’s hard to avoid the bombardment of enticements for the latest toys, pleasures and conveniences. They’re attractive, after all. And having human emotions we are naturally attracted to all that’s good, beautiful and true. Pictures of that Caribbean beach vacation package are going to get our attention, especially this year as we experience the coldest temperatures on record.
Does God want us to have good things and experience happiness on this earth? I remember a line by the late Zig Ziglar, that God didn’t create all these good things for Satan’s crew. So if that’s the case, why such emphasis on sacrifice and self-denial during Lent? Shouldn’t we focus on the fact that God wants us to be happy and to give us good things?
The reality is that pleasures, when pursued for their own sake, usually fail to satisfy. If they did, Hollywood celebrities would probably use a lot less alcohol and spend a lot less time in rehab. Those that seem to have it all are so frequently the unhappiest of people.
God knows better (naturally!). God designed us in His image. “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26) Isn’t that language interesting? God referring to Himself as plural – our image? Implicit in that is that the Divine image is one of relationship – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Hence we are created for relationship – with God and with one another. Only through relationship will we find true happiness. Original sin fractured our relationship with God and strained relations with one another. Our fallen nature continues to be tempted by those shiny objects that try to pull us away from our true good.
Lent is all about restoring that relationship. It’s about taming our pride and sensual appetites that so often get in the way of that union with God and with others. It’s about overcoming the effects of original sin through the merits of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. It’s about delaying gratification for a time to enjoy the feast later. It’s an allegory of our earthly struggle…in exile and doing without for a time, journeying to paradise forever.
In short, it’s about becoming holy. (Yes, we’re all called to holiness.) The little-known secret is that the byproduct of holiness is happiness and not the other way around. Strive for holiness this Lent and every day and be surprised by the joy you’ll find.
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