How to Find Happiness Through Holiness
"Happiness in the world has only one equal—that is holiness, and that is not for us to attain unless we see Jesus in His creations and learn appreciation—that is holiness. Peace and fear cannot dwell together—one or the other will win— which do you choose? I asked a friend, 'Are you happy?' The friend’s eyes turned to me, and there I read the answer: 'Happy only vaguely—for I am selfish and self-absorbed rather than giving Christ my entire self to do with as He wills.'" —Gems by Cora Evans
Happiness Is Immaterial
Cora Evans reflects that our happiness in this world equals our holiness––“our ability to see Jesus in His creations and learn appreciation.” As Christians we have learned that the pursuit of happiness through material possessions cannot fulfill us. Many of us feel that our daily lives are not ordered towards material possessions for this reason. However, we remember that material goods should be recognized as blessings that reflect God's own goodness. If we live relatively moderate lives then, and enjoy the blessings God gives to us, we may wonder why we feel “happy only vaguely.” Yet this state of pseudo-happiness is evident in our daily lives. It is present though we are not desperately seeking a life of luxury.
Cora's words seem to point to subtler ways we cling to ourselves and our material wellbeing. This reality is perhaps most evident when examining things that ought to be sources of joy in our lives. For instance, perhaps we find it difficult to truly enjoy the company of family, listen attentively to friends, or give significant time to silence and prayer. In these discontented moments, we often find ourselves seeking some small comfort or distraction––we turn to thinking of ourselves while we should be listening. We feel exhausted giving even half of our attention to another, perhaps constantly checking our phones for texts or social media notifications. These could be symptoms of this 'vague happiness' that Cora writes about.
Fear Precludes Happiness
Of course, many people do give abundantly of themselves in a variety of ways, especially those working to raise and support families. After a long day, week, month, after we have been spread thin for what feels like an interminable amount of time, it may seem as though we will lose our small semblance of comfort if we submit to this entire gift of self to Christ. And we fear this. We fear what love like this may demand of us. We fear that we might be asked to sacrifice certain desires or comforts. And as long as we fear this, our fears and anxieties prevent us from dwelling in the deep peace and trust that reign when we hand ourselves over to Christ. This less-than-replete happiness is caused by an intense awareness of the desires of self, which makes us self-absorbed. We must realize that this very selfishness is the root of the fears that emerge in our daily lives and fragment our happiness.
Pope Benedict XVI expanded on the words of the late St. John Paul II in his 2005 Easter homily, saying, “Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again [John Paul] said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.”
Seeing Christ in Others
It is understandable that we cling tightly to the few comforts we feel we still have. But in doing so, we withhold ourselves from Christ. Even in small moments of our day, we lose an interior “willingness” to let Him reign in our hearts, to give Him our whole being. By clinging so desperately to ourselves and what we feel we want and deserve, we can lose the ability to even listen to our friends or be present to and wonder about the thoughts, the joys, the hopes and sorrows of the individual members of our family. We lose sight of and appreciation for the blessings that the Lord places in our days. Cora's reflection calls us to put entitlement and dissatisfaction aside so that we may express gratitude to God, remembering that all we have was freely given to us, undeservng as we are. Let us ask for the grace to see Christ in them even in the face of exhaustion and weariness that work, finances, family affairs, and all the rest can cause us. And as God's grace guides us in this, as we begin to see Christ in His creatures and to love them for their own sake, they will also become the source of a deep joy and contentment that we find in the face of fear and sadness.