I was wandering around the Internet the other day and came upon a story that is supposedly told by one of this past century’s great philosophers- John Lennon of Beatle’s fame. In this short quote, he tells us the most important life lesson his mother ever taught him.
“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life” (John Lennon).
Happiness is a subject I have wanted to explore in a homily for some time. In fact it is an area I have been actively studying for years.
Happiness it turns out is actually a simple idea that is very difficult for most of us to fully attain. If you try to define happiness, you will soon find it is much easier to describe what it is not contrary to what it might be.
Another modern day poet PHARRELL WILLIAMS- the guy with the funny hat- took a stab at defining happiness in the number 1 song of 2014 simply called Happy. Here is the chorus:
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy……
I have no idea what he means when he says,” Happiness is a room without a roof,” because to me that is simply being outside- maybe that’s what he means? (Someone answered this for at church on Sunday- Click here for what it means!)
The second line, however, is quite interesting as it asks you to clap along if you believe happiness is the truth.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus told his followers that he was the truth. What if we took this line and adapted to read “Clap along if you feel like happiness is the Christ”.
The third line of the chorus to the song Happy asks us perhaps the most profound question of all:
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you….
That is a tough question. I see it as difficult because for people of all ages, from 7 to 107, they often set out to find what they think will make them happy only to attain it and too be disappointed that they are no happier than they were when they started down this now false path.
Was Jesus himself a happy person?
Today’s gospel reading offers us a glimpse into a potential answer to this question. In this story from Mark’s gospel, Jesus has just returned from a 40 day fast in the desert. He has learned that John the Baptist has been arrested. I suppose he would have every right to be miserable and unhappy.
We find him walking along the shores of the lake called the Sea of Galilee, and he offers up a simple invitation to two brothers in their boats- “Come follow me….”
The evangelist suggests that Simon, and his brother drop their nets and follow him. Soon after, in an even more shocking recruitment, we are told that John and James, the sons of Zebedee abandon their father to follow this itinerant preacher.
Why is this so shocking? Grown men in the time of our Lord would never consider abandoning their father, their families and their business in this manner.
Jesus continues to wander around the Sea of Galilee attracting followers to his ministry.
I would argue that the people who look at Jesus see something in him, and they say to themselves- Whatever this man has I want that for my life.
What did Jesus have that these early disciples wanted?
Could it have been that they could see in him the purest form of joy or a happiness which could be called peace?
I am convinced that Jesus was the happiest person ever to walk this earth. Many of his teachings offered lessons for us about how we can live as happy people at peace with who we are and with one another.
Here are three of Jesus’ core teachings all of which have a direct impact on our happiness:
• Love is a verb- Jesus consistently tells us that we are built to love. That sounds easy until we realize that he is not talking about love as a romantic feeling but as a very concrete verb. The love Jesus talks about has to do with the way we treat ourselves and others. Read St. Paul to Corinthians for a complete definition of what love is, and you will find that the road to happiness means we need to be: patient/ kind/ never jealous or boastful.
• The Art of Forgiveness– There will be no happiness or real peace in our life, unless we master the art of forgiveness. Why is this required? Because none of us can always love the other (or ourselves) all the time in the way, Jesus teaches us. We will hurt people and they will hurt us. Therefore, forgiveness is often times the only real route back to happiness.
• Mercy and Kindness for those we are closest to and to the stranger– Time and again Jesus encourages us to love those who are closest to us and often times this may seem to be the most natural people to love but strangely these will also be the ones, we will need to practice the Art of Forgiveness with most frequently.
Just as often, Jesus teaches us and shows us that the path to true happiness involves freely giving our love to the stranger. One of the hidden truths of giving our happiness away to those who we do not know is that it is returned to us many times over.
A paradox of sorts is that the more we actively seek happiness the farther away it gets from our grasp. When we concentrate on love/ forgiveness and mercy the more happiness seems to find us.
It is also true that there will be times of suffering and pain that will make happiness seem like only a memory. Jesus suffered greatly and one of the reasons he chose the path he did was to show us that suffering was a part of human life.
In John Chapter 14, Jesus tells the disciples that they must not fear. He knows the sadness of the passion, and the crucifixion will be more than they can handle.
He tells the gathered disciples and us that he wants to give us a present- he says Peace I give you- and then he says even more when he tells us that it is his peace he gives us.
When we choose to be one with Christ then happiness is truth. Even though we may not be worthy of this deep happiness, all we have to do is say the word and our spirit shall be healed.
The gift of true happiness which is Christ is what allows us to “Go in Peace, and we glorify our Lord by giving this happiness away freely to all we encounter”.