Brace yourselves for a huge understatement: every single human being who ever existed, exists or will exist has happiness as his/her ultimate aspiration. After a moment of reflection, some might wonder: “What about those who kill themselves; those who are self-destructive? What about those enslaved by addictions such as alcohol, drugs, pornography, gambling, greed, lust for power, violence and any other enslavement that removes or reduces freedom considerably? What about those who wallow in self-pity and seek commiseration?”
Those who reach the point of ending their life, do it thinking that it is the only way left to find relief from their unbearable pain. As far as slaves of addictions are concerned, they are the latest among timeless misguided happiness seekers.
The Gospel tells us that Jesus sought out sinners with compassion and understanding because he knew that they were simply seeking happiness in the wrong places. And those wallowing in self-pity have specific people in mind whom they hold responsible for their miseries.
On the Third Sunday of Advent, the liturgy calls for the pink candle to be lit on the wreath and for the presiding priest to wear pink vestments as exterior reminders to help us heed St. Paul’s insistent order to rejoice always. Two weeks into Advent, the Catholic Church feels the need to clarify for us, in no uncertain terms, that there is only one Source of genuine happiness: Jesus Christ, God in human flesh.
St. Paul puts this fundamental truth in the form of a command: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! [Philippians 4:4]
Our quest for joy can end successfully only in the Lord Jesus. To try to end it anywhere else, in the most favorable scenario, it would indicate foolishness or irrational stubbornness and in the worst scenario, demonic infestation. Even recently, I have been pointing out that tragedies of all kinds, senseless acts of violence, heartbreaking losses of life are warning signs that, as a group and as a nation, we are drifting away from God, from the only Source of true happiness. And even more disheartening and more foolish are the vain attempts at finding man-made substitutes that might be politically correct, trendy but faulty because they do not require any personal sacrifice.
Don’t you find it strange that the evangelist Luke reports this incident and message in countercultural and counterintuitive fashion? He writes to us, so often tempted to indulge in whatever we assume would make our life more comfortable and less challenging, that John the Baptist preached the good news to the people, when we would think him to be the sternest, harshest, the most fun-killing person in the world
And the crowds were buying that good news!
Nowadays, that brand of good news would be discarded outright. But, far from doing so ourselves, as disciples of Christ, we are actually expected to embrace it and go way beyond.
The good news was and is Jesus, God in human flesh.
Back then he was introduced into people’s lives in the rigorous setting of a desert, by a man wrapped in self-denial, frugality, sobriety, perseverance, honesty, justice, solidarity and humility. Nowadays, it is still Jesus, and only Jesus, forever and ever, but creating even more contrast between his brand of joy and the one offered by worldly sources.
The very same St. Paul charged by God with giving us the order of rejoicing in all circumstances, is the same one who preached a type of good news even more radical than the one preached by John the Baptist in the desert.
But we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. [1 Corinthians 1:23]
Yet, as individual believers and as a nation and also as a Church, we should be convinced that we can rejoice in the Lord ALONE provided that the joy we seek is the one tested and generated by self-sacrifice.
“If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” [John 15:10-12]
John the Baptist was preaching Jesus as good news by suggesting simple, down-to-earth, very doable sacrifices:
“Make do with fewer sets of clothing; share your food with the hungry; avoid being ruled by greed; be accountable, responsible and truthful; and do not expect more than you deserve.”
Called to be familiar with and to live by Jesus’ teachings we should be able to connect the dots between the fact that so many are looking for happiness away from Christ Jesus and the unsettling situation in which we find ourselves living as a nation and as a Church.
From this we should draw the conclusion that a much more intense spirit of self-sacrifice is expected of us for Jesus’ joy to reach far and wide. Not only do we have to stay clear of those venues where true happiness cannot be ever found or, if found there, it would be fleeting, but we have to live out wholeheartedly Jesus’ new commandment of finding happiness his way: through the cross and self-immolation. And, how could we possibly be happy if we ignore the victims of human trafficking, exploitation, greed, and all other forms of injustices causing sadness and so many tears?
As we set out to find lasting joy in Christ Jesus, we should let the Holy Spirit sharpen our spiritual eyesight so as to recognize the Lord our God in our midst since he is near us in the needy, the poor, the heartbroken and in all those who have yet to find lasting joy.