SFX Bulletin, 14 December 2014 Is being happy “at all times” (1 Th.5:16) truly possible? For many of us, it seems to be more a wishful dream than a real possibility. To guard against becoming cynical over the elusiveness of happiness, we often resort to various self-made “happiness principles”. For example, telling ourselves that some degree of happiness is good enough because 100% happiness is too elusive; or having a list of “happy” things to do like shopping, eating or any other activity that helps ward off the emptiness that constantly haunts us and makes us unhappy.
St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians began by reminding them of the Spirit-inspired joy they had manifested when they first welcomed the Good News. The Thessalonians were so faith-filled that they became “a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia” (1 Th. 1:7). However, persecution over their conversion to Christianity had caused some to begin to doubt that Jesus would ever return in a Second Coming so that they could “be with the Lord forever” (1 Th. 4:17). St. Paul, therefore reminded them to hold fast to Jesus’ promise and continue living holy lives steeped in prayer and thanksgiving, “…pray constantly, and for all things give thanks to God, because this is what God expects you to do in Christ Jesus” (1 Th. 5:17-18).
St. Paul’s remedy for doubt and unhappiness seems to be founded on “praying constantly” - but is the answer to lasting happiness really so simple? Can prayer really be that powerful?
The Catechism says that prayer is “a vital necessity. Prayer and Christian life are inseparable” (CCC2575). 4th century Christian monk, Evagrius Ponticus, wrote in his guide to the ascetic life, “we have not been commanded to work, to keep watch and to fast constantly, but it has been laid down that we are to pray without ceasing” (Pract. 49; CCC2742). Even when God seems to be taking too long to answer our prayer, Evagrius says, “Do not be troubled if you do not immediately receive from God what you ask him; for he desires to do something even greater for you, while you cling to him in prayer”.
We are encouraged to bring every joy and suffering, every event and need to prayer. But over and above our spontaneous outpouring, the Church asks us to learn how to pray by using Scripture, “prayer should accompany the reading of sacred Scripture, so that a dialogue takes place between God and man. For, ‘we speak to him when we pray; we listen to him when we read the divine oracles”’ (CCC2653; St. Ambrose). Reading, meditating and contemplating the events and words of salvation - opens our hearts to grasp “spiritual realities” that give us true joy in knowing how God has shared his life with us through our baptism into Christ (Gal.3:27).
On this “Gaudete” or “Rejoice” Sunday, let us renew our efforts to let sacred Scripture lead us to cherish Jesus’ “garment of salvation” and “cloak of integrity” – the sacramental gifts that keep us “perfect and holy…safe and blameless, spirit, soul and body for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th. 5:23) .
May we not suppress the gift of God’s Spirit by allowing pastimes to be substitutes for true happiness, “…in the…frenetic pace of daily life it is important to find time for rest and relaxation, but true joy is not diversion, shirking the commitments of life and one’s responsibilities. True joy is…linked to our relationship with God. Those who have encountered Christ…feel a serenity and joy in their hearts that no one and no situation can take from them” (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Angelus, 11 Dec. 2011). May prayerful reading of Scripture help us grasp spiritual realities that make us so “happy at all times” that we desire to be witnesses for Christ like John the Baptist, testifying for the Incarnate Jesus who was born to destroy death on the cross so that we may have eternal life with our Risen Lord.