Topics

Father Vincent Hawkswell

Pursue God, not happiness

Voices Oct. 8, 2018

People wait to enter a food pantry in the South Bronx. Those who are truly blessed, writes Father Hawkswell, “are those who have so little of this world’s wealth that they are not tempted to make it their happiness.”   (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
First Reading: Wis 7:7-11 
Second Reading: Heb 4:12-13 
Gospel Reading: Mk 10:17-30

“How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” Jesus says in this Sunday’s Gospel Reading. And along with wealth, we must include health and beauty, as the First Reading suggests. (Most of us admit that money is not everything, but many of us think that health is. “As long as you’ve got your health you’ve got everything,” we say. Expectant parents welcome their new baby “as long as it’s healthy.”)

We behave as though we have a “right” to happiness. When a man died shortly after he retired, his widow said to me, “It’s not fair. All he wanted now was time to play golf and relax. Surely that wasn’t asking too much!”

Even when we know that happiness may elude us, we still tend to make it our goal, as though we have a right to at least “the pursuit of happiness.”

Psychiatrist, writer, and lecturer Victor Frankl, who survived incarceration in four Nazi concentration camps, said in a 1975 interview, “I deem the ‘pursuit of happiness’ (to be) a contradiction in terms. Happiness can never be pursued; happiness must ensue.”

Happiness is a side effect, a byproduct, he said. “Precisely to the extent to which someone is hunting, chasing, pursuing sexual happiness or pleasure, that person is doomed to failure.” We become happy, he said, “precisely by not caring for happiness, precisely by overlooking and forgetting” whether we are happy or not.

Frankl discovered for himself the truth of what Jesus said: “He who seeks only himself brings himself to ruin, whereas he who brings himself to naught for me discovers who he is.”

God wants to give us everything he has: namely himself. However, he knows how readily we settle for less (money, power, sex). Therefore, in his mercy, he takes his lesser gifts away.

The ones who are truly blessed, therefore, are those who have so little of this world’s wealth that they are not tempted to make it their happiness: those who are poor in spirit, sorrowing, lowly, persecuted, insulted, slandered, ugly, or marginalized. Prostitutes and tax collectors will enter heaven ahead of us, Jesus said: they are in no danger of finding this world so pleasant that they forget the next.

If we are not to pursue happiness, then, what should our goal be? The Penny Catechism gives the answer: to know God, love him, and serve him in this world, trusting him for happiness in the next. If we want to be perfect, Jesus says, we will sell our worldly wealth, give the money to the poor, and follow him.

Perhaps, like the rich young man, we lack the courage. Perhaps, like parents, we have to provide for others. We may have to keep a judicious portion of our wealth.

However, we must not count on it, making our happiness depend on it. We must “sit loose” to it, accepting it from God and rejoicing in it like a child with an unexpected gift. Indeed, we should thank God most for the things we are most tempted to take for granted, like our homes, our health, or electric power.

If we are not rich in this world’s goods, we must not envy those who are, but be “poor in spirit” as well as body, for the word of God “is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart,” says the Second Reading.

This is the “spirit of wisdom” the First Reading speaks of. If we live by it, we will rejoice in God’s gifts but always look beyond them to the Giver. Then we will be rewarded “a hundredfold” here and now, and, in the future, with “eternal life.”

Indeed, with this wisdom come “all good things,” and “in her hands uncounted wealth.” For it is only when we empty our hearts of this world’s goods that God can give us himself.

Father Hawkswell teaches a free course on the Catholic faith every Monday: from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm at St. Anthony’s Parish, 2347 Inglewood Avenue, West Vancouver, and again from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm at the archdiocesan centre, 4885 Saint John Paul II Way (just off 33rd Avenue between Oak Street and Cambie Street). Everyone is welcome, Catholic or non-Catholic.