Our readings today speak about something that is of supreme importance. They speak of the deepest desire of every human heart – happiness. All our life is spent in pursuit of happiness. Every act we do is ultimately aimed at gaining happiness. Everyone goes his way in search of it. In the end, some find it, while others don’t. What is happiness?
In the gospel, Jesus teaches the beatitudes as a way of happiness that transcends every difficulty and suffering in this present life. The word beatitude literally means blessedness or happiness. Jesus declares that a man can be happy even when he is poor, hungry, mournful or despised. Likewise, a man can be cursed even while he is rich, full, content and well-regarded. What constitutes happiness?
Jeremiah offers an answer in the first reading. Using the image of the tree, he describes the traditional “two ways of life,” often mentioned in the scriptures. The first way is taken by “one who trusts in human beings.” He is cursed, like a barren bush in the desert, all wasted and dried up. The second way is taken by “one who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord.” He is blessed, like a tree planted beside the waters. Because its roots stretch out to the stream, its leaves remain green, and it continues to bear fruit even in time of drought. This imagery is re-echoed in the responsorial psalm.
The first way is the way of woe. “Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord.” Putting one’s trust in what is human does not ensure happiness for what is material and fleeting is unable to give hope. It only leads to frustration and failure.
The second is the way of happiness. “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord.” True happiness can only come from trust in God. This means total surrender of one’s life to him. For when our life is in God’s hands, what greater security can we have? We may pass through days of hunger, sorrow and distress, but being grounded in him, we know that we can withstand all passing trials.
“Do not fear… you are mine. When you pass through waters, I will be with you; through rivers, you shall not be swept away. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, nor will flames consume you.” (Is 43:1-2)
We see this all around us. We read stories of men and women, great in the eyes of the world, who are rich, famous, and powerful but are also the most unhappy people in society. On the other hand, we know of people (and there are many close to us), who may not have the best opportunities in life, but are blessed with relationships that are life-giving. Blessed with peace of mind, they sleep soundly at night.
The beatitudes strike at the very heart of Jesus’ teaching. Often referred to as “the gospel within the gospel”, they provide the framework of Christian discipleship. The beatitudes bring into contrast the radical difference between the values of the kingdom of God and those of the world. This means that as disciples of the beatitudes, we are called not to be first in the world, but in the eyes of God.
The saintly Padre Pio has a simple way of teaching all this to ordinary people through his exhortation, “Pray, don’t worry and be happy.”
PRAY, meaning re-connect with God and surrender everything to him. DON’T WORRY because you are now in his hands. BE HAPPY! How else can you be?