Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Finding Happiness

I know (and pray for) many people who have deep pain, suffering and/or unhappiness in their lives.  Conversations with them easily drift into the problems and the unfairness of the life they notice and focus on every day.  Conversations with them sometimes become somewhat one-way, because I can’t very well respond with how much joy I find in my own life.  They don’t understand my thoughts, or at best would dismiss my explanations of joy with: “Well, you are blessed.”  And they can’t conceive that they could be too.
I love Fr. Spitzer’s description of the four levels of happiness.  I’m reading references to them again in his latest book.  He tells of the joy that comes to those in the higher levels of happiness --- and it is very well explained, and perhaps many who would read his words would desire that fuller joy of happiness, but something not easily taken to heart in his words is the fact that wanting happiness and achieving it are two very different things.  When you want a higher level of happiness, really want it, you are at a state of saying: “Is this all there is?”  Or perhaps you can even reach a state of introspection where you can honestly say to yourself: “I’m not happy.”  If you are married, you may say it to your spouse --- I had it said to me.  Maybe you say those words to a co-worker or a close friend.  Maybe you even say them to God.  If you do, that’s a start, looking honestly where you’re at, not being content to stay there and even voicing it aloud to re-enforce the thought.  You want change.
You are beginning to see one of the bits of wisdom God has instilled in my heart.  I’ve lived a long life; read many words of men and women way wiser than I, and I have heard God’s words making sense of it all for me.  And, and here is a key point:  I can live out all that wisdom that I have seen and heard.  It was not just words of happiness as applied to others; I worked for it and found it for myself.  I deserved it.
If you find yourself at a point of wanting more happiness, you need to realize a most critical point:  happiness is a place; it is a place in your heart --- to be sure --- but it is still a place of being.  And if you can come to realize that you are not happy, and can accept that happiness is a place, then you need to realize something else:  you aren’t there.  Now if you wanted to be in Hawaii and looked around you and saw the Empire State Building or the Eiffel Tower, you would know that you are not in Hawaii, AND you’d know that to get to Hawaii you have to get off your butt and take steps to get there.  Finding happiness is achieved the same way.  You can’t say “I’m not happy” and expect happiness to come to you, OR expect someone to bring it to you.  You’ve got to take steps to get there, and, and, and, and, AND --- realize you won’t get there soon.  It is a journey to get to that place.
The book I’m reading right now by Fr. Spitzer concerns suffering, and finding the light that shines in the darkness (I’ll write a summary review on it soon).  In a way, deep suffering is an unhappiness, and it is natural to want it to end.  Fr. Spitzer spends over 500 pages explaining how to end deep suffering, which is, in many cases, learning how to live with it, by changing your heart.  This isn’t just covering over your sufferings, making believe they don’t exist, but it is not making them a major focus of your life.
Now you might say: “My unhappiness is that thing or that person, and it is not going away, and I can’t move away from it.”  That’s like saying I have this wreck of a car, but I can’t fix it.  You’ve got to want happiness; you’ve got to want reliable transportation.  Focus on that, not the current situation.  Perhaps you can buy a new car, lease one, call Uber, or ask your neighbor for a ride.  The junker may be sitting in your yard where you can still see it every day, but you can find a newer, higher satisfaction, higher happiness state.  But, like traveling to Hawaii, you have to get of your butt and take steps to get there.  And persist; it will take time.
There are many ways to get to higher levels of happiness.  Fr. Spitzer explains some; the Bible has some.  And you’ll find some in the quiet of the chapel, talking to God.  Persist in your looking.  Change your ways of living as these sources suggest, and persist in your change.
Spitzer explains how higher levels of happiness are exemplified by moving from caring about yourself and your wants and needs, to caring about others --- and finding happiness in doing that.  It sounds too simple: “I’ll just dump my life and live with the poor.”  In fact, Jesus asked exactly that of the rich man; Mother Teresa did that when she went to Calcutta, and I personally know others who did just that too.  And they are very happy.  But that way of achieving a higher level of happiness is not meant for everyone; there are many paths.  No, most of us cannot be teleported to Hawaii, or even get on a jet to get there --- the way is usually not that fast or direct.
We have to go out the door in a different direction and take steps, lots of them, and open our hearts beyond our own unhappiness, to focus on loving others.  Acting with a loving heart is important for happiness.  “If I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor,” says St. Paul, “and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (I Cor 13:3).  And even as heaven and eternal happiness awaits us, so does earthly happiness.  It is there for everyone to achieve ---- to work to achieve.
I’ve gotten a long way forward on my journey to happiness.  It’s taken a long time to get there.  If you have not begun it, I pray you begin your journey soon.  Prayer is one of the few things common to all progress toward happiness; you must speak to God along the journey, call His Holy Spirit to be with you.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant in her womb leaped for joy,
and she was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Today, in the Catholic Church, is the feast day celebrating Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth.  The Scripture describing their meeting notes that as Mary, and the tiniest infant Jesus in her womb, neared Elizabeth, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  Pentecost will be celebrated this Sunday; the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Getting the tiniest bit of Jesus near her caused Elizabeth to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Try getting a little of Jesus near you, too, and pray: “Come, Holy Spirit.”
Once again, you have to start on the road to happiness sometime.  Why not today?  At least in the Catholic Church, the signs seem to be right for a change to the better.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Review: Chance or Purpose?

Cardinal Schonborn recognizes that many stubborn debates occur because two sides do not take the time to fully understand the facts and logic of the other’s position.  As a result, they often come to assume the other person is stupid (we see that today in Congress).  This book lays out the facts and logic of the creation vs evolution debate, and Schonborn shows that
neither side is stupid, and that the heart of the debate rests on whether you believe all material existence is just chance, or is imbued with purpose.  Put another way:  Does your life matter?

While the good Cardinal does spend considerable time explaining the origins and philosophies of the science of evolution, he spends most of the book explaining what is meant by creation --- it is a unique term in the Bible, since everything science measures consists of changes in existing things, but there are no clear measures for anything that is non-material, including creation from nothing, and such things as beauty and virtue.  Schonborn cites many scientists, philosophers and theologians to explain how faith and science SHOULD readily co-exist.

For anyone who is a deist, who believes there is some type of God, Schonborn offers a wonderful concluding point:  “Contrary to reason, to view this grandiose pieta of life up to man as being an exclusively random process (implies that) God himself could not know for certain that man would be the product of evolution --- nonsense!”

This is a good book for college students, and for thinking minds.  (Oh well, I guess that DOES exclude some college students). 

Review: Littlest Suffering Souls

“There will be saints among the children,” said Pope Pius X, and he lowered the age for First Holy Communion because of a 4-year old’s desire to receive Jesus.  It wasn’t until 1981, however, that the Church began considering non-martyred children for sainthood, as shown in the recent example of the children of Fatima.

The half dozen stories in this book are of young disease-ridden children who suffered much and died, willingly, for Jesus.  These children intensely loved God, accepted sufferings, and in their short lives made their families, communities, and the world a better place.  These are sad stories – you will cry – but these are good stories.  Everyone around these children didn’t pity them, but felt loved by them.  And through them God worked miracles.

St Paul writes (Col 1:24), and the Catholic Church affirms, that we can unite our sufferings to Christ’s on the cross.  It’s why there is a corpus on the crucifix, and we recognize Christ’s death as not only pain and suffering, but also as a deep enduring love.  These children demonstrated that type of love in their short lives.  These are wonderful stories, but they were written to remind us to look around; there are more examples of God’s love around us, even in suffering, if we’d but look.