A french diplomat once said: “It will work in practice but will it work in principle?” When I first read it, it struck me as a pretty cool thought. At a basic level, I think what he meant was that it can be hard to explain or understand why some things work: you have to actually make the leap of faith and do them to get that knowledge. This is true for example in simple things such as swimming: it’s only when you actually get in the water and experience it that you can understand that the water will indeed hold you up. It’s also true in our faith journey: but more on that in a minute.
In a homily to children being confirmed, Bishop Robert Barron talked about the “Big Four” things that society encourages us to pursue: power, wealth, pleasure and honor, with the implied or maybe even explicit message, that if we have enough of these four things, we will be happy. At first blush, having all of our physical and ego needs met seems to make sense and in fact sounds appealing. And yet, there are numerous TV shows and magazines that thrive on reporting the dysfunctional lives and unhappiness of people who seemingly have everything one could want. But if power, wealth and so forth, don’t make us happy, how can we know what will?
I don’t recall where I first heard it, but someone said happiness can be likened to a butterfly. You can’t force the butterfly to land on you, all you can do is be still and wait for it. In our own lives, not chasing happiness but waiting for it to “land on us”, is accomplished in large part by being faithful to our commitments, vocation or calling, even though at times our fidelity may not make sense especially in our culture’s value system. A good example might be marriage.
In marriage you commit to someone, often early in life when you may have many choices and opportunities open to you. You commit that you are willing to love that person (a concrete action not just an emotion), and that in the name of that love, you will make certain sacrifices and set aside personal preferences. Is it always easy and filled with “Hallmark Card” moments, of course not. But we know deep down, that making and living this commitment, can indeed be a path to happiness. But it only becomes truly apparent when you live it together over time.
In our christian teaching, we often hear the call to repent. Typically we construe this as lamenting the sorry state of our faith practice and the many ways we do not follow Jesus teachings. However, in my opinion, a better way to look at repentance, is to see it as a call to look in a new direction for happiness. The Big Four that society pushes at us, can appeal to our egos but to be truly happy, we need to have something that feeds our souls.
We see in John’s gospel, chapter 21, Jesus says to Peter “when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” This is Jesus predicting how Peter will glorify God with his death. But there’s a message here for all of us. And while I hope none of us end up being martyred, there is a call here to go where our ego’s may not be inclined to go. To step up to the invitation to make our lives something bigger than ourselves, so that we can find our path to happiness; taking that leap of faith to glorify God by responding to His call.