Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Attaining True Happiness Through the Cross

'Letting Go' of the Grain of our Life

Nothing happens to a grain if one holds onto it. It remains pent-up with the potential to sprout, but this potential remains unleashed. It is only when one let's go of a grain and surrenders it to the soil that its potential can now be unleashed –the grain can now sprout and bear life, yielding a harvest to feast upon and enjoy.

It is the same with our life. For if we hold onto our life, seeking to be the master’s and arbitrators of it, seeking to control and manipulate our existence, then we are not really living at all, for our life remains restrained –full of potential yes, but repressed by the firm grasp we have on it. Just as a grain remains unfulfilled so long as it remains in the grasp of a hand, or in storage in some place, so too our life remains unfulfilled if we maintain our grasp of control on it. For it is only when we let go of our life, when we let go of our desire to control our life, to get what we want, and to do what we want to do, that we truly start to live. For if we let go of our life and our plans for it, and surrender it to God and to His plans for our life, then our life starts to sprout in remarkable ways –the potential we are all born with is released, and as we journey we begin to yield a harvest of good works flavoured with the richness of love, whereby “some [yield] a hundred fold, others sixtyfold, some thirtyfold” (Mt 13:8).

This is one of the meanings of the words of our Lord:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (Jn 12:24-25).

The Wisdom of the World & Our Inner Empty Void

“The wisdom of this world is foolishness to God” (1 Cor 3:19), and such pseudo wisdom scorns Jesus' message of self-renunciation, for the world says our life is our own, that our life is ours and ours alone –that we are the masters of our existence and that we ought to be in control of our lifestyles –that we should do what we want, how we want to and when we want to. Sounds appealing doesn’t it? That’s the problem, it does. For it tickles the whims of our fallen nature which loves the idea that we our gods unto ourselves. However everyone knows, at least deep down, that true happiness is never found when we are the ones who orchestrate our lives and our lifestyles, for despite having employed ourselves as the CEO’s of our existence we always remain yearning for something more, something deeper, something more meaningful. We all have this craving for that something  which will make us happy, because we all have an inner void within which makes us feel incomplete and secretly lonely even when we our surrounded by a thousand friends, or by our very soul mate. The world says we need more things, or that someone special, or more experiences such as skydiving, more sex, or more money to ‘fill this void’. Yet anyone who has tried following this advice of the world cannot help but realise that despite ‘getting all these things’, that despite ‘finding that someone special’, and that despite ‘experiencing so many countless experiences’, that we are still not totally satisfied, not truly happy –mildly content maybe, comfortable even, but not happy, not complete.

The Wisdom of the Cross & Filling Our Inner Void

The wisdom of God, as St. Paul says, is the mystery of the Cross (1 Cor 1:17-19), which is the mystery of Jesus Christ who as God humbled Himself to be born of the Virgin Mary, who lived among us, worked among us, founded His Church –His Family – on Peter the first Pope and the Apostles, and who suffered and died on the Cross in order to pay the debt of our sins. For we couldn’t pay such a debt, for to offend an infinite God is to create an infinite debt, and how could we as finite beings pay an infinite debt? We could not. Yet it was humanity who sinned in the beginning, and so justice demanded that humanity had to pay this debt, and so how could we if we couldn’t? This is why the infinite God became man, because as both man and God, He –Jesus Christ – could pay this debt on our behalf by dying on the Cross in our stead, therefore purchasing our souls from death and sin by the currency of the blood He shed (1 Cor 6:20).

So what does this wisdom of God say, what does the Cross say about how we are to ‘fill this void’ and find perfect happiness? In Christ Jesus, by believing in Him and by adhering to His teachings. Why? Because the ‘inner void’ we all have is our yearning for the God who made us, the God who we were created to be in relationship with; this is why nothing but union with Him can fill us with that perfect happiness, with “that peace which the world cannot give” (Jn 14:27). This is why we need Jesus because He Himself said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” (Jn 14:6). Finding Perfect Happiness, in other words, finding God Himself who is the very Happiness we all crave for, is thus made possible when we enter into a relationship with Jesus and thus with God. It’s so simple and yet we tend to complicate everything. “All We Need is Love” sing ‘The Beatles’, and this is so true, yet to make this statement bold and true we can say: “All We Need is Jesus”.

It sounds trite unfortunately –“All We Need is Jesus”- and that’s an accomplishment of the devil who has hardened the heart of western society with pride to spurn Christianity, to spurn belief in Jesus and to renounce such belief as lame –but it is true, if we want to be happy, truly and perfectly happy then all we need is Jesus. For Jesus died on the Cross for us, for you and me, and why did He do this? Jesus Himself gives us His answer when He says: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10); in other words, He came to make us happy. But He did not come to make us happy with the kind of happiness that consists in fleeting ‘feel good emotions’ that one can purchase from a drug dealer or from a summer time infatuation, but the kind of happiness that is real and has substance, the kind of happiness that Christ Jesus Himself still had, even when He was hanging naked on the Cross –ashamed, humiliated, bruised, beaten, rejected by the one’s He loved, and trembling with pain, the physical of which was the least.

Attaining True Happiness

 What was this happiness that Jesus had even in the midst of such evil, suffering and certain death? It was the happiness of being filled with the Father’s love, and of knowing that nothing could separate Him from this. Again we are not speaking of an emotional happiness because Christ would have emotionally felt anything but this, but we are speaking of a secret and interior happiness deep within the soul; a happiness Christ enjoyed beyond all since being both God and Man He always beheld the bliss of the Godhead –the beatific vision - before Him.[1] So how can we enjoy such happiness? We must first realise that our many attempts of seeking happiness in the world have failed, that even our dearest and most loved ones cannot complete us – that we need something more. We then need the gift of faith, which we can always ask God for, to believe that this something more is actually a Someone More who is Jesus –“the way, the truth, and the life” –the wellspring and source of happiness.

We then need to listen to the wisdom of God, that is to the voice of Jesus proclaimed in the Gospels, whispered to us from the Blessed Sacrament, disguised in our struggling brethren, and echoing to us within our very own hearts; a voice which we can only hear in silent prayer. We must then follow such a voice as sheep who follow their shepherd to new pastures, yet it will require us to let go of the pastures we know and our comfortable with, it will require us to reshape our life and our way of thinking. Ultimately we will need to let go of our lives and surrender our agendas to God, asking that He would take over, that He would do with us as He please –and how could we resist such surrender when we know that God is perfect and good, and that He who is Happiness Itself merely wants to lead us along a path that brings us nearer and closer to Him, which is nearer and closer to happiness. “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer 29:11). Thus we shouldn’t fear to say yes with our ‘fiat’ to God like Mary, to let Him guide our lives and lifestyles in accordance with His designs. With Mary’s own words we should constantly say: “Let it be done unto me according to Thy Word” (Lk 1:38). However if we foolishly withhold the total surrender of our lives to God we will be like someone who sits and stares at a grain within the palm of their hand –waiting for it to grow and to yield a harvest –kidding themselves that eventually it will sprout.

Now Happiness (i.e. God Himself), was made flesh in Christ Jesus, and He wants to lead us to this happiness and thus He says: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Lk 9:23). It sounds humanly absurd doesn’t it? Fot the fake, temporary and non-existent happiness of the world would say: “If any man would come after me, let him please himself and run away from all sufferings every day and follow me.” Yet this is not what Jesus says, and no mere man could formulate a teaching so challenging, seemingly insane, and yet…true. Take a mother who gives birth to her child, at first she is screaming, crying, clenching her fists in agony, and then her baby is born and though she suffers, when she beholds her baby’s face she is filled with such happiness and is meanwhile glad to have suffered as she holds her baby for the first time. If one were to ask this mother if she would exchange those pains for the child, she would choose the pains any day –such is a mother’s love, and such is the happiness born through pain. So how much more does this apply to the mystery of the Cross, and to the call of our Lord to deny ourselves and to take up our cross daily and to follow him? For whilst a mother suffers willingly in order to hold her bundle of joy, her bundle of happiness in her arms, those who heed our Lords words and suffer willingly, do so in order to be held in the arms of God, who infuses into such persons a happiness which nothing can disturb. This is what Pater speaks of when He says: “Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy.” (1 Pet 1:8). True, many Christians look like ‘sour pusses’ as Pope Francis says, and maybe we’ve been guilty of that too, but this is not God’s fault, it is because we have grown lukewarm, having lost touch with that heavenly joy by seeking instead the easy way of seeking happiness apart from Christ and apart from the Cross –for the two are inseparable. However if we stick to Christ and to the Cross, then we will be filled with true and perfect happiness and people will marvel and wonder at ‘what we have’ that they don’t.

This brings us to an essential point. Christianity without the Cross is nothing but a useless ‘feel good’ philosophy –for the Cross is the very heart of Christianity. Yet how often do we complicate our quest for happiness even as Christians when we try and find novel ways of following Christ without the Cross. It is ludicrous when we do this but we often fall into this trap every day in various ways. We prefer to get our own will in trivial matters, instead of letting others have the victory. We prefer financial security instead of open generosity. We prefer to live how we want with minimal sacrifices; often saying to ourselves ‘you deserve a break’, or ‘you’ve done your time’ –yet Christ doesn’t say pick up your Cross once in a blue moon, or every second Tuesday, or to reminisce about how we have carried some cross twenty years ago; He asks us to pick up our cross daily and to follow Him. There’s no ‘magic solution’ or ‘novel method’ to change our lives and to bring about happiness –in fact anyone claiming such is a false-prophet of the anti-gospel. For as our Lord reveals to St. Catherine of Siena in The Dialogue the truth is that there is one bridge and all who seek to attain everlasting happiness must walk across this bridge, and this bridge is Christ and the Cross. Thus whilst our Lord says “no one can come to the Father except through me”, it is also true that ‘no one can attain perfect happiness except through the Cross.’

The example of a mother who embraces the cross of birth pangs in order to attain the joy of her child testifies to this truth; as does the willingness people have to suffer all sorts of crosses in order to impress, win over and woo the one they love. Yet poignant is the consideration of the Virgin Mary, for knowing God's love and being filled with It like no other, She would have been the happiest creature to ever have lived, and yet at the same time because of this swelling of love, after Jesus She would have suffered the most out of any other creature ever to have lived. From these natural examples of mothers and lovers we learn that joy and sorrows go hand in hand in this life, with their single source in human love; whilst the supernatural example of God operating in the life of our Lady teaches us that whilst sorrow and joy share their source in divine love in this life, such sorrow is temporary whilst such joy is eternal -yet this true happiness is in equal measure to the sorrows suffered. Thus in divine love -not mere human love- the greater one's bitterness in this life, the greater one's happiness in this life, and even more so in the life to come.

Making Use of our Crosses

 But what is the Cross? How can we pick it up daily if we don’t even know what it is? Let’s not worry about that too much, for there’s plenty of let downs, hardships, struggles, pain and grief which we will experience in life. Living the Christian life itself is a cross, believing in God in a secularist society, being Catholic, seeking to follow God's Will and not one's own, living out one's daily duties as a married person with a spouse and family, or as a single person, priest, nun or friar; these are all crosses. And if –despite complaints, moans and the confusion of why this is happening to us and to others – we can accept such crosses and give thanks for them at the end of the day then we will be following Christ and can be certain that we possess that lasting happiness within –a foretaste of eternal bliss to come. Not only this, we can be certain that our crosses aren’t going to waste if we embrace them in thanksgiving to God. Sure we’ll spit the dummy on occasion and St. Teresa herself said to God after injuring her leg: “Lord…Why would you let this happen?” And the response Jesus gave to her was: “This is how I treat my friends.” With Teresa humorously replying: “That must be why you have so few of them!” So even in our struggle to embrace our Cross –which consists of countless little crosses - we ought to thank God for such occasions –even if we think it absurd to do so; for then such crosses can serve to sanctify our soul, store up treasure in heaven, help God in the work of saving souls, and bring relief to the souls in purgatory. 

This sharing in the redemptive work of Christ is related by St. Paul when concerning his own sufferings he writes: I "now rejoice in my sufferings for you and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church." (Col 1:24). We too like Paul can carry out this co-redeeming mission; of course what we do is worthless, but in, with and through Christ by the Spirit's grace, our worthless pains can become infinite in value. Our Lady the Co-Redemptrix did this perfectly by suffering in union with Her Son, and so if we wish to be perfect we ought to join our pangs to Mary's and She will adorn them with the Blood of Christ making them even more valuable then if we simply offered up our crosses on our own. So next time we stub out toe let us thank God for such a jolly occasion, and 'offer it up'. This doesn't mean we become masochist's delighting in pain for pain's sake, or commit self-harm; it means that when sufferings come our way and fall in our lap let us make use of them. If we have a cold let us unite it to the Cross of Jesus and ask that such a cold would serve to relieve the souls in purgatory. If we suffer anxiety let us unite it to the anxiety suffered in the humanity of Christ so as to repair for our sins, and the sins of the world. If we are stuck in traffic let us pray that God's own Divine Patience would flow through us so as to repair for those who lose their temper and blaspheme in similar situations. And if we suffer interiorly by experiencing dryness in prayer, let us thank God for bringing us to share in the Cross and ask Him to forgive those who abandon prayer when prayer becomes difficult. Suffering is pointless without an understanding of Christ and the Cross, but with such an understanding suffering itself becomes rich with meaning and an opportunity for human and supernatural growth.

The Problem of Suffering in the World

We mustn’t think however that sufferings are ‘crafted by God’ and sent upon us; for God is all Good –He would never do this and it is in fact against His nature. God merely permits such crosses to come upon the world and upon us, with such crosses crafted by original sin, our own sins, the sins of others, and the devil; with God permitting these crosses to come with the view of saving and sanctifying souls in mind. The mystery of suffering and evil in the world is no simple thing, and there’s no time to enumerate upon it here –but if we take the eyes of Christ which sees everything in the consideration of the eternal, and if we look to the Cross and mediate upon the Passion of Christ daily, we will come to understand that God is good and incapable of evil, and that crosses are opportunities to grow in love and holiness, and even to put pennies in the heavenly piggy bank. Of course we’re called to carry our own crosses, but at the same time we are called to lift the burden from our neighbour’s back.

The Happiness of the One who Embraces Their Cross

“A servant is not greater than his master” (Jn 15:20), thus if Christ suffered so must we who follow Him, but "blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Mt 5:4), and blessed are they who suffer for love of Christ, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:10). For if a mother can bravely bear the cross of giving birth in order to reap the fruit of the happiness who is their child; then cannot we by God’s grace bravely bear the crosses of this life, of walking the hard and narrow road of faith in a world that mocks us as deluded fools, in order to reap the fruit of the happiness of eternal life? And if someone in love can bear all sorts of trials and can travel across the whole world, giving up “all the substance of his house for love” and considering “it all as if he had given up nothing” (Song 8:7b); then cannot we give up family, friends, possessions, comforts and our self-will out of love for God –considering nothing our loss, but instead a sweet sacrifice through which we can come to love God and all our neighbours alike without distinction?

O happy is the one “who hears the word of God and keeps it” (Lk 11:28); for such an individual lays to sleep at night with the words on his lips: “Thou hast put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. For I am one with my God who is Happiness Itself, and there is nothing I shall want, for fresh and green are the pastures where he leads me. For even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil. Since who shall separate me from the happiness of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? Shall loneliness, poverty, sickness or imperfections? No, in all these things I am more than a conqueror through him who loved me. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate me from the love and happiness of God in Christ Jesus my Lord.”[2]


 So whilst those who follow the wisdom of the world – and I have heeded this wisdom before, and we’re all tempted by it daily – toil and labour, “rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil”, hollow and numb from their hopeless search for happiness in the world and acting all the while as the CEO’s of their life; they do so “in vain” whilst God “pours gifts on his beloved even whilst they sleep” (Ps 127:2). For unlike those that run away from the Cross, and who dictate their own lifestyles; those that trust and believe in God, who surrender their lives to Him, tailoring their lifestyle to the Gospel, and who follow Christ to Calvary, “rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy” and swell with an interior happiness that is felt emotionally at times, yet felt always and everywhere in the depth of one’s heart, for their ‘inner void’ is full, their life is in God’s hands, and they have no worries because for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, and even in death, they know in faith that nothing can separate them from the happiness and love of Christ, a love that is divine and eternal, a love that makes one complete.

[1] Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, 48, 75.
[2]Paraphrased collation of the following verses: Ps 4:7, 23:1-2, 4; Rom 8:35-39.

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