Where Our True Happiness Lies
Solemnity of All Saints | Fr Dominic Ryan says the saints show us that true happiness is attainable, and we should avail ourselves of the same help that they had from God.
There’s a lot of material out there about happiness. Walk into any bookshop, turn on the television or look at the internet and the chances are you’ll be assailed by competing theories on how attain it. Guides aimed at making us happier proliferate. Indeed I once bought a book entitled ‘Dealing with difficult people’. It all points to one incontrovertible fact: we want to be happy but we aren’t sure what will make us happy, at least not in the long term.
Fortunately the Church has a clear idea about where our true happiness lies and isn’t shy of telling us: true and lasting happiness is only to be found in the vision of God. The second reading captures it well, “we shall see him as he really is”, it says. Yes in heaven we’ll actually see God. And anything else in comparison, pleasurable as it may be initially, fails to measure up. It will lose its attraction over time as inevitably we overindulge and thus require ever greater amounts for ever diminishing rewards. The vision of God, though, isn’t like that: it’s the gift that keeps giving. In heaven we will know and love just as God does and we’ll be perfectly happy forever because once we’re in possession of this vision nothing else will remain for us to desire.
We can’t achieve this under our own steam but that doesn’t make it a fanciful dream. Most of us can’t run at sixty miles an hour but with the right help, a car say, we can move at that speed, road and weather conditions permitting. Similarly we need God’s grace to get into heaven and once we’re there we need God to fortify us further through the light of his glory. That help is available though, all we need do is avail of it, and thankfully there are plenty of examples of people who did just that. We call them saints and they’re now with God in heaven happily enjoying his vision. Many of them – the canonised saints – are known to us because the Church has declared them such. These are the famous saints, people like St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Augustine, and so on, and our hope resides in them. Given the Church can definitively declare them to be saints attaining the vision of God must be possible. Because if we know some people are with God, which we do, then we also know it is possible to be with God.
Nor should we think it’s only a few truly exceptional individuals who measure up. St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. Augustine, lest we forget, all had colourful pasts: denying Christ, persecuting his followers, and embracing a hedonistic lifestyle. It’s what they did with Christ’s help that made them saints not what they got up to prior to accepting that help. That same dynamic is true for us also: with Christ’s grace we can attain sanctity and we shouldn’t allow what we’ve done in the past to hold us back.
The movement into sanctity occurs in two stages: first, an initial flowering, second a full blossoming, and each beatitude captures both elements perfectly. Thus the first three beatitudes present us with values that contrast with their worldly counterparts: be poor in spirit, be gentle and be mournful. The idea is to withdraw from things which one can desire other than God. The next two beatitudes encourage us in those pursuits through which we can be of help to others: hungering and thirsting for justice and showing mercy to others. Two further beatitudes explicitly identify one as well disposed to receive the vision of God: being pure in heart and being a peacemaker. The final beatitude summarises and reinforces what has already been said. In each case the first part of the beatitude identifies a type of behaviour associated with the first flowering of sanctity, its second part points to that behaviour’s full blossoming in the vision of God.
So true happiness is possible and it lies in the vision of God. We start the journey in this life and end it in the next. Let’s accept the help God offers us to attain it and let’s be truly happy forever with the saints in heaven.
Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP, depicting the eight Beatitudes, from the dome of the church of St Paul in Rabat, Malta.