Phil Jackson was coach of the Chicago Bulls basketball team during the days of Michael Jordan. Before turning his hand to coaching, in the 1970’s Jackson played for the New York Knicks. During his time at the Knicks the team won the NBA championship. He had reached the ultimate goal, the dream he had been striving for since he was a child. A short time later he was in New York and went out to celebrate with family and friends. The restaurant was crowded with famous people like Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. But instead of joy, this is what Jackson wrote about his feelings: “the intense feeling of connection with my teammates that I had experienced in Los Angeles seemed like a distant memory. Instead of being overwhelmed with joy, I felt empty and confused. Was this it? I kept saying to myself. Is this what was supposed to bring me happiness? Clearly the answer lay somewhere else.” He later understood what was missing. He writes, “What I was missing was spiritual direction.”[Source: reported in Jackson’s book, Sacred Hoops; found at storiesforpreaching.com/category/sermonillustrations/happiness/]
I have to tell you, I tend to have trouble with the word “happy.” When people ask if I’m happy—like, in my life—I tend to bristle. Happiness might seem like a simple thing, but I think a lot of times what seems in life to make us happy might actually take us away from true, deep-down happiness. A part of it (a big part, maybe) is what we mean by happiness. A nice meal can make me happy, but is that the same as being happy in life?
Yet, we all desire happiness. We were made that way. We were made by God to desire happiness and to be happy. With that, Matthew Kelly writes about us “resisting happiness.” But what does all this mean? What do we do with it? I think it goes back to what Phil Jackson said: “What I was missing was spiritual direction.” What is that spiritual direction? Where does that direction come from, and where does it lead us?
Jesus gives us the direction/the blueprint/the program in the Beatitudes. That word “beatitude,” translated in English as “blessed,” can also mean happy or lucky or fortunate. And so what does Jesus say will make us blessed/happy/fortunate? “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (for a right/proper relationship with God, other people, and the world as our foundation); “blessed are the merciful”/compassionate; “blessed are the clean of heart” (or single-hearted—specifically, being oriented to God); “blessed are the peacemakers.” We must remember that God’s great plan for each of us is to have a share in His life, and these Beatitudes are ways of living this out.
Now, of course the world will tell us that our ultimate happiness is to be found in other things. The priest and scholar St. Thomas Aquinas (back in the 13th Century), taught that the four things we tend to seek instead of God are money, pleasure, power, and glory/honor. But, again, what does Jesus say will make us blessed/happy/fortunate? “Blessed are the poor in spirit…Blessed are they who mourn…Blessed are the meek…Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.” What do these Beatitudes mean? At their core, they declare that happy are those who are detached from money, pleasure, power, and honor. And this leads the way to being able to be righteous, merciful, clean of heart, and peacemakers.
Our other Scripture readings today back this up beautifully. When we hear the prophet Zephaniah say, “Seek the Lord…seek justice, seek humility” he’s reminding and encouraging us to have a right/proper orientation to God and to others; this will bring the salvation and prosperity that come from God alone. And St. Paul instructs the Corinthians that the wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption that come from God through Christ are gifts given to the foolish, the weak, the lowly, the despised, and the nobodies of the world— that is, to those who are open to losing themselves in Christ and so find life in its fullest. Jesus taught the Beatitudes, not to the crowd, but to His disciples: to those who were ready and willing to accompany Him and follow His ways.
I think it kind of bothers me when people ask if I’m happy because I don’t want to answer “yes” if that means that everything’s going along the way I would like it, or I’m having a good time, or I’m comfortable. I’d rather be able to say “yes” that I’m doing my best to live out the direction/blueprint/program of the Beatitudes—which, in my sinfulness, I know that I’m not always.
Dear brothers and sisters, may we be ever more open to the grace of God—especially in the Blessed Sacrament present here—calling and moving us to live in Christ alone, which is that true deepest happiness that we seek, and for which you and I were made.
©2017 St. Peters Catholic Church Huron Ohio.
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