Friday, August 23, 2013

What Makes for Happiness?

"Happy are you poor; the Kingdom of God is yours! (Luke 6:20). In the Catholic Times' column View from the Ark, a priest would like us to meditate along with him on "poverty." The word keeps coming back to him like something caught in his throat that he can't get rid of. His mission over the years has been with the poor and he has now been given the responsibility for working with the poor in the diocese.

Everybody wants to eliminate poverty, he says. What is good about poverty? we tend to ask. Is there any reason to voluntarily live the life of poverty? Living with the poor and seeing how they live, he says, has affected how he sees his own life.

Many who work with the poor remember the words from the Puebla documents of 1979 that there should be a preferential option for the poor. For what reason can the poor be considered happy? the priest asks. Why did Jesus use these words? Why is this an important part of our social Gospel? We talk about Gospel poverty, the spirituality of poverty, voluntary poverty and the like. Why did Jesus say the poor were blessed?

The priest lets his thoughts go back to his childhood, during which time the family moved many times and ended up in a house that seemed like a palace to him. It was the home of his maternal aunt and he doesn't  remember why they lived there, but it was a five room two-story house, with a room for each member of his family of five. It had a big yard where he could play soccer and baseball, and even a small pond. However, in time, it felt strange to him, as the family began to scatter. While in the house, you would often feel alone for the whole day, he said. Going and coming,  there would be the usual greetings, and after that he would go to his room. It was not like living in a family, he said. Would it have been better to have lived in a larger house?

His second recollection from the past was when he became an army chaplain. He had decided, when he became a priest, not to have a car, but when he learned he was to be a chaplain he quickly got his driving license. As a matter of course, there was a vehicle at his disposal. It took him over twenty minutes to drive to the chapel for Mass, and when the vehicle broke down and was being repaired, he walked or took the bus to get around.  The experience turned out to be very positive: he met many different people and had experiences that he would not have had with a car.

Citing the words of Jesus once again: "He made himself poor, though he was rich" (2 Cor. 8:9). Why did Jesus live poorly, with no place to lay his head? Was it not that money and material things do not help one find happiness and are in the long run obstacles? the priest asks.

When we talk about poverty, the first thing that comes to mind is the pain or discomfort of not getting what one wants. However, when most of us go on vacation or travel, we are leaving the comfort of home and generally undergo some discomfort in the process. Isn't this an effort to be close to nature and to experience inner peace? the priest asks. Are we not at that time, he says, going in search of poverty?

The countries with the highest index of happiness, as is generally known, are the poorest.  It is not that the world lacks material abundance, he says, but rather that we are not sharing it with those in need. Is this not a sign, he says, that we should all be living a poorer and simpler lifestyle? Would it not, he concludes, tend to bring us closer to living a happier life?

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