Dear Father Angelo,
For several years I have been a converted Catholic, and over time I have developed a conviction about christianity that is putting me in crisis. On one hand we say christan must do just two things: avoid sins, and bear with patience and love all the crosses and difficulties of life without complaining at all. On the other hand, I hear priests and even members of charismatic groups say that God wants us to be immensely happy in this world, and that earthly happiness is absolutely possible for every man, without exception. From my point of view it is a contradiction, since Jesus himself in the Gospels invited us to deny ourselves and embrace our crosses, while he never said that we must be happy in this world. If happiness on Earth is allowed, we would have to agree that God is unfair because, you know better than me, in this world in the face of a minority that lives happy and that only goes through ordinary sufferance such as age-related diseases, or the inevitable death that touches all of us, most of men go through hard sufferings and embrace very heavy and terrible crosses not for few years, but for the entire duration of their earthly life. What is the truth? In my opinion, earthly happiness does not even exist, and at least from my christian experience I have already understood that I must prepare myself to face the worst. Surely I wait for the bad rather than the good. I don’t really get about the optimism and those songs of joy. We do need to pray to be ready to face the worst, don’t we?
Answer from the priest
- you cannot make head nor tail out of it because it is incorrect.
It is not true that Christianity simply consists in avoiding sin meanwhile enduring with patience and love all the crosses and tribulations of life without ever complaining. If you put it down like this, it seems more like a proclamation of Stoic philosophy rather than of the Gospel. Likewise, you did not properly present the other proposal, that of the highest happiness that can already be acquired on this earth for everybody.
- The Christian vocation, on the other hand, is a vocation to holiness, to participation in divine life, already on this earth. This participation takes place through grace, which makes us by adoption and by divine benevolence what Jesus Christ is by nature.
- Jesus said in his speech on the mountain: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (which here is to be understood as a synonym of holiness, n.d.r.) and all these things will be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33).
- More concretely, holiness is achieved by loving the same way God loves: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13,34 ).
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15,12).
5. There is nothing more appropriate to the nature of men than the need to love. Made in the image of God who is love (1 Jn 4:8), men feel the irrepressible need to love.
6. Pope John Paul II rightly stated in Redemptor hominis that “Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.”(RH 10).
“Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.” (Familiaris consortio 11).
In the “Catechesis on human love”, in order to further explain this thought, Pope John Paul II says that “ He realizes it only by existing “with someone” – and even more deeply and completely – by existing “for someone”, as it is demonstrated in Genesis bible” (9.I.1980).
Hence the tendency of men to give oneselves.
7. It is precisely in the gift of self that the human person finds the most beautiful fulfillment of his or her aspirations, and also authentic joy.
It remains always true what Jesus said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
8. Therefore, the meaning of Christian life consists in holiness which is drawn from charity, in loving with our Lord’s feelings. As a result, this brings great joy to man. That is why it is correct to say that the Lord wants us in joy, in the biggest joy, already here on Earth. During the last supper, after giving the new commandment to love one another as he loves us, he added: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” ( John 15:11).
9. However, sufference remains in the present life, as you yourself have highlighted. Sufferance also touches saints and great saints. This means that full joy is not of this world. Indeed, years by years we see that moral and physical sufferings are multiplied. Nevertheless, Jesus Christ gives us the grace to transform suffering into an act of love to redeem the world. We therefore understand St. Paul’s words in Colossians: “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (Col, 1,24).
Here the word “rejoice” is not a synonym of happiness, because sufferance -sometimes an atrocious one- remains. But it is synonymous with “soothe” because pain is transformed into love that gives life to many.
I must thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify these notions.
I wish you much progress in the Christian life, that is, in sanctification, in loving with the sentiments of Christ even in the night of pain.
I gladly remind you to the Lord and bless you.