The Narrow Way that Leads to True Happiness and Life

On March 27, 2020 Pope Francis was shown on worldwide TV: a small white-clad figure walking alone in the rain towards St Peter’s Basilica to lead the world in prayer.   A prophetic image!  

When you look up happiness on the internet, many people give lists of what it means to be happy.  Most of them are mere wish lists such as having a comfortable standard of living, a good social network, fun time.  Others mention desirable character traits: friendliness, openness, being joyful and cheerful.  Again, others cite good health, a purposeful life, a good family.   But what about those with poor health, a handicap, down-syndrome, or who live in deprivation and poverty; among them I have found happy people. [1]

Recently, I saw a rock concert with a huge crowd of youngsters dancing, shouting, screaming, and yelling at the rock band whom they idolized. I asked myself, “Are they really happy?  Or, are they pretending to be happy?” How many pretend to be happy at parties indulging in drink, drugs, and sex, but wake up to the hard reality of having been (ab)used resulting in depression and the umpteenth abortion. [2]

Although depression and suicide are rapidly increasing among youth, youth are not the only ones experiencing depression.  Why is it that, in affluent societies, there is an alarming increase of depression and suicide, while in most troubled nations there are comparatively low suicide rates? [3]

Instead of answering this question, I like to ask the question “How, or where do people find happiness?” Rather than asking why the glass is half empty, I want to know how to fill the glass. What is needed so that people find true happiness?

Recently, a woman in her sixties, whose parents had divorced when she was young, and who herself had just recently separated from her husband, contacted me because I knew her mother.  She hoped that by finding out more about her mother, she would discover a solution for her own problems. 

This, I think, touches upon something crucial for understanding depression in our present world.  Life, in all its shapes, forms, sufferings and pains, is what we have received. Like someone who is in a relay race, we receive the baton, and now we have to run with it.

Life is not perfect.  No one is perfect, neither will we be perfect, but we are all asked to run the race towards happiness.  This race is run by accepting life with all its ups-and-downs and handicaps.  Rather than being stuck in the past, blaming others for our present troubles, and wallowing in resentments and unforgiveness, we should look to the future with confidence, grab the baton of life handed to us and run our race.

This, I believe, is what the sacrament of Confession with the examination of conscience wishes to accomplish.  In the light of Christ, we are encouraged to accept ourselves and our brokenness; we are asked to forgive those who have sinned against us, and in these, our wounds are healed. 

As Isaiah says about Jesus “He was wounded for our transgressions, and with his stripes we are healed” – He took away our sins and gives us hope of a better future.  In Christ we can run and win the race!

This is the happiness God purposed for us.  He constantly calls us back to happiness.  We all know the story of Jonah, whom God calls to preach “repentance” to the people in Nineveh.  He is sent to decry their wickedness.  Jonah is reluctant to go, because he knows the hardness of heart of people, who instead of obeying God rather continue to curl up snugly in their misery.  Much like today, will there be anyone to decry the wickedness in the world?  We know the atrocities and evils of this world.  But “to repent, to turn away from what causes unhappiness, and look towards what brings real happiness” is far from our mind.  We ignore evil and continue to hope that all will pass and that we be able to live an undisturbed life. 

Pope Francis, walking alone in St Peter’s Square, shows us the way we have to go in the current global epidemic: “Mankind has a noble task: that of prayer and love.  To pray and to love is the happiness of mankind on earth,” says St John Vianney.  Happiness springs from prayer and love. Without prayer and love, there is no happiness, just as there is no river without a spring.  

We are born with a desire for God, for “our hearts are restless until they find rest in him (St Augustine).   Prayer is not a recitation of set formulas, but developing the desire to be with God, who has loved us from the beginning. Prayer is “being loved by him”, so that we can love.

When you are faced with someone who is critically ill, what can you do, what can you give?  Then you will realize that the best you can give is your prayer (entrusting him/her to God) and love.  To accept “the reality of life”, and to realize that without God we can do nothing and are unable to add a centimeter to our lifespan is the hardest thing to do.

This is what Jesus teaches us: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.  (Matthew 7:13-14).The wide gate refers to all we do contrary to accepting life as it is. This gate leads to destruction. On the other hand, the narrow gate is the way of prayer and love, which only few discover, but this leads to happiness.


This article © 2020 by Fr. Guido Gockel was first published in CatholicSabah Malaysia.

Notes:

[1] Nicholas James Vujicic is an Australian Christian evangelist and motivational speaker born with tetra-amelia syndrome, a rare disorder (called phocomelia) characterized by the absence of arms and legs. José Antonio Meléndez Rodríguez is a Nicaraguan American guitar player, composer, singer, and songwriter who was born without arms. His mother took thalidomide while pregnant, which caused his disability. Meléndez has learned to play the guitar with his feet.

[2] https://www.worldometers.info/abortions/

[3] https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/suicide-rate-by-country


Top illustration of man walking towards sunset by © Kevin Carden

Photo of Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square in Rome during “An Extraordinary Prayer in the Time of Pandemic” in March 2020, by Ruether News UK.

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