Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Christianity: The Joyful Life

A common misconception is that the practice of Christianity leads to sorrow and misery. The caricature of grumpy religious people is often contrasted with the image of happy atheists and libertines, unfettered by arbitrary religious rules that prevent people from doing what they want and being happy.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The true Christian leads a joyful life precisely because he practices his Faith. Because he follows in the footsteps of Christ, his lot is made happier by the fact that he is trying to live as his Master commands him. As Christ teaches, "My yoke is easy and my burden light.” (Matt 11:30) 
The lives of the saints are prime examples of the joy of true Christian living. They were happy precisely because they were so in love with God that His love shined through them. And their incredible happiness attracted crowds of people to follow them in their imitation of Christ.
The misperception that religious people are unhappy comes about precisely because the goods of the world are perceived to be the highest goods man can attain. Power, fame, pleasure, and money are seen as indicative of true happiness.
But virtue is the only way in which men can live happy lives. Unrestrained pursuit of worldly goods brings only emptiness and greater desires, even if every earthly desire is temporarily gratified.
True happiness comes from being a good person. And the only way one can become a good person is to live a life of Christian virtue.
Strange as it may seem to hear, the achievement of happiness demands work and self-sacrifice. Virtue, at least initially, takes a long time to practice and develop. Fallen human nature and our disordered desires make it so that the development of virtue will be painful and fraught with difficulty.
Those who are happy are those who make a choice to become virtuous people.
Most people refuse to be happy (and indeed, actively sabotage their own happiness) by refusing to develop the virtues that would allow them to be truly happy, and by distracting themselves with the pursuit of worldly goods. The pursuit of worldly goods for their own sake leads to disappointment in this life and misery in the next.
But the Christian, unfettered by the chains of sin and liberated by virtue, is able to become what Christ made him to be. And when man becomes what Christ made him to be, he is truly made happy.
St. Teresa of Avila famously said: “God preserve us from sullen saints.”  Her statement reveals a fundamental truth – those who actively live a Christian life cannot help but be joyful.

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