Saturday, December 10, 2011

3rd Sunday of Advent: IN PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

A few years ago I remember watching a movie entitled In Pursuit of Happyness. I’m sure some of you who are reading this could have watched this movie, starring Will Smith and his son Jayden. I never got to understand why happiness was spelled with the letter y in the title. But anyhow, generally the film is the story (based on the experience of a real person) of a man struggling to find a living in order to sustain himself and his son. Virtually he nothing else in the world—not even a place to call his own wherein to spend the night. The only thing that he had was his son, a suitcase, the clothes on his back, and a lot of determination. If one were to view the film one couldn’t help but ask how the man could’ve been able to go through everything. In the end he was actually able to land a good job and make it well. Reflecting upon the movie, I think that the one thing that made him sustained him was the fact that he had his son with him always. It was his son that allowed him to meet the challenges that went his way in the pursuit of happiness. In fact, going further I wonder why the film is entitled as such, when the protagonists already sensed all along that the only reason for his being happy was already there by his side.

This third Sunday of Advent has traditionally called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is a Latin imperative verb that means “Rejoice! Be glad!”. The name is taken from the Entrance Antiphon of the Mass, taken from the letter of Paul to the Philippians: Gaudete in Domino semper; iterum dico, gaudete! Rejoice in the Lord always; I say it again, rejoice! (Phil 4: 4). Gladness and joy is the predominant theme of the liturgy this Sunday. It could be perceived in the subtle change of color, wherein violet gives way to deeper shade of pink (or rose, as it is properly called), as if to ease the penitential rigor of Advent; the rubrics allow for flowers to be placed upon the altar to make it more festive; the readings themselves talk about this gladness, which we all know is most proper to the Christmas season.

This theme turns our consideration to the nature of happiness? What do we mean by happiness? What really makes for gladness? These questions make sense, most especially as we approach Christmas. Everybody wants to be happy; nobody likes to take the role of the Grinch during these days. This is all the more relevant because the search for happiness—which could be translated into the search for meaning—is one which occupies modern man, and which, more often than not, one whose eludes him. This is one of the things that one cannot search on Google (which is a most useful instrument). People tend to equate happiness with having things, only to find out later that happiness cannot be possessed, much less bought. A lot of people, influenced by some psychological currents of thought and by some self-appointed gurus on personal well-being and happiness, think that happiness is a psychological state of mind, or could be translated in terms of mere comfort and personal well-being.

The readings for this Sunday could help us determine what this happiness is actually all about. In the First Reading we could hear the prophet Isaiah expressing his joy, which is IN God:  I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul. This joy also comes form the announcement made through the lips of Isaiah of that coming day of vindication, the day of the Lord’s visitation. It is an announcement that is echoed in the lips of John the Baptist in the Gospel; John who, having come to bear witness to the light, announces the fulfillment of the messianic promises. When asked by the priests and levites whether he was the Messiah who was to come, he reveals himself to be a mere messenger, a precursor of the Promised One who was already in their midst: There is one AMONG YOU whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” Joy is the response to the announcement that the day of the Lord’s visit has come upon man; it is the fruit of the realization that man is not alone, that the only lasting source of his joy—and joy itself—has come to be with him.

Happiness is not just mere well-being, the feeling of the healthy animal with life in its limbs; it is not a mere psychological state of mind , as Pope Paul VI pointed out in the only papal document dedicated to the topic of Christian joy, Gaudete in Domino (1975); it’s not even about possession of something. The readings and the liturgy tell us something about joy that we may oftentimes overlook: Happiness is a Presence; it is God-with-us, Emmanuel. Being such, it is personal, a person, who is not distant from us, bit rather someone whom we share our very existence with. It is being-with-God. This leads us to the reality of grace, the reality of sharing and living God’s intimate and Trinitarian life within us. This is the only real source of happiness. Anything may happen to us in this life, but as the Apostle Paul vividly expresses it, if God is with us, who can be against us? The protagonist in the movie In Pursuit of Happyness had to undergo a lot of things, but everything was bearable because he was inseparable from his son.

This is clearly seen in the life of the Virgin Mary. The greeting of the Angel precisely expresses the reason why she is blessed (most happy) among women, and why “all generations would call her blessed”: “Hail, favored one! The Lord is WITH you!” (Lk 1:28) . Her happiness is never separate from the fact that her Son is always with her: “blessed are you among women, AND blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus”.

This season of preparation is a time for us to be more conscious of the fact that we have to cultivate this presence of God within us. The source of true happiness cannot be found from without: it radiates from within a soul who has encountered God and is possessed by Him, one who does everything in its power—aided by the grace of God—to keep this presence shining always.

May Mary Immaculate, Mother of God and our Mother, help us to keep this life beating and alive within us, the intimate life of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the only source of authentic joy that no sorrow on earth could ever take away. Amen, come Lord Jesus!

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