Thursday, December 29, 2011

A New Year and Challenges for Christians

As Christians, we tend to agree with the Greek philosopher Heraclitus that “no one bathes twice in the same river”. As believers in Christ we live as pilgrims on our way to our Father’s house, according to a historical conception that is neither cyclical nor spiral. Nor do we live as if in a permanent reiterative happening, in a boring eternal return to things of the past, monotonous and meaningless. Rather, we understand that history is linear: as a successive and uninterrupted series of occurrences, not repetitive, leading us to the “eternal mansions” (Jn 14,2).

The conclusion of another year of the Christian era presents a unique opportunity for evaluation, and such an evaluation, for Christian disciples, has fundamentally two aspects:

  • Thanksgiving for life, for all that we are and have, for all that has happened. This includes gratitude for all that is good, for all that we enjoyed and appreciated and, at the same time, gratitude for that which was not so good, for what could have been better, for all that brought with it suffering and pain. This is the case because, thanks to our unfortunate experiences and conflicts, we had the opportunity to learn, to overcome, to struggle and advance… In addition to identifying with the Crucified One, his passion and surrender, we become his disciples in the measure that we interpret and experience our pain in the light of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

  • An occasion for projecting our future, of the way we will live the new year of 2012 that is upon us. Projection and planning, which for the Christian always involves the need for conversion, that is, of being transformed so that our life is like the life of Christ, with his principles, criteria and values of the gospel. Conversion and adaptation that not only involve our individual life, but —beginning with that— also include the transformation of the structures and institutions that make up our society.

A quick look at our present reality challenges us, and involves us. This particular historical, social and cultural moment calls upon all of us who make up the Church of Jesus Christ to commit ourselves to the criteria of the Kingdom as opposed to the worldly realities. A commitment to make possible, visible, livable and believable the realities of justice through peace, peace through forgiveness, solidarity through fraternity and life in all its forms and manifestations as opposed to a culture of materialism, consumerism, individualism, egotism and immediate gratification.

The great problems of individuals (living without meaning) and of humanity at large (inequity and injustice, corruption, hunger, violence and conflicts, hate and wars, as well as mistreatment of the planet) call believers in Christ to a life style and authentic experience of what it means to be Christians, a religious experience more centered in right practice than in right ideas, less pietistic and individualistic and more interested in those who are poor (“whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” Mt 25,40), a religion that is less individualistic and habitual and more social and public, less sacramentalist or ritualistic and more pastoral…

Over these days and in all corners of the earth we desire for each other a happy new year. May it be so. But as believers in Christ we know that it will not be prosperous without our involvement. The God of Jesus Christ, in whom we believe and hope, requires the work, effort, support, intelligence, honesty, generosity, and commitment of us all. May the year 2012 be full of blessings!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

“I bring you good tidings of great joy..."

Christians always live in the season of advent because they live in expectation of an encounter with the Lord. Christians expect, beyond biological death, a personal and definitive encounter with God. Yet even more, they live in the expectation of permanent, daily and surprising encounters with his presence, which the Lord reveals in a thousand ways and in the most diverse circumstances. In joy, in sadness, through an accomplishment or a failure, in health or in sickness, with a friend, in personal prayer, in worship, with a book, a counsel, in all that we are and have… we are able to discover God’s presence in our life. We also expect and prepare ourselves every year for an encounter with the Lord through the liturgical season of advent which in turn prepares us for the liturgical season of the nativity: Three advents that are summarized in a unique advent: that of the entire life of the Christian Community awaiting the soon-coming Lord, who approaches us, makes himself available, is with us… a presence whose timing we cannot determine, for which Jesus urges us in the gospel to be alert, awake, prepared…

Christmas, then, is an encounter with God who, in the birth and life of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, wants to be with humans, with us, throughout the year and always… Precisely Emanuel, which means God with us, is the name that the Old Testament prophets gave to the Messiah, the one who would finally restore in the world God’s reign.

For believers in Christ, for those of us who recognize in the person of the “infant wrapped in swaddling clothes… in a manger” (Lk 2,12) the long-expected One, the Son of God, the one who was to “come into the world” (Jn 6,14), his birth is remembered every year at Christmas. This constitutes the best, the greatest news that has ever been heard or known in human history: “Fear not for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people: for this day, is born to you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2,10-11).

That good news that was first given to some shepherds is still good news for all men and women of good will, for everyone. This is because all human beings seek happiness, that is, they are seeking salvation, eternal life, a full and abundant life: precisely the kind of life that Jesus lives and teaches us to live.

This is so in spite of the social structures of sin and evil that generate inequity and unfairness. Although there are personal and social sins that vilify human togetherness and sadden our hearts, although there are walls, selfishness, anger, rancor, envy and divisions of all kinds, although hunger abounds, as well as loneliness and suffering, although efforts are continually made and in a thousand ways to conclude with peace, agreement and life, although there are desperate and hopeless people who wander without meaning… Christmas is the festivity of those who “hope against hope” (Rom 4,18) because God is with us and because all the life, deeds and words of Jesus encourage us and involve us in the construction of a present and a future where right conduct causes peace to reign, peace that comes through forgiveness, life that springs out of love, respect and solidarity because —taught now by Jesus himself— we come to know that all of us are brothers and sisters, children of the same Father.

This good news is the foundation of the joy of believers always, but in a special way, at Christmas. Thus, there are those of us that rejoice in this time of the Nativity for all that the birth of Jesus means to us: God’s plan of salvation for us through his Son. But there are also those who are happy without knowing or celebrating the true sense of the Nativity.

During the Christmas season we make more purchases, give more gifts, we share, we travel, we relax, we send messages, we reunite with loved ones, we adorn our homes and streets, make more music and hang more lights… How great it would be of all these social manifestations had as their background joy over the birth of Christ; otherwise, everything is reduced to the profane and pagan manifestation of a consuming and materialistic society in which the meaning of this season is diluted and distorted; like an empty purse the season winds up empty, without heart.

Yet, thanks to Christmas, hope does not die; it comes to life again every year, and should be born every day. Against all our errors and selfishness, against all evil and pessimism, at Christmas every year, always, even stubbornly, Hope is born, our Hope: our Lord Jesus Christ.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Heritage that Involves All of Us

In each decade, by order of the Congress of the United States, a national census is taken of the population. The most recent census from the year 2010 resulted in figures which especially catch our attention in this month of Hispanic heritage. This involves all of us; the entire society of the United States of America with all its political institutions, as well as the cultural, social, economic, religious entities, etc…, the Hispanic residents in this nation and the Latin American nations from which we have come.

According to this census, 50.5 million Hispanics reside in the United States, without counting the undocumented Hispanics. A figure that means that the Hispanic community resident in the United States make up 15% of the total population of this nation.

Let’s take a look at the growth of the Hispanic American Community in the United States, since the census of 1990 which counted 22.4 million Hispanics; that of the year 2000 counted 35.3 million Hispanics, and now the current census shows an increase in Hispanic American Citizens to 50.5 million, indicating rapid and massive growth – since the last one - of 43%.

In addition, the average age of the Hispanic population is 27 years, whereas the average age of the rest of the United States population is 47 years, which indicates that the Hispanic population is an obvious injection of youth – and with it, strength for work and progress - for the entire society of the United States.

Here are some other figures from the last census (2010):

• In California there are 14 million or more Hispanics.
• In New York there are 3 million or more Hispanics.
• In Florida there are 4 million or more Hispanics.
• In Texas there are 9 million or more of Hispanic origin.

Breaking this down into nationalities gives us the following:

• Mexicans total 31.8 million, the equivalent of 63 % of the Hispanic population resident in the United States.
• Puertoricans make up 4.6 million, or 9.2 %.
• Cubans are 1.8 million, or 3.5 %.
• Those from El Salvador are 1.6 million, or 3.3 %.
• Dominicans are 1.4 million, or 2.8 %.
• Guatemalans are 1.0 million, or 2.1 %.
• Colombians are 0.9 million, or 1.8 %.
• The rest of the nationalities not specified here make up 14.3 % of the Hispanic population that resides in this nation.

What do these statistics mean –these numbers and percentages, enormous, important and striking in themselves-– in the overall picture of the United States, society in general (with all its institutions), as well as for the Hispanic American Citizen here and for those citizens of Latin American nations?

For the United States of America, the increased Hispanic presence represents a great challenge bringing with it unsuspected índices of progress in all fields of this great nation if –from all the social institutions— there is an adequate response to the enormous challenges that this presence demands. Yet at the same time, the presence of the Hispanic community in the USA can imply great problems if the societal responses from the USA to the challenges of what we could call “the Hispanic phenomenon” are not prompt, worthy, accurate, just or respectful.

If in fact there is general agreement that it is necessary to integrate the community of Hispanic origin within the United States society, it is also true that the institutions (political, religious, cultural, economic, etc…) of this nation, should avoid interpreting “integration” as meaning “assimilation” and “absorption” by the “dominant culture” in order to achieve uniformity of all in such a way that the Hispanics lose the riches of our own identity, our own culture, our own roots, our social and historical origins or, the other extreme of those who oppose the concept of integration, giving place to discrimination, a ghetto mentality, exploitation, persecution and other social evils contrary to a Christian, democratic and liberal view of society, the principals of which have been honored in this nation from its historical beginnings.

The Hispanic American Citizen, while growing in the number of residents in this nation needs to grow in social awareness and in participation, in education and in social and political formation, and should grow in leadership and in all aspects that allow it to have voice and vote in the decision making processes that determine the present and forge the future of this nation.

The institutions, communities and religious denominations in general, and of the Christian churches in particular, present in the United States of America, should work to promote the Hispanic presence as a blessing, a sign of enrichment and growth in the faith, in fraternity, in unity, in justice, in solidarity, in equity, in fellowship and in participation.

For the Hispanic community is called to contribute to the development of this nation, not only with economic growth through work or taxes, but also – and above all – with the values of the Gospel and Christian humanism within our being, in our identity and our history, since the earliest Catholic evangelization present in our origins as Hispanic-American nations. Values, that are completely contrary to individualism, to selfishness, to utilitarianism, to an emphasis on appearances, to an easy way out, to pragmatism, to relativism, to subjectivism, to comfort, to consumerism, to hedonism, etc., all of which are so much a part of the current postmodern and “light” mentality.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Hope of Life

Two thousand years ago, the first Christians, a handful of men and women who had followed and accompanied Jesus of Nazareth during his public ministry, confessed excitedly that the Crucified One, “the one you killed by hanging him on a cross”, had changed their lives. He had delivered them from their former way of life and transformed them into new men and women, with a new mentality, a new way of life, of seeing, of being and of working in the world.

They confessed a change of life out of which they believed, confessed, proclaimed and celebrated that Jesus is alive, that Christ has risen, that the final word of God the Father concerning the life of his Son is not death but life. They confessed that the resurrection of Christ means the triumph of life over death, of good over every manifestation and experience of evil in the world. Jesus’ Resurrection opened to every man and woman of good will a new horizon, a possibility of hope, even where there is no hope, an opportunity for life over every kind of failure, evil, and death.

Transformed by the death of the One they now proclaimed as alive, precisely through the transformation of their lives, the first Christians launched into the world to share and preach with deeds and words the Good News of the Resurrection. They placed in writing their confessions of faith, together with historical data that occured in their small believing communities, fraternal and Eucharistic.

All of this means that the Resurrection is, rather than simply a foundational doctrine of the Christian religion, an experience of new life, transformed life, abundant life, life that is opposed to any manifestation of evil, sin or death. The Resurrection that we confess and celebrate is a conviction that sustains and is manifest in a new life style through which Christians commit themselves to the construction of a better world, that is to say, more divine in its profound humanity.

Through the Resurrection and against every manifestation of evil, every inhuman and dehumanizing expression, every aggression against humanity, and all that affronts the image and likeness of God in his creatures, every individual Christian and all of Christianity together rises up to protest. We propose instead the possibility of a world that is more equitable, more just, more united, more livable, more fraternal, more humane. We propose a world with hope in the life whose foundation is in God, who reveals himself as the God of abundant life, in and through the Resurrection of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Resurrection, then, is a confession of faith. It is a celebration. It is the supreme liturgical feast. But it is, above all, the personal and ecclesial commitment of every Christian to be daily in and for the world, in the space/time of hope that finds itself in the midst of desperation. It is a sign of joy in the midst of sadness, a space for mercy in the midst of so many forms of selfishness, division and violence. It provides for an opportunity for peace in the midst of war, pain and death. This is the evangelizing task of the Church. In this is found the Church’s reason for being and existing. This constitutes the Christian community’s identity and their mission in the world.

Never more opportune, never more timely, but never more committed is the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ—and of ourselves with Him and in Him—in a world in crisis, in a society pressured by new men, weak structures, novel philosophies, all in need of transformation. Never more than today do we need to live and share all that it means to confess that Christ is alive! Thus, the Easter celebration is a song of hope, but above all, it is a challenge to the evangelizing task of the Church in the world. To confess and celebrate the Resurrection reminds us as Catholics of the everlasting commitment to be in the world as islands of consolation, mercy, forgiveness, hope, and life…in the midst of so many inhuman experiences, so many forms of violence, indignity, dehumanization, corruption, and death.

Pascua is a Hebrew word that means “passing.” We have come to understand this word to mean “passing” through the Red Sea to freedom, “passing” from death to life, from sin to grace, from life without Christ to life in Him, from hatred to love, from indifference to united commitment, from a world without God to a world where, in the power of the Resurrection, humankind is enabled to strive toward its grand potential as God originally intended.

May this year’s “pascua” or Easter celebration mean the renewal of our principal Christian commitment in a personal and ecclesial way: to be for a world in crisis the signs of new and abundant life that God offers in Christ. Happy Easter!. For, as the apostle Paul says: “If Christ was not raised from the dead, our faith is vain and our preaching is also vain”.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

His Life Clarifies Our Life

Holy Week is the greatest week of the year for Christians, especially when we come to the Easter Triduum. It brings together the liturgical themes of Lent with the pillars upon which our Christian faith is founded, our Lord’s passion, death and resurrection, as we commemorate and celebrate, in a tight unity, these events in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

The door of entry for Holy Week is Palm Sunday, when we commemorate Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. and read the drama of the passion and death of Jesus in anticipation of the soon to come Easter Triduum. This Passion reading serves to remind us of the suffering and condemnation of the Innocent One whose death authenticates a lifestyle that He lives and proclaims as an example of happiness. We learn to offer our life for those we love instead of keeping it selfishly since “he that saves his life loses it, but he that yields and surrenders his life for the gospel saves and wins it for eternity.…” And we learn to receive the Resurrection, by which God the Father validated the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth, as “the way, the truth and the life” in Jesus, for each and every man and woman of good will.

In the Catholic liturgy of Holy Week the entire life of Jesus is presented to us as a model of humanity, as the first vocation to which we who recognize ourselves as creatures and children God the Father in Jesus Christ should all aspire; for “the mystery that is man is clarified in the mystery of the incarnate Word: Jesus Christ”. (GS 22)

Thus today, the hopes, the pain, the suffering and the evil that every person lives out in the daily experiences of life—especially during Holy Week and specifically on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday— are illuminated through the pain and the suffering of the One from Nazareth who, confidently, lays his life and destiny in the hands of the Father (“…Thy will be done, not mine”). The Easter Vigil, then, illuminates our thirst for eternity, our hope, our longing for transcendence, our dreams of a fuller life, our projections for the future that are not fulfilled in the here and now of temporal living.

The Resurrection, the confession of faith in the triumph of life over death in Jesus, at the same time proclaims the final and definitive destiny of mankind, that death does not triumph, but rather life; that desperation does not triumph, but hope; that evil does not triumph, but the merciful goodness of God. Yet that confession of faith presses and commits us to build by our deeds and words, through our attitude and behavior, spaces for abundant life in the here and now. The fullness of life that we expect in the future begins in the now of our daily hopes. The new heaven must begin with a new earth.

Holy Week retraces, as no other liturgical event, the paradox and mystery of human life in the particular life of Jesus of Nazareth. Along with it comes all the paradox of the Christian mystery, especially power out of weakness and salvation out of lunacy, both illustrated in the hard wood of the cross. For we, as Paul says, preach Christ crucified, a scandal for the world, but for us “power and strength”.

Let us live this Holy Week, not like people who are passing through a museum of two thousand year old antiquities, but as those who remember the deeds that occurred in the person of Jesus, which today come to life and appeal to us because his passion, death and resurrection illuminate our sufferings, our struggles, our jobs, our projects, our loves, our pains, our surrenders, our triumphs and failures, our longings for a more just world, more human and fraternal, our death and our life opened in hope, to the God of abundant life.

May we derive from this Holy Week, while commemorating what Jesus lived, and all that happened to Him two thousand years ago, power and strength to brighten our personal and communal lives and open us to the celebration of the liturgical Easter and the definitive Easter that we hope for and are building in the now but not yet of our present history.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Some women of the New Testament, and of today…

Jesus of Nazareth, his message, his deeds, in fact, his entire life, represents a break with the Old Testament as something absolutely new. With authority he was able to say: “It has been said, but I say unto you”. Because of that complete rupture and novelty, we speak of two distinct periods in the history of salvation: before Christ and after Christ and, therefore, of two testaments: the Old and the New Testament.

One aspect in which Jesus represents novelty is in the way he treated women, a treatment that included not only respect and consideration for the dignity of all women —in a society where women were worth little or nothing— but in the inclusion of women in the vocation, in following Jesus, in discipleship and in the evangelistic and missionary task of the Church in the world.

We have very little record of the deeds and words of the public ministry of Jesus. Only a portion of the life and work of Jesus has come down to us. As John the Evangelist says, The books that could be written to narrate the wonderful and novel work done by God through Jesus Christ would fill the world. Yet the few testimonies that we have in the writings of the New Testament concerning his public ministry are enough for us to understand the role that God in Jesus Christ and in the entire history of salvation assigned to women. That role is central, important, principal, equal, just, and worthy.

It is sufficient to reflect today on the key role that Mary has in the history of salvation. In God’s revelation and in the history and life of the church, Mary is not and could not be considered and experienced as simply a feminine touch in a masculine institution. Mary is, to the contrary, a central element and spindle in the revelation of the Triune God and in his saving plan. Her generous and faithful intervention, her availability and glad surrender in the incarnation gives to us the gift of Jesus of Nazareth and by Him, with Him and in Him the Father is revealed to us; we know him and we rejoice in his power and his love, his historical presence and his saving plan, that is, his humanizing plan for every man and woman who comes into this world, for “those who have seen Him have seen the Father.”

As the Council Fathers said in Vatican II: “By the grace of Jesus Christ is clarified the life of man, and of all men. In Him are found the answers to our longing for happiness, our deepest searching, our greatest desires, our hopes, our struggles and failures, our falls and our rising again, all our life and all our death. He is our Way and our Truth. He is the light of all men and of all peoples. He is the Bread who gives us life, and not just any life, but abundant life, eternal life, full life, joyful life, saving life, healing life, liberating life.”

And all this, thanks to the humble young lady of Nazareth, the one who joyfully lived to always and fully do the will of God. Thus we call her “blessed among all women and blessed the fruit of her womb…”, the woman and mother “poor in Spirit” who today, as with those invited to the wedding in Cana, counsels and asks us to always do what Jesus says and requests of us.

Yet, in the Gospels we find other women who, like Mary, stand out in the ministry of Jesus. We remember, for example, the foreign woman , the Canaanite, (Mat 15,21-28), who with her response of faith took beyond the limits of Israel the benefits of God’s salvation in Christ, and with her answer embraced God’s favor in Jesus, since “strangers also eat the crumbs that fall from the table of the owners”. Thus, as an outsider she became a model of a believing woman for the Christian and ecclesial community for all time.

Today, as in that day, the church exalts the faith of believing women and with Jesus we say “Woman… women, what great faith you have; may all your desires be fulfilled”.

We also remember Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James (Lk 24,1-11), the women who, with their perfumed spices, accompanied the body of Jesus to the tomb and were later witnesses, bearers, messengers, missionaries and participants in the record of the origins of Christianity. The fundamental message of our faith and our Christian hope given and committed to them resounds today in the world and in our hearts, and now for twenty centuries: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen”.

There is another Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, the one who, with the anointing of Jesus in Bethany (Jn 12), prefigured and inspired the later washing of the feet of the apostles by Jesus, (Jn 13,1-20), another gesture that traces and affirms God’s love for men, and between men, until the final consequences.

Another important woman in the Gospel is the Samaritan, the one who at the well accepted the challenge to be a missionary of the Messiah and his Good News among her people. The Samaritan through whom many among her people believed in Jesus (Jn 4).

They are without number in the New Testament, especially in the Gospels and in Paul’s writings, women who were disciples of Jesus and who with their generous surrender assisted and contributed to the preaching and expansion of the gospel throughout the known world. We find an example of that in Lydia of Thyatira (Acts 16), who was converted by Paul’s preaching, and who with her deeds also became a model of faith and hospitality.

Today you are those women, women of Christ, those who are meeting here to renew your faith and your and your commitment toward the evangelistic task of the Church. Christ the Eucharist gives us the strength to live and to overcome. Christ nourishes us so that we continue to be committed to the task of building better families, better communities, better parishes, a better society. May the women of the Bible lift your hearts and encourage you in the daily task of building a world that is more human and, therefore, more divine. For that better world, the new world, more just and equitable, more fraternal and human, implies that women have the role and the charge that Jesus gave them yesterday and forever.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

What Makes Us Happy?: Balancing Success and Salvation

Published in the January 2011 issue of Liguorian magazine.

The financial crisis that began in the United States in 2008 reveals, above all, the deception experienced by men and women today when it comes to their sense of happiness. Happiness, they think, is defined by worldly success. Beyond its leading to the collapse of business and finance, this deception brings to light the collapse of moral values relating to happiness and worldly success.

For decades we experienced great and rapid growth in the economy, in science, and in technology, but this success came without concern for human beings and their communities. While we have made great strides in technology and science, we have not grown morally or spiritually. We built what seemed a more successful society, but we did so without regard to making both society and ourselves truly better. And when what we built led to financial disaster, it highlighted the underlying human disaster in seeking success instead of true happiness.

Society in transition

In 2011, we find our society in transition. We are moving from the modern age, which was inspired by the ideal of unlimited progress, to the postmodern age as we recognize the failure of progress to deliver what it promised. For centuries, successful societies grew, spurred on by the earthly hope that they could end human suffering and create a perfectly just world. But as we’ve discovered, this ideal of progress was unable to remedy the great evils of humanity such as hunger, inequity, and injustice. Instead, it generated new evils such as war, the arms race, and dire poverty.

Seeing this failure, something changed in the human spirit. Beginning in the mid-twentieth century, a vision of the world as a cemetery of the earlier hopes of progress was born. If there is no future for people of our times, it has been said, then there is little point in working for progress—particularly for progress that has only ever failed. And this is where we find ourselves today. Contemporary thinking proposes replacing the older quest for worldly progress with the search for worldly success—and all but disregards the quest for true happiness.

Misconceptions of today’s world

Some say the only thing that counts as success or happiness is pleasure gained from whatever is quick and easy and appeals to our senses. Among other tendencies of our time, this leads us to a vision of happiness in which there is no place for anything other than pleasure. Pain, suffering, old age, and loneliness—human experiences that can lead to growth—as well as the difficult yet joyful experiences of solidarity, commitment, and serving others have no place in today’s world. In our search for happiness, we have failed to integrate the very human experience of suffering and hardship into our understanding of daily life. The experience of anything difficult or unpleasant has been set against the view of success and happiness as originating from pleasure. To achieve immediate pleasure—which is understood as happiness—any measure is valid.

A denial of that less enjoyable yet meaningful side of life leaves us depressed and anxious when we face hardship. In the midst of so many ways of life from which to choose, we have no sense of direction and no way of understanding how we could be happy even in the midst of suffering.

So in recent times we have been concerned ultimately with success that we believe will make us happy. We have occupied ourselves with building all that is powerful and globalized and with accumulating material goods for our pleasure, but we have forgotten about human beings in the process.

This is reflected in today’s disparate ideas of success. For a minority of privileged persons in the world, success means greater comfort, luxury, and extravagance. For millions of the poor, success means having only the most elementary conditions for subsistence: water, food, shelter, and clothing. This is our failure. And as we have failed to resolve the great problems of humanity, we have also failed to fill people’s emptiness and their longing for meaning and purpose amidst the struggle to succeed. We have failed to build a more just world, and we have failed to develop people who are truly and profoundly human, who live with a sense of community, and who seek true happiness.

Even the media remind us daily that success is not necessarily synonymous with happiness. Achievements do not always coincide with happiness, and those who are quite wealthy and successful by social standards often wind up being the least satisfied with life. In our world we find successful people who are quite unhappy; we also find many who are unsuccessful but very happy.

So what is true success? How are we to judge if we are really happy?

Christian view of happiness

Human beings have been defined by people of philosophy and people of faith as seekers of happiness. Our search for happiness is an unending task that often causes constant dissatisfaction. We long for happiness and are not satisfied until we find it. Saint Augustine taught that the desire for happiness in the human heart is really a desire for God. As Christians, we can trust that our longing for happiness will be satisfied by the saving person of Christ and by the saving gospel he proclaims.

We confess Jesus of Nazareth as our savior. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the Light of the world. These are more than just statements of belief; for us, his disciples, they should reveal the happiness for which we long. Jesus is our true source of happiness, and our success in this life is measured only by our life in him.

Jesus’ proposal for our lives consists of recognizing God as our compassionate and merciful Creator and Father. In living as God’s children—and in doing the Father’s will—we are to love one another as brothers and sisters and build God’s kingdom in the world. As Christians, we are to prove daily, in each of our lives, that this life of Christ in us calls us to build a new and better world. We are called to reveal to others that the life of a child of God—filled with humble obedience, hope, and joyful confidence in the goodness of our Father in heaven—brings us happiness. We are called to demonstrate that a life of love, of service, of forgiveness, and of solidarity with our neighbors saves us and makes us happy. We are called to live each day with life in Christ as the true measure of our earthly success and of our eternal happiness.

It is not always easy to follow this call, not always easy to see our true source of happiness in Christ. As people living in the world, we still see a distinction between the happiness that comes from salvation and the happiness the world offers. We see that all people desire happiness, long for true happiness in Christ, but do not know how to obtain it. Christians, too, often see our quest for the happiness of salvation as separate from our quest for earthly success and happiness. This indicates that the Church, in its work of evangelism, has not yet fully revealed the union between the happiness every human desires and the happiness that comes from the salvation offered to all in Christ.

Life in Christ

It is the responsibility of the Church and of each Christian disciple to demonstrate—through what we believe and through what we practice—that Christ saves us. Or to say it in another way, Christ makes us happy, he gives us abundant life, new life, full life, eternal life, for which we long. Christ leads us to measure our success as persons only against the true happiness we have obtained through faith in him.

If the way in which we live our daily lives does not make this message clear, then the Church’s proclamation of salvation becomes one that no one understands or finds convincing. Moreover, if such a proclamation is clothed in the customs and language of past ages, the message of true happiness becomes one that is easily ignored. We must vigorously proclaim this “good news” in each and every place we live and work.

As Christians, we believe that Christ saves us, he makes us happy. We believe that the question of the rich young man who asks Jesus what he should do to obtain eternal life (happiness) is our eternal question as well. We also believe that Jesus’ answer to the rich young man responds to our human questions today. To find happiness, we must love and serve others, especially the most needy. (See Mt 19:16–21.)

Therefore life in Christ—as God’s children and as brothers and sisters—is necessary for every person who seeks happiness. In the resurrection of Christ we confess the triumph of good, of justice, of mercy, and of life beyond death. Through Christ, we know that God wants us to have life—and not just any kind of life, but life that is abundantly happy and truly successful, life that springs from the new commandment of love and calls us to serve one another just as God himself has loved and served us. (See Jn 10:10; 13:34.)

All are called

The time has come to find the pathway that was lost on our search for happiness. The time has come to find ourselves again, to rediscover our true purpose in bringing to life the best of human and community values. Those of us who follow the Judeo-Christian tradition can return to the Word of God, which reveals to us God’s criteria of success—criteria that do not always coincide with our own. This same Word reminds us that happy are those who place their confidence in God and who administer everything they have to help the weakest and most needy.

Finally, whether one is a believer or not, all of us have in our nature, in our creaturely being, profoundly human tendencies—which are also profoundly divine—that lead us to desire friendship with all of humanity. All experience the call to more noble, more excellent, more sublime human values that bring happiness to our daily lives and help build a better world in which true success and authentic happiness are available and accessible to all.

Mario Paredes is presidential liaison for Catholic ministry at American Bible Society. As founder and director of the Northeast Hispanic Catholic Center, he published the Lectionary for Spanish speakers in the United States.