Monday, January 1, 2018

What is the greatest happiness that we can wish for each other in the New Year?

This morning, as we begin the year 2018, the greeting “Happy New Year” will be on our lips.  Apart from it being custom or tradition, greeting each other with this phrase is evocative of a reality that we want to live out and to have live out in the lives of others – that happiness will be evident and experienced in all our lives as we live till the next New Year countdown in 365 days time. 

Different definitions of happiness abound.  Just ask ten people for their definition of happiness and it would be a great challenge to have three people saying the same thing.  For most people, happiness is shaped and defined by what for the most part contributes to their overall well being and state of being anxiety-free.  The definitions of happiness, therefore, are wide-ranging, and often in terms of financial abundance, a plethora of lovers, a freedom from health-issues of any kind, or even sterling results in one’s academic pursuits.  Especially in this day and age of the rise of individualism and relativism, it does seem that anything goes, because the needs of the self and the ego trumps over the needs of others.

For us Christians, it would be a shame if these were our definitions of what ultimately constitutes happiness.  How should our Christian identity then influence our happiness?  Is there a Christian definition of happiness? 

If heaven is our final goal in life as Christians, then it necessarily means that attaining this goal ought to shape and mould all our other life choices and what we give our lives over to.  Anything that distracts us, and misleads us from this final goal would be what distracts us and misleads us from our happiness. 

I am in strong agreement with what Fr Ronald Rolheiser said once in one of this talks that we need a hopeful metanarrative in life, and if this is missing, we can be wishing and wanting so many things in life, but they will inevitably fall flat and taste insipid even when we attain them, simply because they are tangible.  Our hope as Christians is given to us in Christ our Lord, and this ought to be our metanarrative.

What is a metanarrative?  It is an overarching account of events or circumstances that provide for us a structure or a pattern for our life and our life’s experiences.  Jesus’ promise of our resurrection through his own life, death and resurrection gives us our ultimate hope, and this, as Fr Rolheiser so astutely puts it, is a metanarrative that because it is not tangible in this life, has an eternal dimension to it.  It is not only a metanarrative, but it is also meta-life. 

We all know that hope is so important in life, and we see so many people whose lives are either falling apart or have fallen apart simply from the lack of hope. 

When we have a hope that touches eternity in God, it gives us permission.  I am constantly nurturing this hope in my heart in my prayer life and the spiritual disciplines that I keep because I know that it gives me permission for many things that are so hard for most people – it gives me permission to experience disappointments, permission to go through trials and sickness, permission to fail, and most importantly, permission to die.  Why?  Because the end has already be written and confirmed by Christ and his life, death and resurrection.  Those who do not have this healthy metanarrative which is constantly nurtured through prayer and contemplation, will end up being vexed and exasperated when things fall apart in life.  If our metanarrative is only on the tangibles and emotional, there is a good chance that we may be building on sand.  When the storms and floodwaters rise in our lives, the sand gives way to trauma.  Many countless lives can be spared this trauma if only they came to know the good news of Christ. 

Jesus had a great vision that all of humanity would understand this, and would benefit from his ultimate sacrifice on the Cross for us.  That is why he had the great commission to make disciples of all nations. 

I think most of us have a rather hard time making this important connection – for ourselves and for others when we try to evangelize.  If this is not at the heart of our efforts, we easily end up either being too pedantic or giving a message that has a hollow ring to it, where those listening to us fail to see the message’s connection to life because we have not made the connection ourselves.

It could start with just a change of the way we greet one another as 2018 begins.  Yes, we all want a Happy New Year, but it may just pique the interests of others when we wish them a Hopeful New Year instead, and let that pave the way to share what gives us the greatest hope.

May the hope of Christ be yours in abundance throughout this year.

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