This message is addressed mainly to children and young people who still have their life choices in front of them. We suggest that parents take the time to read each paragraph of what follows and discuss it with their children. Listen to what they say, but donít let them make a joke of it.
At one point, young people ask themselves the questions: What is happiness? How can I find true happiness? The classic definition of happiness is: The permanent possession of the supreme good. The philosophers say that no matter what we want, it is always under the aspect of good. All lesser goods satisfy us for a time; only the supreme good (Who is God) can satisfy us fully, and that provided we are assured that we shall never lose it.
The answer to the second question corresponds with our chief duty. Our chief duty is the great commandment, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with all thy strength and with all thy mind: and thy neighbor as thyself." (Luke 10:27) [Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost Gospel]. In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord gave us a similar command: "Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). In fact, it is the same command, because he who loves God perfectly, and his neighbor as himself is a perfect man. And he is a happy man, because his life and all his powers are in perfect order; he is man of virtue, an imitator of Christ, a true Christian.
The love of God is the great commandment because only total, self-annihilating love is Godís due. And because God is the supreme good, we will be as happy as our love is strong; which is to say, regardless of all contrary appearances, happiness in this world and in the next is to be found, not in money, or possessions, or many or no children, or being loved by others, or entertainment, or adulation, or any earthly thing, but in keeping this commandment.
The life of those who save their souls will be absolutely happy. To begin with, they themselves will have been remade. At the end of time, those who have saved their souls will be resurrected and endowed with their bodies made incorruptible and glorious through their union with the Risen Christ. They shall enjoy the most vibrant health and vigor, to say nothing of being "celestial," meaning that their bodies will be remade like the Body of Christ, now ascended.
You have heard this teaching all your life and you believe it. And you understand that everyone in Heaven loves God in this way. No one enters Heaven unless and until he loves love God thus consummately.
You know that the choice is very simple: It is a matter of loving God more than you love yourself. The principle love of your heart may be your wife or husband, or one or all of your children or grandchildren. Or it could be other persons or things (dogs or cats even!). Drunkards love alcohol (or the feeling that alcohol gives them) more than they love God, misers love money and thieves love money or whatever else they steal; drug addicts love the sensations of their "highs;" most rulers love power over others. Regardless of the object, you are inclined to love yourself more than you love God, whom you may love somewhat, or not at all. The object of your love is the source of gratification to yourself, and it is this gratification that has captivated your heart. "For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also" (Matthew 6:21. )
To love God totally, you must love Him as He has revealed Himself:
In the Sacred Scriptures;
- In His attributes (that is, in His omnipotence, in His mercy, in His love);
In the dogmas of the Faith (e.g., in the Trinity, in the Incarnation, in the Redemption);
In the mysteries and virtues of Christ (as He showed Himself to you in His life on earth);
In the Commandments and Laws which bind you (because of their excellence and beneficence);
In His inscrutable dispensations in your life (in His care of you);
In the sufferings and hardships He imposes upon you;
In the spiritual riches and glories of Holy Church;
In the beauty and marvel of the rugged earth and the starry universe; and--
As He has revealed Himself within your mind and heart.
You know well whether you aspire to and pray for this perfect love of God, or whether you are content to love God to a degree, while you satisfy and cultivate your other loves (which essentially are your self love). You would rather not renounce all other loves, even though you have been taught that in loving God perfectly, you will love yourself and all others properly, that is, in so far as you and they are worthy of God and worthy of love.
You plan to love God somewhat in this world and to learn perfect love in Purgatory. This reminds us of the saying of St. Augustine: "Convert me, O God, but not yet." Your plan is to do what is necessary to get into Purgatory, and to "worry about" the rest at some future time. You are content to be tepid in your love of God. Thus, you may think you are more clever than God, in that you have found an easier and less costly, though a longer and ungenerous and cheaper, way into Heaven. Your excuse is that your life is too busy for the way of perfection. You may even pretend that yours is the humble way: "I canít hope to be a saint; I will be satisfied to get into Purgatory." Translated, this means: "There are things more important to me than loving God." One is reminded of the "runs" that are so popular nowadays: most of the runners have no hope of winning, they just want to finish; they participate for the exercise; winning is for certain others.
You have yet to be convinced that, if you are to save your soul, you must alter your view of things, your approach to the way you live. You are as yet unworthy of Purgatory, because you are saving yourself, sparing yourself; you are living for the sake of this life and for the sake of yourself. St. Paul calls this "carnal" love. You have not yet believed God, Who warned that you must love Him with your whole heart, etc. A woman would not marry a man who loved her as little as you love God. He tells her, when he is courting her, 'I love you somewhat, but I intend to love you more as time goes on, when I can get around to it. My love for you is an evolving thing, you understand?'
What you have yet to be convinced of is that you were created to love God. You were made to love God as birds are made to cheer the mornings of spring. You were made with a capacity to love Him as He deserves, though you cannot love Him so without His Grace, much, much grace, and a total commitment to this object.
As was said above, we make these observations more with children in mind than grownups, the reason being that children still have decisions to make with regard to their future lives, and also--something easily forgotten--children are more adventurous than grownups, more inclined to take a challenge, less cautious in their generosity, provided they are sufficiently motivated.
They must be taught that this life is a "vale of tears," hence, they cannot hope to avoid hardship and sorrow. They must wait therefore for the unalloyed happiness that can come only with the Beatific Vision. The happiness that they can find here on earth is very limited, but not unattainable. But it is something which they should strive for, something that is increasingly rare, because very few seek happiness in the right place, and in the right way. This is to say that, no matter how difficult oneís life on earth is, one can find true happiness here in the perfect love of Christ. In other words, the more one loves Christ, the happier one will be.
In view of this fact, young people who ask either themselves or anyone else questions about happiness should consider how much they desire it, whether they are willing to pay the price for it. If they find in their heart a great need of it, an irrepressible desire for it, then they will find it in a religious vocation. They must give their lives to Christ. This is what our Lord meant when He said: "He that taketh not up his cross, and followeth Me, is not worthy of Me. He that findeth his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for Me, shall find it" Luke 10:38, 39). And in another place: "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, itself remaineth alone. But if it die it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it and he that hateth his life in this world keepeth it unto life eternal. If any man minister to Me, let him follow Me: and where I am, there also shall My minister be. If any man minister to Me, him will My Father honor" (John 12:24-26).
Thus, our Lord gives the world the great paradox that if we would be happy, we must renounce all thought of it for His sake, which means that you must renounce the natural way of living for the supernatural one. The priest, the religious brother or sister takes no thought of happiness, but devotes himself or herself to the love of Christ, the emptying of the self of carnal loves, and the service of the Church and Christís "little sheep."
God expects and commands this of every soul and no one enters Heaven unless and until He is the supreme love of his heart, all other loves having been subordinated to it, including the love of oneself. If you have the faith to believe this, it makes sense that the love of God be the chief quest of your life and to begin as early as possible. It make sense to devote your life and main energies to this pursuit. This is what the religious life is. Granted that only certain individuals are called to this life, but no child should exclude himself, and parents should often speak to their children about their future lives in these terms.
Our main point is that in terms of eternity, in terms of the uncompromisingness of divine justice, and the boundlessness of the heavenly reward, it is surprising that there are not more who determine to give themselves to God, for no other reason than that the ultimate goal is everlasting happiness, happiness through the surrender of oneself to the love of God, and the imitation of Christ. This of course is the reason the religious communities are dying out: their members have abandoned the idea of the perfect love of God and personal sanctity.
We emphasize that nothing the we have said releases lay people from the same obligation. It is that they have already chosen to marry and raise families and though the obligation of total love of God binds them, it is extremely difficult to take care of a family and give enough attention to the spiritual exercises, which are necessary for the pursuit of perfection. St. Paul spoke of this difficulty, this "conflict of interests": "But I would have you to be without solicitude. He that is without a wife is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord: how he may please God. But he that is with a wife is solicitous for the things of the world: how he may please his wife. And he is divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin thinketh on the things of the Lord: that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she that is married thinketh on the things of the world: how she may please her husband" (1 Corinthians 7:32-34). Children should be presented with these truths. It is not wrong to live in the world as a good Catholic; but it is much better to give oneself to Christ.
Please continue your prayers for me. I hope to become more active in the coming weeks. I consider that God has been very merciful to me, thanks generous care of the ladies of St. Paul's Chapel here, and to the persistent prayers of many. I send everyone my priestly blessing, in the Precious Blood of our Savior.