24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

     Each year, the United Nations develops a suitability report and part of that report is called the World Happiness Study.  The study that was released this spring shows that Americans are not happy. It showed that “even as the United States economy improved after the end of the Great Recession in 2009 … happiness among adults did not rebound to the higher levels of the 1990s, continuing a slow decline ongoing since at least 2000.”[1] I have to admit when I heard that I was surprised. When I look at the world around me, and maybe it’s just me, but I think Americans are kind of happy people. It seems to me that for the most part we are happy. Yet, for as much as we pretend to be happy, the study suggests that we actually tend to put on a fake smile and go on with life pretending that everything is going just fine. As I stopped to think about that study a little bit more, I recognize that while we are good as a society about putting on a smile, our actions reflect this unhappiness. In our country nearly 50 percent of first marriages end in divorce.[2] Last year America spent more than 16.5 billion dollars on cosmetic procedures[3] while over 47,000 people committed suicide in our country.[4] The stats are clear; people are looking everywhere to try and find happiness. We are turning to all different kinds of passing pleasures to numb our pain, yet as the suicide rate shows, nothing seems to be solving the happiness problem.

     I think, if we look closely, we quickly discover that we don’t have a happiness problem; we have an identity crisis. I dare say, if our society were actually honest and looked at how we live our life, we would begin to realize that we are often trying to re-create ourselves. That we put so much energy into trying to create an identity for ourselves, that we end of getting in the way. If only, we would stop and acknowledge our true identity we find some sort of happiness. Let me then pose this question to you then. What is your identity? If you had to describe yourself, who you are, how would you do it? The second question follows from that, maybe we know what we would say, but what do the actions of our lives dictate as to what we think our identity really is?

     If we take an honest look at our live and we see that are just moving about life, that says something about who we think we are. If we are so focused on our physical appearance, if we are so focused on becoming the boss at work, or getting straight A’s in school, that says something about our identity. It says something about who we think we are or who we want to be. Now that is not to say there is anything wrong with working out to get a healthy life, there is nothing wrong with working hard to achieve things, but if that is our pursuit that becomes tied up in who we are.

     I think one of the greatest sources of our unhappiness is this struggle to create an identity for ourselves when the real challenge isn’t for us to create anything, it’s for us to be found! You and I were created out of love by God. We are not accidents. God wills for us to be here and it is in this supreme love of God that you and I will find our true identity. At our baptism we were called into the body of Christ. We are claimed for Christ. We have become heirs to the kingdom of God. Ultimately it is only in the supreme love of God that we will find true peace and joy, that we find who we really are, our identity.

     I think deep down we know this. If we look at habits of sin in our life, we begin to realize that sin brings us some kind of happiness for a short amount of time and then we find ourselves even more unhappy. So, what do we do? We try and do more of that sin or we try to find something else to reclaim what that happiness was. But then again it makes us happy for a while and then we feel unhappy.

     We can try all we want to create that love but it will only be a passing happiness for “love finds its guarantee ultimately only in him who is essentially love: he who not only has love but is love.”[5] When we go out and try to create that peace we become workaholics, or addicts to drugs, or worse we end up committing suicide and if we are spared these we become cynical or just deep down unhappy because we can never find that true peace unless we are willing to receive it from the Father.

     When you heard today’s Gospel, how did you see yourself? Did you stop and consider that you might actually be the lost sheep or the lost coin in the parable? We often like to think we are the ones going out and finding it, but did it dawn on you, that Jesus might be saying that you are the lost sheep or you are the lost coin?  Each of us has been lost and God has gone so far as to send His only Son into the world to find us. The challenge for us isn’t to create anything but rather, we have to allow ourselves to be found by God. It’s the key to St. Paul in his second reading today. For most of Paul’s younger life, you remember, he was so adamant about his faith; he was going to make something of himself as a devout Jew, that he went out and persecuted Christians in the name of God, until God found Him, knocked him off his horse and called him to Himself. Only once he was found did St. Paul begin to find who he truly was. Did his life’s true purpose and mission begin to take root. Each of us needs to rise and go to our Father so that we can be found and thus ultimately find true happiness.

     Now, if you are anything like me, we are somewhere along the journey. I think most of us are at a point where we want God with us, but we still want to be in control. We still want to be able to create things and form things about our lives. I’ll be honest, I hate to be the passenger in a car. Ask Msgr. and he will tell you I have to drive because I like to have the control. I think if we are honest, most of us are like that. We have those areas in our life, where we feel like we have to hold on and have control. I think our relationship with God is allot like that too. We like to have God in the passenger seat of the car. We want Him there in case we need something, or we want something. But we are never willing to let him get into the driver seat and have control. Why not? It doesn’t logically make sense.

     Friends we have enough problems in this world, we don’t need to add to them. The constant striving to create ourselves is exhausting and it can even lead us astray. More important than who we become is who we are. So perhaps we would be happier if we focused a little less on what we do, or the results we get, and rather focus on who we are. Perhaps we’d be a little happier if we stopped trying too hard to find success, and simply let ourselves be found by God.

[1] The United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, World Happiness Report 2019 available at https://worldhappiness.report/ed/2019/#read

[2] Divorce Statistics, Marriages and Divorces. Available at http://www.divorcestatistics.org

[3] Bio Space, Americans Spent More than 16.5 Billion on Cosmetic Plastic Surgery in 2019  available at https://www.biospace.com/article/releases/americans-spent-more-than-16-5-billion-on-cosmetic-plastic-surgery-in-2018/

[4] National Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Suicide and Self-Inflicted Injury available at https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/suicide.htm

[5] Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. Theological Highlights of Vatican II.  New York: Paulist Press (1966) pg 235.

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