As my family prepared to go to Disney World for spring break, our first real family vacation, I warned my son, who is prone to depression after any significant, fun event (a visit to his grandparents, birthdays, trips), that happiness is fleeting. It’s a tough lesson to learn – and one that I think many of us never realize – but I’m working to show him not to so desperately mourn the loss of an event that has passed. We have to enjoy it to its fullest while it’s going on and get back to normal when it’s done. We shouldn’t cry because it’s over, but be happy that it occurred.
Pope Francis echoed my sentiments recently in a great talk to seminarians and nuns about how to live their lives. He warned them to avoid the temptation of thinking “the latest smartphone, the fastest moped and a car that turns heads” will make them happy. And in one of my favorite statements from this humble, down-to-earth pope, he recommended riding a bike, or if you have to drive a car, just “get a humbler one.”
I think chasing happiness is what many of us get caught up in during this life. Constantly searching for our next thrill, our next moment of contentment or even ecstasy, our next chance at perfection. “True joy doesn’t come from ‘living on the edge’ and having wild, fleeting experiences,” said the pope in his talk. As soon as the event is over, we’re left in depression and in a panic for “what’s next?” This leads to continued depression and dissatisfaction with life.
I’ve seen people who continually seek for a new place to live that’s “perfect”. The weather is better, the scenery is prettier, there are more things to do and places to go. But after the newness wears off, they find themselves in the same search for perfection, only someplace else.
A book I’m currently reading “The Holy Longing” by Ron Rolheiser (Image Catholic Books, 2014), which I received as a complimentary review copy, talks about the restless energy within each of us. Father Rolheiser says that this is because we are apart from God; we are not where we belong; we are not at our Eternal home, so this restless energy remains in us and we must harness it properly.
He says this restlessness can lead us to the extreme of drugs, sexual trysts, and other wild behavior to try to quench this thirst. Or it can lead us in the other extreme like Mother Teresa, who directed all her energy to helping others. He suggests a happy medium may be the best approach for most of us in this life.
For me, I tried to teach my son that while there is happiness in this life, there is sadness, too and the good news is that sadness is also fleeting. This too shall pass. But I want him to know as he embarks on the journey of life the only true lasting happiness that he will find is by plugging into God. He provides us that peace and contentment through the ups and downs that keeps us on an even keel and helps us bear even the most difficult moments, knowing that our suffering will work for our redemption.
As we recently passed the pope’s first year, I look forward to a new book from Loyola Press called “The Church of Mercy” that collects all of his writings from this first year arranged thematically for easy reading. I feel like Pope Francis is “my” pope, because he became pope just as I became Catholic. But this has been a busy year for me and I’ve not paid as much attention as I would have liked to his homilies and writings. I’m looking forward to having it encapsulated for me in an easy-to-read format.
What are some of your favorite statements and words from Pope Francis in his first year?