It seems that many people associate worldly success with personal success. Happiness for many seems to be associated with being able to support oneself comfortably all while winning the accolades of one’s neighbors. However, this happiness that many people seem to think they know how to find is always just beyond the horizon, found in a few dollars more, or a few possessions more. They think, “If only I can get to retirement, I will be happy.” Yet, sadly, happiness never comes, or if it does, it is fleeting and hard to capture long term. So where is it? Let me tell you a story.
I once met a man when I was working as a Baptist missionary in the Philippines. He was sitting in the street near a market where I was buying bread, surrounded by garbage, begging for food or money. Every day when I would pass him, he had a beaming smile on his face. It actually began to bother me that every time that I saw him, he appeared happy. I mean, what right does a beggar have to happiness, right? One day I was kind of in a bad mood, and seeing him really ticked me off. "Why are you smiling every time I see you?" I asked him grumpily. "I smile because I am doing what I was made to do," he answered. Intrigued, and admittedly a little stumped, I stopped and sat next to him. "What were you made to do?" I asked. He replied, "Whenever you see a dog on the trail of a scent, or hear a bird singing in a tree, do they ever seem sad to you?" "I guess not," I replied with a shrug. He nodded slowly and said, "This is because they are doing what they were made to do. Man is the only one who seems to have trouble understanding what he was made for. He questions it, ponders it, and then rejects it. And he is unhappy because of it. All of mankind was made for the same purpose, and finds fulfillment and happiness in that same purpose. Yet, we all take separate paths in our effort to find our purpose in life. The rich man searches for happiness in his wealth and possession. Yet, he is never happy. The poor man longs to be like the rich man and wishes for what he doesn't have, and he is never happy." I pondered this silently for a moment, and then replied, "So if both the rich man and the poor man never find the happiness they are looking for, where can it be found?" "They look for it externally, yet it is found within," he answered sagely. "Man was not made to gather or look for possessions, but was made to be like his Creator. He was made to love and be loved in return. This is where true happiness lies." I smiled at him, and gave him the bread I just bought. He thanked me with that big smile on his face as I walked away. Leaving him, I felt brighter by the kindness I showed him and giving him what I had. My actions showed him love. And, at that moment, I couldn't have been happier.
You see, what I was learning was that we were made to be like our Creator. Our Creator is not the Author of Love, He is Love Itself. Jesus reaffirmed this when he taught that the greatest commandments, the ones that encompassed all of the other ones, were to love God with all of our hearts, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is in fulfilling this purpose in life that we are doing what we were made to do. We become fully human. A fully lived life is one that encompasses our full humanity, and through that we have inner peace.
As a future missioner, I am dedicating my life to fully living my humanity. My outer work in the community will be an effort to learn how to fully love my neighbor as God loves them. My priestly work will be to learn how to fully love God through bringing Him sacramentally to a hurting world. And yet, by working towards a greater love for my neighbors, I am loving God more fully as well. One encompasses the other completely, and through it I redeem my humanity. I become more human.
I hope to meet that old man again one day and tell him how much he taught me by his example. More importantly, however, I hope to live a life that he set the example for, one of love for my fellow neighbor and love for my God. That is where I will find fulfillment. That is where peace and happiness truly exists. I can think of no greater calling than that.
Sem. Jonathan Hill, M.M.