Saturday, October 03, 2015

Happiness Is...

Wedding of Aylwin & Michelle

Readings: Ecclesiasticus 26:1-4.13-16; Psalm 33:2-9; 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:8; Matthew 5:1-12
Picture: cc Pietro Zanarini

Aylwin and Michelle, my dear friends. Do you want to be happy? Silly question, isn’t it? Everybody wants to be happy. But how do we become happy? And what does being happy even mean? If I were to ask you to complete this sentence: Happiness is… What would you say? How would you fill in the blank?

I ask you these questions about happiness, not just because this is the natural thing to do at a wedding service. When a young man and a young woman look forward excitedly to a brand new life together. Of course they aspire to happiness. And rightly so. But that’s not the only reason why I ask about happiness. I do it because this is precisely the thing that you, Aylwin and Michelle invite us to ponder today. Through your choice of readings for this wedding service. I’m sure at least some of us here have noticed that each of the readings for today have something to do with happiness. And as we listen to them, they stir us to recall our own deep desires and dreams for happiness. They move us to examine what exactly we are doing to pursue these desires. To fulfil these dreams.

The first reading begins with the word happy. Happy the husband of a really good wife… What does the reading say about happiness? Well, taken at face value, it seems to tell us that happiness depends upon the quality of the spouse you marry. If your wife is good and perfect. Graceful and charming. Modest and chaste. Well-trained in character and, most of all, silent. Then you are a happy man. I’m not sure how Michelle feels about all this. But this isn’t actually the full picture that the reading paints for us.

Of course, the reading does not mean that any husband with a good wife will be happy. No matter how he treats her. Or how he lives his own life. Surely, a lazy, abusive, good-for-nothing husband should not aspire to true happiness. However capable his wife may be. And the reading itself is quite clear about this. Especially when it tells us that a good wife is the best of portions, reserved for those who fear the Lord. A good wife is a blessing that God grants to those who walk in God’s ways. Happiness is not about the kind of spouse you marry. Important though this may be. Happiness, rather, is about living a righteous life. Walking in the Wisdom of God. As the psalmist says, taste and see that the Lord is good. He is happy who seeks refuge in him.

So it’s not so much what kind of spouse we have. But rather what kind of life we live. The second reading helps to deepen our understanding even more. According to the reading, it’s not just the things we do that determine what kind of life we lead. Or how happy we are. We can do amazing things that impress a great many people. And inflate our own egos. But still not be happy. As the reading tells us, if I even let them take my body to burn it, but am without love, it will do me no good whatever. And we shouldn’t be surprised at this. For we hear of people like that, even today, don’t we? Isn’t this what terrorists do? Give their bodies to be burnt. Killing many other people in the process. Who among us would dare say that such people are truly happy?

No. Happiness is not so much about what we do. But more about how much love we put into the doing. I can, for example, get my secretary to remember my wife’s birthday every year. And to get an expensive present for her. But if I myself don’t take the trouble to show up. To celebrate with her. To express my love for her. And to do this not just on her birthday. But the rest of the year as well. Then what good would that annual present do? However costly it may be?

Thankfully, I have been told that both Aylwin and Michelle are quite aware of all this. Both of them understand very well that happiness is about love. And that love is about giving priority to the other. Higher priority than even the things that we may value most of all. Like work. And even the Liverpool Football Club.

And yet, those among us who have been married for a while, will probably be able to tell us that this kind of love is easier to live at the beginning. When the flames of passion are strong. When faults are willingly overlooked. And perhaps even considered adorable. But not so easy with the passing of time. When what may have seemed so endearing at first, gradually transforms into sources of endless irritation. How then to keep loving? How to be patient and kind? And not rude or selfish? When it seems like our love engine is running on empty? How then to be happy?

The answer is found in that all important gospel reading from the Sermon on the Mount. How happy are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven. How happy are those who realise their own poverty. Who recognise that they really do not have what it takes to love the way others need to be loved. Who humbly acknowledge that love is not something they can manufacture for themselves. But rather that they must first receive it constantly from God. From the Father. Who has loved us so irreversibly in the dying and rising of his Son. And who has given us the power to share that same love with others in the Spirit.

This, Michelle and Aylwin, is the happiness that you are proposing to us for our meditation today. This is the happiness to which you aspire. A happiness rooted in the love that you have for each other. A love that originates not from you. But in the love of almighty God. Who has seen fit, at this opportune time, to bring you both together as husband and wife. Not without help, of course, from various human agents. Especially from someone named Kim. Whose efforts at brokering free legal advice has contributed to sealing this happy union we are witnessing today. Is Kim here with us? We owe you a debt of gratitude. Thank you for helping God to light the flame of love between Michelle and Aylwin. The love that brings true happiness.

I’m reminded of a song that I learnt as a boy. A song about happiness. Some of you may know it. The first verse goes like this:
Happiness is to know the Saviour,
Living a life within his favour,
Having a change in my behaviour,
Happiness is the Lord.
Happiness is the Lord. My dear friends, even as we gather to witness this joyous union of Michelle and Aylwin today. Even as we extend to them our heartfelt wishes for their future happiness. Even as we commit ourselves to accompanying them on the road of marital bliss. How might we, each and everyone of us gathered here, how might we continue to live in the happiness of the Lord today?

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