Happiness: Solidarity and hope in difficult times

‘Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer’ Rom 12:12

Pope Benedict said during his visit to the UK in 2010:

“Happiness is something we all want, but one of the great tragedies in this world is that so many people never find it, because they look for it in the wrong places. The key to it is very simple – true happiness is to be found in God. We need to have the courage to place our deepest hopes in God alone, not in money, in a career, in worldly success, or in our relationships with others, but in God. Only he can satisfy the deepest needs of our hearts.”

In a culture that often measures happiness in terms of pleasure, success and money many are thinking again about what brings true meaning and joy to life. The recent upheaval in banking and the economy in particular has left many individuals and families facing an uncertain future.

For the Christian the deepest joy in life does not come from what I have or what I can achieve. It comes from the knowledge that even before I was formed in my mother’s womb I was known and loved by my Creator (Jer 1:5; Psalm 139): that from the first moment of conception to natural death I am loved personally by God and have an eternal future. It comes from knowing that every minute of life is enfolded by God’s loving care and that life itself will not end in emptiness. As Blessed John Henry Newman once wrote, ‘God has created me to do him some definite service… He has not created me for naught’. God has a plan for me and ‘that plan is for good, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’ (Jer 29:1-14).

God’s love offers a life that is ‘truly’ life because it is a life not measured by achievements but in the very fact that I am – and that I am eternally loved. In the certain knowledge that ‘nothing can separate us from the love of Christ’ (Rom 8:39), my life can still be rich in meaning and constant in hope in the face of setbacks, suffering and even death itself. God’s love gives us the possibility of persevering day by day with patient joy, spurred on by hope, in a world which by its very nature is imperfect.

When setbacks do come, the friendship and care shown to us by others becomes a vital source of comfort, meaning and hope. Building a culture of life also commits us to building a civilisation of love: it involves showing practical solidarity and concern for those around us who are in need. A society that protects those who are vulnerable and weak, contributes to our shared happiness: a society that shows love and concern for others who are in need enhances our quality of life.

One of the most striking examples of this is found in the story of the Visitation. In a most extraordinary act of generosity and selfless concern for others St. Luke tells us that Mary, having just received the news that she had conceived a child through the power of the Holy Spirit, set out across the hill country of Judea to give support to her cousin Elizabeth. In one of the most powerful affirmations of the sacredness of life in the womb, Luke tells us that as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child in her womb ‘leaped for joy’ (Lk 1:44). We are also told that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months, enough time to help with preparations for the birth. At the news of the birth ‘the relatives and neighbours shared their joy’ (Lk 1:58).

What is particularly striking about this story is the joy that follows the news of new life and the practical help given by family, friends and good neighbours. A culture of respect for life is essential for a civilisation of love. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI:

Openness to life is at the centre of true development. When a society moves towards the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good… The acceptance of life strengthens moral fibre and makes people capable of mutual help.

As a society we have a strong tradition of good neighbourliness and of showing mutual help. Day for Life is an opportunity to ask ourselves if there is anything more we can do to be of help to my neighbours, to improve the quality of life of others and of society as a whole, especially in these financially challenging times?

By embracing a culture of life and standing with those marginalized and deemed “useless” or a “burden” on society, we can turn the values of our consumer society upside down. We can contribute to the happiness and quality of life of all by ensuring respect for the life of every person, from conception to natural death. We can work toward creating a civilisation of love, rooted in a culture of life, by reaching out to those who are suffering as a result of the long recession.

Day for Life is a call to us to work for a society in which all are valued as created, loved by God, redeemed by Christ; not for their fame, or power or what they own but for their intrinsic worth. It is a call to rediscover the truth that our deepest happiness and joy comes from the knowledge that we are all loved by God from the very beginning and that trusting in God’s love, through our setbacks and difficulties, our own ‘joy will be complete’ (Jn 10:10).