Dear Parishioners: I recently read about a new study that found that the secret to sustained happiness is to be found in the regular participation in religion. The researchers examined four areas: volunteering with a charity, taking educational courses, participating in religious organizations and participating in political and community organizations. They found that participation in a religious organization was the only social activity associated with sustained happiness. Now the study also suggests that going to church plays an important role in coping with depression and illness. It also found that joining political or community groups lost their benefits over time because they were not overly fulfilling. The research seems to suggest that the happiness expressed in those who go to church was found in “the sense of belonging and not being socially isolated.”
I am not sure how exhaustive the study is but it does point to something positive about religion. It can bring happiness and fulfillment to one’s life. So often people fall into the trap of seeking their happiness in worldly things like money, power, or sexual promiscuity. Sadly they are usually left very empty by such worldly pursuits. True happiness is found in a deep and devout relationship with the Lord and His Church. This happiness we might properly call the joy of the Gospel. It is as Pope Francis has said: ““Without joy that person is not a true believer.”
Yet we all know people who go to Church and even receive the Eucharist daily who seem less than joyful! People who don’t say hello to a neighbor, people who hold a grudge against someone, people who delight in other’s mistakes and misfortunes, people who cannot wait to share some juicy gossip, people who like to ridicule and harshly judge others, and people who seem just plain miserable. Where’s the joy? Why is it that the joy of the Gospel and the happiness found in practicing religion escape even those who come to Church? Perhaps it’s because of a burden they bear or a mistake they’ve made in life. Maybe they’ve been hurt and betrayed by someone in their life. Or it could be they cannot escape from the cynicism and despair in our world.
Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta once said: “Joy is a net of love by which we catch souls. “ So we might ask ourselves how joyful are we? When we leave Mass are we joyful that we have shared in the Body of Christ and received the Bread of Life? Do people around us recognize the joy of the Gospel in us, in our words and actions? We all know there are many things in our world and sometimes in our own lives that are less than joyful. War, famine, poverty, sickness, unemployment, death and violence are but just a few to be found in our world and in our own lives. Yet Jesus Christ calls us to share our joy in knowing and loving Him despite the sinfulness and brokenness of our world. It may be difficult at times to overcome the sadness and cynicism of our world.
We need only listen to the Lord to realize we can overcome this. Jesus Christ tells us: “Do not let your hearts be troubled”; “Do not be afraid”; “I am with you always” and “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete!” So if “joy is the net of love by which we catch souls,” how are we doing? When is the last time we invited a friend, family member or neighbor to come to Mass with us to experience and share the joy of the Gospel? When is the last time someone asked us why we seem so happy and joyful in our lives despite perhaps our own hardships or burdens? How joyful are we of the many blessings God has bestowed upon us? If joy is the mark of “a true believer” and scientific studies demonstrate that those who go to church are genuinely happy, why not share the Good News? After all, the great hymn of joy reminds us: “Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of Love, Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away; Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!” Be well. Do good. Have a great week. Be joyful! God Bless.