Only for today, I will be happy in the certainty that I was created to be happy, not only in the other world but also in this one. – St. John XXIII

I heard several times that in an African version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the answer to the question of “Why were we created?” is something to the effect of “Because God thought we would like it.” I also heard an old joke that the Catholic motto is “Why feel good when you can feel bad?” – by the way, that joke was told to me by other Catholics.

For Christians all over the world, we are at about the half-way point of Lent. This time has often been characterized by sacrifice, penitence and ashes. We give things up, we keep our sins before us, we remember that we are dust. Just makes you wanna dance, doesn’t it? Actually I’m joking, because if we look closely at what St. John was trying to do, and what we are called to as people of enlightenment, this time of year can truly be a time of joy and hope.

Lenten observances began with Ash Wednesday. Catholics hear from Saint Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians on that day, among the other Scriptures. Paul says that “now is a very acceptable time…now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). This can be a very acceptable time to be renewed in the reality of who we are – for God, it is always an acceptable time for us to open the “eye of the soul” (Saint Bonaventure) and see ourselves, one another and the world as it truly is – a beloved creation and manifestation of the Divine. You and I are created in that reality, but how hard it is for US to accept it! Jesus the Christ came to reveal this reality most perfectly in himself and help us to live into that reality ourselves. A fundamental reality of life is that you are created very good (Genesis 1:27-31). If we all bought into that, how different our lives, and the world, would be!

What is happiness? Author Jack Canfield in The Success Principles says that, for most people, there is an unwritten law: Event = Outcome. He argues that the law is actually Event + Response = Outcome. How does that apply to happiness? Well, for many of us, happiness is a result of external circumstances. Something good happens to me and I’m happy. Something bad happens and I’m sad or angry or afraid. St. John is challenging himself and us to a higher level of consciousness: happiness is a result of internal intention.

I’m not suggesting that we’re supposed to be happy about the bad things that sometimes happen. I am suggesting that the true joy we can attain is not a feeling but a way of being. By nature, it is not a result of external situations but of a spiritual grounding. In the book and movie Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom visits Morrie, his old professor from college who is dying of a debilitating disease. The man is confined to a hospital bed. In speaking with Morrie, Albom comes to a realization: “I’m a famous author, I’m in great shape, I have a great job, a great family, lots of money…so why is this dying old man 10 times happier than I am?”. Morrie lived the happiness that is a spiritual practice. No doubt he experienced the pain of his illness and would love to have been able to be cured, but his joy was not dependent upon his physical health. It was greater than his physical health or any other condition.

The spiritual wisdom journey is about more than trying to get into heaven. It’s about learning to see that we are “in heaven” now – we are manifestations of the all-loving God meant to receive Divine life so we can be filled with that life and so give that life to others. When we can do this, we come to realize a joy that is greater than anything the circumstances of life can throw at us.

So let’s give things up. Let’s work on giving up that which will keep us in a mindset that we are less than lovable; less than capable of transmitting Divine life and love.

Let’s take an honest look at how we’ve missed the mark. “Sin” means to miss the mark. Author and teacher Brian Johnson (find him here) suggests we look at our shortcomings each day, but not in a self-punishing way. Rather, we look at them in a “Needs Work” category. We’re constantly developing and growing into our true selves. Some things will go well – celebrate that. Sometimes we will act unskillfully, selfishly, fearfully, and otherwise unlike the holy creations we are. We want to recognize this, take responsibility, and recognize that these behaviors and thoughts “need work”. Let’s do what is necessary to work on them. Let us be gentle with ourselves and others.

Let’s remember that we are dust. We are from the stuff of the earth. We are all the same. We will not be here in this world this way forever. What can we do to help this world live into the dream that God has for it? What can we give? What have you always wanted to do with your life but were afraid? Now is the time. Just take a first step: make a call; make an appointment; enroll in a class; write out a plan of action and keep an eraser handy so you adapt it. You don’t have to know every step to take right now. Just be open to the movement of the Spirit through prayer and meditation. Take the time to listen. Then take the action. Be open to receive Divine guidance and consult someone trained and trusted to help you discern, like a spiritual director.

Ask yourself what is keeping you from being happy. Get help with that – again, from people trained and trusted to help in that area. YOU CAN BE HAPPY – YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO BE HAPPY – YOU WERE MEANT TO BE HAPPY, AND IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH YOUR CURRENT SITUATION.