HAPPINESS, THEY SAY, is an activity of the soul. Everyone desires to be happy. It is hence a project to carry out. According to Aristotle, happiness can be understood as the end of morality. All what we do is to be happy. Even when pain is involved, the end result ought to be happiness. Based on the natural law, pain is to be avoided and pleasure sought. St. Thomas Aquinas developed this philosophy further by asserting that the ultimate happiness is to be with God.
It is to attain heaven. Hence, any happiness that derails us from attaining heaven, a place of perpetual happiness is no thorough happiness. Also, any pain that takes us to heaven is a necessary pain and can rightly be called no pain. This happiness oriented ethics has encountered many faces of philosophical and critical thinking. Amidst all these, it has survived in many religions, theories, policies and ideologies assuming various intercepting forms and colours.
In the Christian tradition, this ultimate happiness is called beatific vision, a state of eternal bliss in the presence of God, in union with the angels and saints. That is the longing of every individual soul. This is the happiness we seek. The happiness we find in things of this world are only a shadowy reflection of the eternal happiness in heaven. But the problem comes in that many of us cling to this shadowy fractions of happiness to the extent of losing sight of the main happiness. It is therefore our task to differentiate earthly happiness and heavenly happiness. They are not necessarily opposed. The former is meant to lead us to the latter but in some cases it is not the case. We are entrapped in the earthly happiness. That is not good at all. God wants us happy. He wishes that on the last day we enjoy this salvific happiness. It is part of his Providence and the reconciliation of our spirit with the will of God is the assurance of the ultimate happiness. Wealth, pleasure and power can give happiness yet the happiness is like a wave. It comes and goes. A rich man can be saddened. A jolly good fellow gets depressed. Sovereigns take their own lives. The simple poor in the spirit are blessed. The Greek word is makarios meaning being happy. It is the happiness which the world cannot give.
Within this scheme of Divine Providence, God uses us as rational, secondary causes in effecting happiness in others. It is not only about bringing the Good News to them. That is also important and in fact basic. In addition, we must provide the unprivileged the means for temporal happiness especially the basic necessities of food, shelter and clothing. Our little good works create an atmosphere of happiness where God dwells in our midst. We are therefore called to spread happiness everywhere we are. We are God's instruments of blessings and we feel fulfilled when we make others happy.
Many people today both in and outside the Church have realized this vocation to make others happy. In fact, the J.S Mill, Jeremy Bentham the fathers of utilitarianism describes virtue as the greater happiness for the greater number of people finding its blosom in the 19th Century. This has formed the ideology of certain governments. Some have taken it to the extreme of hedonism which is a kind of entrapping happiness - happiness that blinds us from the true eternal happiness. Hedonism which dates back to Epicurus the philosopher has formed the philosophy of life of many artists, poets, musicians and even writers. Today, starting with the United Arab Emirate in 2016, the ministry of happiness has been created in many countries and recently in a state in the south east of Nigeria. The irony of it all is that this state has been owing workers and pensioners and is presently notorious for making life difficult for people. If the basic conditions of order and justice is lacking, happiness will remain a mirage - this is the case of Imo State.
Today being the third Sunday of Advent, the Church celebrates joy. It is called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete means rejoice. The vestment slightly changes to rose even though many priests will still prefer to wear purple today. Trito-Isaiah sees himself as God's secondary cause for happiness. He feels the Lord's Spirit upon him and the call to bring the Good News to the poor. It is a mission to proclaim the Lord's year of favour. It is a time to tell the people to rejoice. The Good News primarily belongs to the poor and those who assume the attitude of the poor. Part of this is solidarity with the poor and the downtrodden, those who think they can never rejoice again. It is time to share with those who do not have. In fact here, the evangelization is more practical than verbal. The proclamation of the Good News automatically opens the eyes of the blind, heals the broken hearted and makes the lame walk. It liberates those in chains of all forms; chains of domination and manipu-lations, economic bondage, ignorance and ostracism. The outcome of all these liberations is joy. Hence, there will be a reversal of fortunes. Those who mourn will rejoice and those unjustly condemned will be vindicated. Mourning garments will be changed with garlands and oil of gladness. The justice and righteousness wrought by God brings mourners joy. Hence, every preacher of the Good News must see himself or herself as God's agent of making others happy. The Good News liberates and gladdens the heart. Any Good News that puts the people in chain or places unnecessary burden on their shoulders is less than Good News. A preacher is a bringer of joy. "See how beautiful are the feet of the one who brings the Good New" (Isaiah 52:7).
On this Gaudete Sunday I wish all of us joy. Despite what you are passing through, just dedicate this day unto God and rejoice in his salvation. Put smile on other people's faces and celebrate whatever you find on your table no matter how little. Acknowledge that all good things come from God. Amidst this celebration, be careful not to offend God. It is not only today but also throughout this season of Christmas. May we never miss the goal of this season, so a preacher told us in our local Church last Sunday. It has always been the norm that we forget what Christmas is all about and honour Sancta Claus instead of the new born Christ. We find it difficult to separate true happiness from false happiness. In the name of the season, we indulge in sex, alcohol, greedy acquisition of wealth, power domination and other hedonistic celebrations. With these, we miss the goal. True happiness can be found in God alone. Any project of happiness that does not have God as its foundation will not yield the desired result. Ministries of happiness must bring God to the centre. It must first of all better the situations of the people. Without justice, ministry of happiness will fail. With justice in place, happiness comes with God at its centre, the joy becomes full and impels us heavenwards. There will be joy in the morning.
Side Comment: My governor has appointed his sister the commissioner for happiness. And I ask the question, where is the God of justice here?
-REV. FR STANLEY EKWUGHA, ISCH