The freedom to pursue happiness is writ large in our country’s DNA. This, America’s logo, as it were, was officially pronounced to the world with Jefferson’s Independence Declaration when our forefathers risked their own life and liberty that we as a nation might henceforth govern ourselves. Our first president added, as a significant footnote in his “Farewell Address” that, "of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” For Americans, then, politics and religion will always find themselves closely associated. You and I have since been born into a prosperous people, free to pursue happiness based on this political tenet that ultimately rests on divine beneficence. What then, is happiness, from God’s point of view? Taking a brief biblical gander will serve America well as a reminder of who we are, what we stand for, and how we hope to continue to thrive.
“Happy the man who discovers wisdom, the man who gains discernment: gaining her is more rewarding than silver, more profitable than gold. She is beyond the price of pearls, nothing you could covet is her equal.” Proverbs 3:13-15)
“They are happy whose life is blameless, who follow God’s law! They are happy who do his will, seeking him with all their hearts, who never do anything evil but walk in his ways.” (Psalm 119:1-3)
Happiness, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, is obtaining the perfect good which is the vision and possession of God--though in this life happiness can only be experienced imperfectly. The Angelic Doctor’s insights are inspired by Scriptures: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know only in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12)
It may not be coincidental that the first reading from holy mass today reflects on the tragic account of Sodom and Gomorrah, when happiness is lost.
“The angels urged Lot, ‘Come, take your wife and these two daughters of yours, or you will be overwhelmed in the punishment of the town.’ And as he hesitated, the men took him by the hand, and his wife and his two daughters…
"As they were leading him out he said, ‘Run for your life. Neither look behind you nor stop anywhere on the plain. Make for the hills if you would not be overwhelmed...’
"As the sun rose over the land and Lot entered Zoar, the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord. He overthrew these towns and the whole plain, with all the inhabitants of the towns, and everything that grew there.”
"Rising early in the morning Abraham went to the place where he had stood before the Lord, and looking towards Sodom and Gomorrah, and across all the plain, he saw the smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace. Thus it was that when God destroyed the towns of the plain, he kept Abraham in mind and rescued Lot out of disaster when he overwhelmed the towns where Lot lived.” (Gn. 19:15-29)
A sobering conclusion to this brief reflection, from the point of view of an all-loving God who protects those who find their happiness in him. We do well as a people of faith to ponder these mysteries, especially at that most precious of moments when the priest lifts up the Host and declares: “Take this, all of you, and eat of it…” If there was ever a Catholic definition of happiness, you will find it here, in Our Lord’s sacred body and blood.