I remember it like it was yesterday. The scene: all school Mass; I’m in the second grade. Mass moves along as normal (except what’s normal about Christ incarnate come to earth and received into our bodies?… but that’s for a different blog), and as the final hymn queues up, my second-grade self feels something move within his little heart. The song is “Lord of Dance,” one of my top ten church BANGERS. I sing as well as one can in second grade, and I leave Mass with a smile on my face because I actually just had a blast in church. As my class walked back to our room in a no-doubt crooked and rambunctious “single file” line, a thought bubbled over from my brain and out of my mouth. “That was . . . fun!” I couldn’t believe what I’d just said. Fun in church? Nonetheless, there it was. Mass could be fun; I had said so myself. After my comment, I garnered a few weird looks from my classmates, and I moved along through the rest of my day feeling a little embarrassed about having had a good time in Mass.
In retrospect, I wonder, why was I so hesitant to admit that faith could be fun? Why was my second-grade self so embarrassed to have fun in Mass? And I think the answer comes in a false belief many of us have taught ourselves, that God doesn’t really want us to have a good time. We’ve tricked ourselves into thinking that God doesn’t want us to be happy. Too often we mistakenly view God as a demanding ruler and the Church as an obnoxious institution that exists to suck the fun out of our lives and force us to follow a load of unnecessary rules. However, when we look deeper into the role of the Church and the will of God, we see that the Lord’s plan for humanity is ordered entirely to our ultimate happiness and fulfillment. So, the question that arises is:
Does God want me to be happy?
Yes! God created us in and for love, and He desires nothing more than that we might fall in love with Him as deeply as He has fallen in love with us. Our happiness and fulfillment are actually God’s number one priority. However, the happiness God has in mind doesn’t always look like the happiness we plan for ourselves. God’s plans will always be far greater than ours, but it might not seem that way to us in every moment.
How does God want to make me happy?
God wants to make us happy by living in relationship with us. We were made for God, so He is the only thing that can make us whole. Living out a relationship with Him is the only way we can be truly happy. The “happiness” promoted by the world and popular culture would have us think that to be happy means to indulge into every desire we’ve ever had. The mantra of “if it feels good, do it” points us to a false happiness, a happiness in which we eventually find ourselves scrambling to gather more and more things, relationships, popularity, etc., trying to fill the void in our hearts meant to be filled only by God’s love. The problem with the happiness the world promises is that it will always be finite. If we’re simply chasing things and popularity, we will never have enough. But our hearts don’t long for the finite; they long for the Infinite. And only God, who is infinite love and goodness, can fill our hearts as they long to be filled.
Why does the Church tell me not to do things that seem to make other people happy?
The boundaries set up by the Church exist to help us stay on track in our relationships with God by making us truly free to love God with our whole selves. Many things that seem to make others happy (money, partying, casually hooking up with people, getting followers, etc.) actually represent a misguided human attempt to fill God’s place in our hearts — an attempt to fill the desire for the Infinite with finite things. The Church doesn’t allow us to do things that draw us farther away from God; in fact, the Church’s entire role as our spiritual mother is to lead us into a fuller communion with the Lord, to lead us into the fullness of true happiness. Boundaries of morality exist not so much to prevent us from doing what everyone else is doing, but more so to allow us to live in a way that so many other people do not allow themselves to live. These rules for life allow us to live on Earth as we will in heaven.
If God wants me to be happy, then why is Christianity hard?
Christianity is hard because it requires that we be in the world but not of the world. Christianity requires us to free ourselves from worldly attachments in order to give our hearts more fully to the Father. This separation from worldly attachments is not easy, but it is always worth it. Christianity requires that we overcome our immediate impulses and make a choice to live for the eternal. Our faith sometimes calls us to deny what captures our attention in the moment for the sake of what it is we truly long for: a relationship with God. Moreover, the world would tell us that “difficult” and “happy” are always exclusive of one another and that anything that makes us happy should never be difficult. Fortunately, our faith shows us that this idea isn’t true at all. Our deepest happiness will not come easily, because fostering a relationship with the Lord takes work, but just because difficulty is involved doesn’t mean happiness isn’t. The road to true happiness is difficult, but the fullness of a relationship with God will never disappoint.
So, going back to second-grade, I think my younger self was onto something. “Lord of the Dance” truly is a banger! But, more importantly, the Lord does will for us to have fun and to be happy. God desires to fulfill us by drawing us into relationship with Him. While it may seem like the Church merely prevents us from following popular avenues to happiness, she actually guides us along the road to the fullest relationship with God. And it is in this relationship with the Lord that we find true happiness. So, does God want us to be happy? Absolutely. In fact, He wants nothing more.
I once played a character named "Jim" on an ad for my city's local Catholic radio station, and my friend Kelly played "Kathy." Unfortunately, my career in radio was pretty short lived (maybe twenty minutes total?). My relationship with Jesus is simultaneously beautiful, raw, intimate, and wild, and I wouldn't have it any other way. The Lord continues to invite me deeper into His love, and I can't wait to see where He'll take me next. If you'd like to follow along with me in my journey with Christ, you can find me on Instagram @n1ckb3rnard.