May 6, 2021
I delivered the following homily at an all-school Mass at Bishop Chatard High School, Indianapolis back in 2015, based on the same gospel we have today:
Jesus told His disciples: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you…I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.” (John 15:9-11)
I want you to take a moment to think about what makes you happy. If I were to ask 100 people what makes them happy, I would probably get 100 different responses.
Maybe your answer would be money, or your favorite meal, or when the Colts win. I was at a pet store one time and heard a little girl laugh and tell her mom, “Petting this puppy makes me happy.”
We all want to be happy and there are any number of things that can make us happy. The downside of happiness is that it has an expiration date. It can be fleeting.
It can also cause there to be an ever-increasing threshold for happiness. What does that mean? It means that it may take more of the same thing to make us happy the next time. If money makes me happy this time, it may take more money to make me happy the next time. Your favorite meal may not be enough to make you happy next time. You may have to add a great dessert. The Colts winning a game or petting a puppy may make you happy one time. But later it may take a playoff win to make you happy. Or the puppy may need to lick your face while you pet him. Happiness may lead us to hunger for more or to seek higher levels of happiness.
Do you remember your first tricycle? You probably thought life could not get much better. It made you happy. But eventually you needed a Big Wheel to make you happy, then a Power Wheels, then a two-wheeler, then anything with an engine. If you don’t have your own car right now, you’re looking forward to the day you will, and you know that will make you happy. If you do have your own car, it is probably a used car, but it still makes you happy. However, chances are that the time will come when you want a new car, or a faster car, or a maybe it’s a truck that will make you happy.
We tend to look ahead to the future in the same way. Instead of being content with where we are in our lives, we believe the next stage of our lives will make us happier.
My grade school building was shaped like an ‘L’. I remember being in fourth grade and thinking to myself, “I can’t wait to be in fifth grade” because the fifth graders were in the other wing, not the “little kid” wing. Being able to turn the corner and go down the hallway to the other wing of the school would make me happy.
For many of us, true happiness can only be found in what comes next. When we’re in grade school, we know high school will make us happy. Then senior year begins and our thoughts turn to college. High school just doesn’t do it for us anymore, but college will make us happy. Those of us who have been through all of that remember when we couldn’t wait to be done with college. Finally being done with school would make us happy. Then getting a job, then a better job, and so on and so on.
Happiness has an expiration date. It usually depends on things from the outside world. Our happiness is never complete because there is always something better out there. Unfortunately, we may miss out on some beautiful things going on in our lives right now because we are too busy looking for what’s next.
Notice that Jesus did not tell His disciples, “I have told you I love you so that my happiness might be in you and your happiness might be complete.”
Jesus used the word “joy.” He said, “I have told you I love you so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.”
Joy is happiness on steroids. It is not something that we have to search for and it does not depend on anything from the outside world. We do not need to wait for it or hope for it. And no one can take it away from us unless we let them.
Joy resides in our hearts. The source of that joy is the love of Jesus Christ. We can access it at anytime.
We don’t have to wait until we see a puppy so we can pet it. It doesn’t depend on whether the Colts win. Our joy has nothing to do with what’s coming up next.
We can choose joy. Being joyful is a choice. It is simply a matter of accepting the love of Jesus.
We came together as a school earlier in the year. You were told, “You are loved. You have value. You are not alone.” Another way to deliver that message is to say, “You can choose joy.”
If we accept the unconditional love of Jesus, and of others, joy lives in our hearts.
My advice to you: In your pursuit of happiness, don’t miss out on the opportunity to experience joy.