Monday, August 31, 2009

When Was I Most Happy In My Life?

A former sixty-ish American President, of the early Twentieth century, was asked at a formal White House dinner, when did he think his wife was “the most beautiful.” Without a moment’s hesitation he replied: “why----right now.” No doubt his “bride” must have beamed with radiance and pleasure. Yet, in effect, that moment was the only real slice of Time that existed! The past did not exist except in memory and the future had not yet come. Or might never come. Such a perception of Time is essential, I think, for us human beings who desire to exploit properly the priceless gift of the gracious God which is, of course, Life. Life which includes the dimension of appropriate fun among others. It would be difficult to live a “full” life if one were plagued with resentments, angers, guilt, and self depreciation about one’s past history and concurrently worried about unlimited fearful possibilities of the future. How could one experience the needed “playful”[1] dimension one finds in the mature, developed personality (of any age) if one is emotionally constricted by living in any time zone but the present? In a conversation with his alcoholic brother, a friend of mine (likewise alcoholic) discovered all they were talking about was the past and the future. The “present” had no rooting in their psyches, which significantly contributed to their current unhappiness.

With the lead given by Jesus Who taught us that “evil for the day is sufficient thereof…”, serious practitioners of the Art of Living such as the 12 step program leaders, have trumpeted the Mantra “One day at a time - One day at a time - One day at a time” with startling good results! Most of us do feel capable of tolerating pain or misery or heartbreak for a day—especially those who believe that God helps all of us with His “amazin’” grace. And even more especially for those who believe that God never gives us more than we can handle since His grace is always at our immediate disposal. From a theological standpoint, God gives grace only for the present moment since with God there is neither past nor future but only the eternal Now. Consistent with this view, the outspoken St Teresa of Avila wrote that for her, it had to be one minute at a time. Anything more would be too much to ask.

Obviously, almost any attitude can be carried to extremes. Sorrow for past misdeeds or sins is clearly appropriate. A sense of atonement coincides nicely with a healthy spiritual life. Making amends for past misdeeds is appropriate not only for A.A but also for an appropriate approach to God. Sensible prudence for the future is wise. Indolence of any kind is hardly consonant with an elegant life of the Spirit. In the Catholic spiritual tradition, the laid back, laissez-faire view tumbles dangerously close to the heresy of Quietism which leaves much of personal responsibility to others especially to the Lord. There is much of our own destiny which is in our own hands.

And of course one can wander pleasantly back to the “Good ole’ days” which have been decorously festooned with the passage of time. Most of us are inclined to re-do our own histories in the light of our present state of mind. I can do that. I can re-do my history so that it cannot compete with my present! I can remember my sense of well being as I, a youth given to contemplation, sat in a row boat, alone, in the middle of gorgeous Lake George in New York state. The sense of peace and closeness to God were priceless. The mountains, the clear fresh air, the comforting warm breezes combined in my soul to allow me to feel something of that elusive quality---happiness. I remember the soaring sense of joy I felt as I raced over cold snowy streets to the Lake on Fifth Avenue and 59th Street to ice skate. The feeling of free movement, the sparkle I felt from the stinging weather, the joy at being part of a laughing and deliriously youthful crowd - and so much more - gave me what I thought was happiness. I won a gold medal for achievement in grammar school. I walked on water emotionally when my family seemed so proud of me. Being in the “bosom” of family brought so much warmth and love and acceptance that one could easily say that human intimacy is the basis of happiness. But with whom? I scored 100% in the State Regents exam in Geometry. I was exuberant! I was accepted into the exclusive honors club in college and given a golden key which I still cherish. I was in 7th Heaven when I made my First Holy Communion. I was euphoric and certainly on the edge of ecstasy when I was ordained a priest.

I thrilled to the beauties of Europe sharing those delight with dear friends. I so enjoyed being at sea with the endless horizon always beckoning me to gaze at infinity. I almost burst with “happiness” when my public speaking stints brought me applause and praise. Oh yes, I keenly appreciate how satisfying it is to look back on one’s life, with satisfaction, and “enjoy” pleasant memories. The list of positives for any human being can usually be substantial if one wishes to float in re-painting history. But I, like most people, am inclined to eclipse the difficulties which I had in those days. Gilding the lily is everyone’s choice. But, nevertheless, nothing is so dead as yesterday’s news. It all passes. Or does it? What really does not change? The eternal Now never changes. I mean God ----- with me at this very moment.

The past is over. It does not exist and can never come again. There really is only now. As stated above, the Catholic Faith teaches that with God there is only the eternal Now –all is before Him—what we call past and present and future. Jesus, it seems to me, is telling us “Carpe diem” or seize the day! This day.

To exploit appropriately. To drink deep of the Nectar of God’s world. When was Life most beautiful for me? If I really could hear the Lord’s Voice in my soul, I would say “right now”!

[1] How often spiritual writers and mystics write about God’s pleasure on seeing His children laugh and sing and dance and enjoy life according to His Will!

1 comment:

Corey said...

“Hello Father! I want to let you know about an awesome group called “Kepha, the Brotherhood of the Iron Will.” Kepha is a growing brotherhood of Catholic fathers and sons in seven states that are faithful to the Holy Father. We promote the Culture of Life through monthly retreats and shared daily prayers and provoke each other to Heaven according to our motto, "Dynamic Orthodoxy, Infectious Joy."

Kepha is a high-octane Catholicism rejecting spiritual laziness and moral compromise. We are under the patronage of our "BIG 3": St. John Bosco, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. Kepha members agree to live by 5 commitments : Apologetics, Brotherhood, Charity, Mortification and Prayer.

Kepha is a non-profit organization with chapters in Texas and Louisiana. If you know of any men who are looking for an excellent way to strengthen their relationships with their sons, then please tell them about Kepha.

You can find out more information on our web site at

God bless you!
Corey Harned