One of our sons came home shortly before college graduation because he needed to talk. Seated on the edge of the sofa, hands clasped on his lap, he nervously began: “I’ve decided to take a different career path. I know it will take a few more years of education and I’ll need to live at home, but I think it’s right.” We listened patiently and responded quietly: “We just want you to be happy.” What parent doesn’t want his or her child to be happy?
In this Sunday’s Gospel, the young rich man “went away sad.” Sad. He was apparently a fine, even outstanding, young man who kept all the commandments. Jesus offered him the fullness of life, yet money and possessions held his heart hostage. Instead of receiving happiness, he walked away sad.
Culture appeals to our appetites and ego: richest food, latest fashion, and newest technology. If we buy into this false version of happiness, our children may experience moments of pleasure and times of comfort, but not happiness. As they search endlessly, they will walk through life bloated, dissatisfied, and distracted. They walk away sad.
Young people hunger and thirst for true happiness. They know, deep in their hearts, they were made for more. They yearn to give their lives over to a greater purpose. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke truth to our young people: “The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”
Our greatness, our ultimate happiness, results from our dependence on Jesus and His way of self-sacrificial love—of self-gift. We discover happiness when we forget self and generously give ourselves away. The Baltimore Catechism describes succinctly the path to happiness—now and forever—as knowing, loving, and serving God.
We name grace when our children witness us following Christ—not money and self-satisfaction. We name grace when we put our faith, our children, and our care for others—especially the poor—before lesser goods. We name grace when we speak truth: God created us for a greater purpose.
Of course, we all experience moments of sadness and times of suffering. But the closer we remain to Christ and His way of self-gift, the happier and holier we will be. Helen Keller wrote: “True happiness … is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” Jesus, and His way of Love, is the Worthy Purpose—and the way to eternal life.
Will our son be happy in his new career? It depends less upon his career choice than his motivation. If he chooses to follow Christ by serving the kingdom of Almighty God, he will discover happiness. If he chooses to feed his ego and chase the almighty dollar, he will walk away sad. But whatever he chooses, Jesus loves him unconditionally and will never, ever, walk away. Now, that’s good news!
The blog on this page presents reflections on the Sunday readings through the lens of a parent/grandparent, aiding leaders of the domestic church in their vital task as “first heralds” or “first preachers” of the Good News in the home.