by Fr Richard Heilman | August 16, 2015 8:26 AM
Science continues to catch up with what faith and reason and human experience has always known. Yet another study confirms that the secret to “sustained happiness” is found in the practice of one’s faith, more than other forms of social participation, such as volunteering, playing sports or taking a class.
A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology by researchers at the London School of Economics and Erasmus University Medical Center found that the secret to sustained happiness lies in participation in religion. “The church appears to play a very important social role in keeping depression at bay.”
Researchers looked at four areas: 1) volunteering or working with a charity; 2) taking educational courses; 3) participating in religious organizations; 4) participating in a political or community organization. Of the four, participating in a religious organization was the only social activity associated with sustained happiness. Researchers found that joining political or community organizations lost their benefits over time. In fact, the short-term benefits from those social connections often lead to depressive symptoms later on.
Secular analysts seem to be doing back flips trying to explain away the simple reality that there is no other authentic and fulfilling way to live other than a supernatural life. But, spiritual giants have held the keys to this understanding for time immemorial …
St. John Vianney once wrote, “Prayer is nothing else than union with God. When our heart is pure and united to God, we feel within ourselves a joy, a sweetness that inebriates, a light that dazzles us. In this intimate union God and the soul are like two pieces of wax melted together; they cannot be separated. This union of God with His little creature is a most beautiful thing. It is a happiness that we cannot understand. . . God, in His goodness, has permitted us to speak to Him. Our prayer is an incense which He receives with extreme pleasure.”
St. Paul also wrote, “The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14). This is the person who acts only by using his or her human faculties (intelligence and will) and who therefore can be wise only in the things of the world. He remains superficial and worldly. This is a heart that has hardened to the presence of God.
The prophet Jeremiah wrote: “Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of season, but stands in a lava waste, a salt land and empty earth” (Jer 17:5-6).
In fact, throughout the Bible (e.g., Ps 1, Jer 17, Rev 22) we are told that the blessed ones are those who trust God and His ordinances; they are like trees planted beside streams of water. These trees are full of life (their leaves stay green) and they fulfill their purpose (produce fruit) even in the face of life’s challenges. The Navarre Bible comments, “The spiritual man is the Christian reborn by the grace of God; grace elevates his faculties to enable him to perform actions which have a supernatural value — acts of faith, hope, and charity. A person who is in the state of grace is able to perceive the things of God, because he carries with him the Spirit in his soul in grace, and he has Christ’s mind, Christ’s attitude. ‘We have no alternative,’ St. Josemaria Escriva teaches, ‘there are only two possible ways of living on this earth: either we live a supernatural life, or we live an animal life. And you and I can only live the life of God, a supernatural life.’”
This is “Wisdom Living.” The first reading this weekend says that, “Wisdom has built her house” and she invites us to dine at the banquet of this sumptuous and meaningful life: “Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.”
St. Paul too, in the second reading, calls us to this banquet of living, “Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise … do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.”
You see? There is a difference. The world seems to be raising, more and more, the idea of being, “smart” or “out-smarting others” or being “clever.” Whether it is politics or commerce or relationships … deceiving others, tricking others, preying on others, making closed-doors deals with others … is the way to get ahead; the way to get on top; the way to get what we want. Even those with an armload of university degrees remain committed to their demagoguery ahead of truth itself … it’s smart to push their personal agenda, no matter what truth has to say about it.
Where does that leave us? In utter chaos, anarchy and bedlam. Look around today, as more and more folks disconnect from their “Divine Source,” we see more and more need for law enforcement and lawyers, who are straining to “keep the order.” We ask, “Who can be trusted any longer?”
I remember, as a child, when little or no law enforcement was even necessary … when there was no worries of predators or violence or wrong-doing of any kind. People practiced their faith … people practiced “Wisdom Living.” As a child, we would wake up in the morning, grab a bowl of Cheerios, and go off to play until the street lights came on. Today, we recently saw a couple making national news, as they were accused of child neglect, because “they let their children walk around the neighborhood.” “Helicopter parenting” has become the norm, because we simply cannot trust anyone anymore.
What’s the difference? As our culture becomes more disconnected from God; from truth; from “Wisdom Living,” we see more and more people trying to be clever or smart: “I should be able to have whatever I want, no matter who I need to violate in order to get it!” No. We need to live in His Wisdom: “I should do whatever He wants, no matter what the cost is to myself.” THIS is a life with “real” meaning and “real” purpose, and the only life that, in the long run, brings “real happiness.” Not just for us, personally, but for the world!
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