Homily for March 4

Homily for Third Sunday of Lent
Scriptures for today's mass

Audio for homily

I recall reading, some years ago, about a study comparing differences
in how American and Japanese parents raise their children.

Part of the study was about what parents from the two cultures 
hoped for their children and  children’s their future.
In response to a fill-in-the-blank question,
“I hope my children will be…”
most American parents answered,
“I hope my children will be -- happy,”
while most Japanese parents answered,
“I hope my children will be -- good.”

Now that doesn’t mean
that the American parents didn’t want good children,
or that Japanese parents didn’t want happy children.

But there’s certainly a difference between the two responses,
revealing something important about how these two cultures
regard life and its experiences and its purpose.

That same difference might also be helpful
as we look at the 10 commandments in today’s first scripture
and how they influence our lives, our experiences
and our understanding of the purpose of our existence.

The pursuit of happiness is not foreign to the commandments,
in spite of all the “Thou Shalt Nots…” contained in them.

In fact, there’s a certain moral and social logic to them such that
keeping the commandments will likely make for a happier life
than would not keeping the commandments.

After all, the commandments urge us towards:
a good relationship with God; taking off at least one day a week;
the protection of human life; faithfulness between spouses;
the safeguarding of one’s property; respect for telling the truth;
and a certain contentment with and acceptance of what one has.

It’s not hard to see how living by such norms
would easily contribute to one’s happiness.

The problem comes, however, when fidelity to the commandments
begins to infringe on choices I make for my personal happiness as:
• when telling a lie might make me happier than telling the truth
• when taking something that doesn’t belong to me
promises make me happier than settling for what I already have
• when taking the life of another makes my life, or my nation’s life,
more peaceful, settled and convenient
• or when forgetting my relationship with God frees me up
for relationships I probably shouldn’t happily entertain

The problem is this:
pursuing what is good will lead me, even if by difficult roads,
to deeper peace and happiness;

but pursuing what I think will make me happy 
can often lead me, even before I know it,
to estrangement from God, from others and even from myself.

If being happy is my desire,disappointment and grief are what I risk.
Happiness is a moment along a continuum
of many other human emotions and experiences.

If being good is my desire
that doesn’t rule out grief and disappointment
but it guarantees that along, and at the end of my journey
I will find more than happiness:
I will have the peace, the joy that comes
from doing what I know is good,

what is right, what is just and true
- what comes from and is of God.

The difference between pursuing what is good
and pursuing what makes me happy
is often the difference between what the gospel asks of me

and what I claim as my own right...

In the pursuit of individual happiness,
the terms of engagement are sometimes narrow:
the individual’s rights;

current law protecting those rights
and the desired personal end.

In the pursuit of what is good, the terms are often more inclusive:
the law of God;
the individual’s free will;
the desired end and the means to it;
and most important: the other,
that is, my neighbor’s stake in my desire to be happy.

In different ways and in different degrees,
every critical issue before our nation today
is subject to these very distinctions.

And, in different ways and in different degrees,
every issue in my daily life and yours is likewise subject.

A good question for each of us to consider this Lent might be this:
Which do I desire more?  To be happy… or to be good?

Jesus faced that same question
and his response burned ardently in his heart

when he gave up all claim to personal happiness and comfort
and surrendered himself to all that is good, on the Cross.

As we are nourished by the gift of his sacrifice
may the food of his self-giving choice 

give us wisdom and strength
to live according to the word, the will and the commandments of God,
-- that we might be good.


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