July 10, 2024 // Perspective

Happiness, Joy, and the Glimpse of Our Eternal Destiny

I recently had the great joy of attending three ordinations of close friends to the priesthood (including here in our own diocese). The last of these ordinations, in the Diocese of Toledo, Ohio, provided a particular opportunity, given the timing of it, for a sort of reunion of many close friends coming together to celebrate one of the last in our friend group to be ordained a priest.

The ordination, as they all are, was a beautiful event and the fruit of years of preparation and growth. But I noticed as the weekend of events and time spent with friends came to a close that the words of the late Jesuit Father James Schall were ringing in my mind. In his essay entitled “On Leaving Rome,” Father Schall reflects beautifully on various lessons the city of Rome teaches its residents. The lesson with which Father Schall ends his essay, and that was on mental repeat for me, is when he writes: “Meanwhile, the sentiments about the hearts left in San Francisco and the goodbyes spoken in Rome are mostly true. Happiness and beauty are ever much harder to bear than sadness and pain: this is the mystery that these cities teach us.”

Indeed. Happiness and beauty consistently prove themselves to be more difficult to bear than sadness and pain. Father Schall gives more meat to this phrase in his essay, particularly drawing out the dichotomies of the city of Rome: beauty and filth; the highest and lowest that humanity is capable of; the lesson of a good meal; and, above all, the reality that the Catholic vision of the world is one that always sees the person and society as in via (“on the way”), not complete, yet strangely eternal.

Happiness and beauty, wherever we find them, are harder to bear than sadness and pain, perhaps because they remind us more deeply of who we are, of what we are meant to be, and how we have strayed from those two things.

Yet, if we consider our eternal destiny – a question answered simply yet profoundly in the Baltimore Catechism: “Q. Why did God make you? A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next” – we can see that happiness is precisely what the human person must be prepared to bear in completeness if he or she aspires to the life of heaven. G.K. Chesterton draws this out further in his masterpiece, “Orthodoxy,” when he writes, “This is the prime paradox of our religion; something that we have never in any full sense known, is not only better than ourselves, but even more natural to us than ourselves.”

How wonderful it is, then, when on this earth we can experience a sliver of that eternal destiny that awaits us. Sadness and pain have a way of being forgotten in the face of the happiness and beauty for which we were made. And this is mainly, or at least it seems to me to be, because happiness and beauty are what we are made for – the final goal of our lives is the life of heaven, to be united to happiness and beauty itself for eternity. The sadness and pain that none of us is spared, though each of us experiences in different ways, intensities, and for various lengths, is not part of us – it is a foreign invasion of the brokenness of our reality after the Fall. It feels natural to us only when we forget who we actually are: adopted sons and daughters of God.

Thus, it really is no surprise that Father Schall would say such a thing after a great reflection on life; it’s even less surprising that we could find his statement to be true. And thank the Lord for the moments of our lives where, even if for just a second, we get a taste of the happiness and beauty that are our eternal destiny. Those moments are hard to bear fully because our love is limited and our hearts are still preparing. But one day in the future, when every tear will be wiped from our eyes, when there will be no more sadness and no more pain, we will bear happiness and beauty in the joy that knows no end.

Father Mark Hellinger is Parochial Vicar at St. John the Baptist Parish in Fort Wayne.

* * *

The best news. Delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to our mailing list today.