What’s the secret to happiness? I recently read about a historic 75-year study undertaken by a group of Harvard researchers who systematically sought to research this very question. Following 300 folks from the classes of 1938-1940 (now well into their 90s) for 75 years, the Harvard team collected data on various aspects of subjects’ lives at regular intervals to provide a comprehensive, flesh-and-blood picture of some of life’s fundamental questions: how we grow and change, what we value as time goes on, and what is likely to make us happy and fulfilled. The result: Love is really all that matters. It may seem obvious, but that doesn’t make it any less true: Love is key to a happy and fulfilling life. In fact, some of the researchers were surprised to discover that someone could have a successful career, money and good physical health, but without supportive, loving relationships, he wouldn’t be happy, “Happiness is only the cart; love is the horse.”
This vision for happiness comes into view as we enter into the Advent and Christmas seasons. For our compassionate God has already taken the first step in forging this relationship with us. By coming to earth as a fragile, vulnerable newborn, God reveals that he is willing to enter into the fullness of our human experience. “This is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son.” (I Jn. 4:10) The Incarnation is God’s gift to us, the gold standard in assessing the nature of love. In this way, our happiness hinges not on the question, “What do you want out of life,” but rather, “How can I respond to God’s love?”
Usually around Christmastime, it is customary for St. Dominic’s to make a financial appeal for the needs of the parish. And although we thankfully receive and do rely on such financial support, this year, I also want to make a more pressing, more critical appeal. During this Christmas season, I would ask you to consider your relationship with Christ. In what ways have you responded to the gift of God’s love? We all know well that the impressive crowds that pack our Christmas Masses dwindle in the coming Sundays. If you’re among that Christmas crowd, that’s ok. But know that you are welcome every Sunday. In fact, I promise that if this New Year’s resolution includes coming to Mass on a regular basis, you’ll begin to experience life in a more vibrant and spiritual way.
And here’s the twist. God is never outdone in generosity. So whatever “responding to God’s love” looks like for you in a real and practical way, what you receive is infinitely more precious. For when we give our hearts, when we give ourselves to God, God comes more fully alive in our lives. In the midst of our joys and sorrows, God is there in a new way. If we feel alone, anxious or isolated, it is by trusting ourselves to God that he fills us with the gifts of his peace and comfort. What possibilities! On behalf of the Dominicans and staff at St Dominic’s, may the heart of Jesus always beat in your lives and may you experience the peace and joy of this holy season.
~ Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.