Excerpted from GOD WANTS YOU HAPPY: From Self-Help to God’s Help by Father Jonathan Morris. Copyright © 2011 by Father Jonathan Morris. Used with permission of HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers.
My new butcher friend, Moe, looked at me, first with surprise, then with a broad smile. “Don’t I wish!” he said, raising his thinning gray eyebrows while shuffling backward and successfully catching my freshly ground beef from his 1950s-style meat grinder without ever taking his eyes off me. The tone and mannerisms of this streetwise octogenarian from Brooklyn couldn’t have expressed more skepticism over my suggestion, made to him just seconds before, that he might be on the road to becoming a saint, not altogether unlike the Italian namesake of whom he was so proud.
My sense was that this gentleman was on such a path; his smile was pure and real. He was spirit-filled.
Living saints were on my mind that Saturday morning as I did my neighborhood errands, because they were the topic of the scripture readings for the next day’s services. During my own prayer time that morning, I had been just as surprised as Moe by the idea—so clearly expressed in the Bible—that we are all called to be saints and that being saints has less to do with halos and folded hands and more to do with living life to the full—becoming everything God created us to be. The message of the various readings was summed up for me in Jesus’s words in the Gospel of John: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10, NIV).
In an epiphany explicable only by divine intervention, on that day, when I had first meditated on scripture and then encountered Moe, this very familiar passage—one I had read or heard hundreds of times before—jolted me to the core. God wants me and everyone around me to be profoundly happy! Becoming holy and becoming happy are interconnected, I realized. And God must have a plan—and a few backup plans too, for when we mess up—outlining how we are to get there!
The moment was more than an intellectual realization. In an immeasurably short flash of reason and spiritual emotion, I knew experientially what before I had known mostly in the head: God is on my side, and his invitations, his commands, and even the bumps and bruises he permits along the way must be signposts pointing toward personal fulfillment—life to the full—waiting to be claimed by me and every one of God’s children.
This discovery (something so obvious and simple it can hardly be called a discovery outside my own subjective experience) most likely made such a deep impression on me on that day because it contrasted so starkly with what I had been experiencing the previous week. I had been through some particularly rough days. I was dealing with my own issues of adjusting to living in New York City and serving in a Manhattan parish after many years in the more subdued and controlled environment of a seminary in Rome, Italy. My impression was that everyone around me also seemed to be going through tough times, and they weren’t making much sense of their struggles. I was hurting a bit, yes, but these people were miserable. I recall the young, fearful, and inconsolable mother in the hospital with late-stage ovarian cancer; another dear friend of mine at her wits’ end, frustrated and angry that she was reaching forty and still hadn’t found a decent guy; an usher in my church laid off from his job one week before his wedding; a Protestant pastor and friend whose wife was leaving him for her wealthy boss; a father of three young children, suffering from debilitating and humiliating depression; and finally, the ninety-eight-year-old man at whose funeral service I presided that was attended by nobody—not a single person!
Over the years of my pastoral ministry I’ve unconsciously formed an ultrathin but steely guard that allows me to be interested in, and even immersed in, others’ problems without being overwhelmed emotionally. That week, however, just beneath my serene exterior floated major doubts about God’s questionable strategy of care for some of his children: “Are there real, true, positive solutions for their predicaments, for every predicament?” I wondered.
The very simple, unexceptional flash of spiritual enlightenment I experienced on that Saturday morning immediately put these concerns—summarized in my question to God about real solutions for everyone—back into life’s big picture. It is a context where spiritual realities (including heaven, grace, and redemption) are taken into account. True, the previous week I had encountered a group of people who were in agony, tragically stuck in their misery, but here, through Moe’s indomitable joy (even as his local butcher shop was teetering on extinction on account of new, corporate giants in the neighborhood) and through scripture, I was being reminded by grace of God’s promise to us: he will bring out of every bad situation, out of every single instance of pain and suffering in our lives, a greater good—yes, an even greater good than the goodness we are missing now—if we let him! This promise covers every stripe and strand of our seemingly limitless human capacity for physical, emotional, and spiritual agony.