Beautiful homily for the Easter Vigil. I’m reprinting it because it is a great reminder for what it really means to be happy..
by Fr. Jet Villarin, SJ

My dear friends, tonight, let us be happy. Let us beg for the grace of happiness in our lives. I can think of three qualities to the happiness we seek. Let us ask that our happiness be serene, grateful, and honest.

First of all, let us be happy, not giddy happy, not head-over-heels, obsessively happy, but serenely happy. Giddy happy is fine but that kind of happy only gets us giggling and swooning and careening down and up a roller coaster track. Let our happiness be less excitable. Let it be calm, let it be serene.

How then shall our happiness find serenity? Simply by believing in faith that we are loved as we are, that we are forgiven because we are loved as we are. It is love that gives happiness its serenity. We are serenely happy when we feel and know that God so delights in us that he does not wait for us to be good before he will love us. Even while we were sinners, Christ died for us. Even while we were crucifying him, Christ forgave us. Thus are we happy, serenely so, because we are forgiven, we are given mercy ahead of time, ahead of us. When we say God is prime mover, we also mean he makes the first move. God loved us first. There is no “later” or “after” when God loves.

Why are we so loved by God? Only those who have given and received love will ever understand why. We are loved surely not for what we can deliver, surely not for all manner or shade of loveliness we bear. We are loved because of who God is and simply because we are God’s very own.

Let the serenity in our happiness be found in our enduring likeness to God who is love. Let our serenity rest in our likeness to Jesus Christ whose love for us is stronger than death, whose new life confirms how dearly we are loved as children of God, and whose Spirit empowers us to turn to God as Abba, as Father. Let our happiness then find serenity, let it find peace in who we are as beloved of God.

Secondly, let us be happy, not constantly happy, but gratefully happy. Constantly happy is crazy. Even the word “happy” is from the old 13th century word “hap”, which means chance or fortune or luck, an “unforeseen occurrence.” Thus we use the word “perhaps” to mean “perchance” (by chance). Perhaps happiness happens, perhaps it happens not. There is therefore a certain chanciness to happiness, a certain unpredictability or even unreliability. If you are not crazy, you know that happiness like suerte will not be constant.

So how then can we be happy if happiness itself is chancy, if it happens by happenstance? One way is to be grateful. Being grateful increases the odds of happiness happening. Conversely, gratitude lessens the risk of unhappiness. (It decreases the interest spread of sadness or depression.) Let us therefore be gratefully happy.

How shall our happiness be grown from gratefulness? Simply by acknowledging that everything, all that we see around us, all this is gift. Life is gift. We did not ask for life. It was just given us. Even this terrifying freedom that allows us to mean our choices, some of which hurt us, this freedom is gift. That is what gifts are all about: they are not bought or even deserved. They are just given gratis (i.e. freely) ex abundantia cordis, out of the abundance of the heart of the giver.

Because they are given gratuitously, gifts then are as chancy (unpredictable) as happiness. We may have grown to expect these gifts to come like clockwork, but an entitled heart is never a grateful heart. Gifts, like heaven, are never compensation for services rendered. A grateful heart acknowledges that there are odds to gifts being given, even if and precisely because they are given freely out of love. Thus, we are grateful we are alive. It could have been otherwise. We are grateful we are still loved by those we love. They could have chosen not to stay. We are grateful for our faith that still allows us to hope and to live for the things that truly matter. The odds of our losing heart and losing faith in this valley of tears are not negligible.

Let us learn then to grow our happiness on gratefulness. Let us be gratefully happy.

Third and last of all, let us be happy, not necessarily ecstatically happy, but honestly happy. Not manic happy (not out of this world, cloud nine, over-the-top happy), but in-this-world, down-to-earth, realistically, truthfully, honestly, wide-eyed happy. Ecstatic happy will get us on a high, the way alcohol and drugs do. Honest happy will bring us to our humanity.

How then can our happiness be honest? Simply by spotting the deception in those kinds of happiness that are transient and false. Ecstatic happy (like the drug ecstasy) may take you out of the static or noisiness of life; it may provide a great escape from your burden or boredom or the blah-ness in your life, but if you are honest, all this tipsiness is temporary. You may get high but eventually you fall down to reality, emptier than ever.

If we are honest, we have a hunch of what makes for emptiness and what makes for fullness. If we are real to ourselves, we have a sense somehow that the moments that lead to fullness and meaning are not necessarily pain-free. From Fr Albert Alejo SJ, I learn that the Filipino word for glory (“luwalhati”) takes meaning from the maternal joy and pain of giving birth. Happiness that is truthful and real is happiness tinged with joy and sorrow and glory.

In a way, true happiness happens to the one who is patient with everything that is human, to the one who has learned to wait on others, for others, and with others. Real happiness happens even in the midst of sacrifice, even while we are wounded letting go of our own dreams for the happiness of others.

Of course, honest happy is also in some way like camera happy. Our smiles and “anglic” poses (i.e. angled, sometimes angelic) before the camera tell of our desire to create icons of happy memories of our coming together. Happily, the camera compresses us, brings us close to each other, and there even if only for a moment, happiness happens to be honest.

We have more than a camera tonight to bring us all together. Let us come together every so often, as Church, as a communion of disciples of the Lord, to help each other find our true happiness. Let us help each other to be honestly happy.

In this Easter vigil therefore, we ask for the grace to be happy and we ask that our happiness be serene and grateful and honest. We beg that our happiness find serenity in who we are as beloved children of God; that our happiness be grown from gratitude for all that is given freely out of love; and that our happiness be honest with all that is joyful and sorrowful and glorious about our redeemed humanity.

Sometimes during these picture-picture moments, people say, “father, solo, solo, solo tayo” when they actually mean “duet.” Then they say, “last na, last na, last na talaga” when they really mean “sige pa, sige pa.” I smile because there in those picture-picture moments, we discover all there is to be happy about our Easter faith. Because Christ is risen, there is no such thing as solo-solo anymore, not even in our sorrows, not even in death. And just when we thought that death was “last na, last na talaga,” the Lord comes to surprise us with love that never ends.

About Jet Villarin, SJ

Fr. Jet is a Filipino Jesuit priest and scientist, who is the university president of Ateneo de Manila University. He received the National Outstanding Young Scientist award in 2000, and the Outstanding Book Award for “Disturbing Climate” in 2002. He is also an active member of several local and international environment and climate committees, such as the United Nations’ Consultative Group of Experts for Developing Countries, and the Inter-Agency Committee on Climate Change, among others.

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