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Pursuit of Happiness

“Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me.”

This is the prayer of St. Patrick of Ireland. Several hundred years ago, a spoiled adolescent was captured by Irish slaves. In chains, poverty, and hunger, the boy turned to his only solace: prayer. Over time, his heart began to pray on autopilot. Through day and night, his lips uttered the name “Jesus.” He labored in the Name of Jesus. He ate in the Name of Jesus. He slept in the Name of Jesus. His whole life became the Name of Jesus. In this way, St. Patrick’s heart filled up with the divine joy Christ promises to all who pray in His Name.

“Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete” (John 16:23-24).

We are three days away from Ascension. All through Pascha, the Church urged us to contemplate truth, goodness, and beauty. Our spiritual work has been to feast on God’s revelation in nature, food, family, and all the little things in life. Today, before we step out of Paschaltide, the Church reminds us to feast, first and foremost, on the Name of Jesus Christ.

“Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete” (John 16:23-24).

Let’s begin at the end.

“So that your joy may be complete.”

Everyone today is looking for joy. Our culture is obsessed with it. We are caught up in a frenzy to possess joy. Why is shopping on so addictive? We want joy. Why do people make such a big deal about their jobs or relationships? We want joy. Why do people put so much hope on governments and ideologies? We want joy. We have an emptiness inside, and we want it filled.

But we are not filled, are we? We have everything. America is one of the wealthiest nations in history, and yet we are stressed and depressed. In a letter, a friend said it this way to me: “[Our] grandparents' generation believed that life was "a vale of tears," but they were generally happy.  On the other hand, WE believe that life is meant to be relatively easy and happy, and the majority of us are [depressed]!” For what it is worth, it is an interesting observation. Our culture is obsessed with finding happiness, but it is not working.

Christ gives a different solution: if you want joy, ask in the Name of Jesus. This is terribly confusing. St. Bede points this out immediately in his sermon on John 16. He starts:

“It may trouble the more timid among those who listen to me to hear…that the Lord promised His Disciples: ‘Amen, amen, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.’

It is nice to know, at least, that other people are as equally confused by Jesus’ words. Now St. Bede proceeds to break down what Jesus Christ is talking about. To ask “in Jesus’ Name” is to reach out, to seek, to long to fill every moment of your life with Jesus Christ. Praying “in Jesus’ Name” is not a magical formula. Praying “in Jesus’ Name” is to live a lifestyle.

“Pray for those things which relate to our eternal salvation” St. Bede says. “Ask of your Father in heaven, not for the fleeting joys of earth, which are ever mingled with sadness, and which all must end, but for that one and only joy that is lessened by no least shadow of change; an eternity of joy which no bound will end.”

To pray “in Jesus’ Name” is to pray with a heart with a purpose: to commune with God.

The Greek clears up the passage a little. “Aἰτεῖτε καὶ λήμψεσθε, ἵνα ἡ χαρὰ ὑμῶν ᾖ πεπληρωμένη.” In order to be filled, Aἰτεῖτε… ἵνα, ask in the way that leads to joy. Live, seek, aspire in the direction that gives fulfillment.

Soon after World War II, there was a nationwide push to create American consumerists. Brooks Stevens, an industrial designer, popularized a strategy called planned obsolescence. Do not focus on creating products. Focus on creating buyers — create a nation, in Stevens words, obsessed with the “desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary.” We are hooked on the phantasy that buying and shopping can make us happy. It does not.

Success cannot make us happy. Political decisions cannot make us happy. Sexuality can not make us happy. Happiness and Joy are the byproducts of holiness. God must be our goal.

The Psalms put it in this way: “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11). Where is joy? Joy is found in a relationship with God.

Why is everyone anxious and restless? Someone once said: “the young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.” We are anxious and restless because we are not looking for joy in the right way. We will find joy when we rest in God.

“Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete” (John 16:23-24).

This is our challenge: Ask for God. Ask. Seek. Aspire. Challenge yourself to contemplate and cherish the Name of Jesus Christ.

I will conclude with advice given by St. John Chrysostom:

“When he eats, drinks, sits, officiates, travels or does any other thing [the righteous man] dost continually cry: “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me!” so that the name of the Lord Jesus, descending into the depths of the heart, should subdue the serpent ruling over the inner pastures and bring life and salvation to the soul. He should always live with the name of the Lord Jesus, so that the heart absorbs the Lord and the Lord the heart, and the two become one…Do not estrange your heart from God, but abide in Him and always guard your heart by remembering our Lord Jesus Christ, until the name of the Lord becomes rooted in the heart and it ceases to think of anything else. May Christ be glorified in you.”


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