Independence Day Reflection:
Life, Liberty and The Pursuit of Happiness
True liberty is not essentially
constituted in freedom from oppressive restrictions imposed on one's
way of life by an unjust authority, but rather is found in the
eternal possession of God's love.
natural desire for happiness is of "divine origin: God has placed it
in the human heart in order to draw man to the One who alone can
fulfill it" (CCC 1718). The second sentence of the Declaration of
Independence echos that desire: "We hold these truths to be
self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed
by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these
are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
GLADE PARK, CO (Catholic Online):
In June of 1776 Thomas Jefferson, seated in the second-floor
parlor of a bricklayer's house in Philadelphia, brilliantly
composed the first drafts of the Declaration of Independence.
After some revision, the bulk of the document was approved by
Congress on 4 July, 1776. While the Declaration would soon
become one of the world's most significant documents, its second
sentence is perhaps most famous:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are
created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with
certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty
and the pursuit of Happiness."
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Those words, written
over two centuries ago, still resonate in the depths of our
hearts, not simply because they are lofty ideals for which we
find ourselves compelled to strive, but because they reflect an
aspect of man's irrepressible desire to attain and enjoy human
fulfillment. They speak not only of the American experiment
particularly, but echo the goals of human experience generally.
With those words we are reminded of the specific purpose for
which we are created and the particular end toward which we are
directed; on hearing them, we are moved to realize that to be
human, bestowed as we are with the gift of life and dignity,
created in God's image and likeness, is truly spectacular.
Given the many alarming elements present in today's America
which seek to deal a fatal blow to life, liberty and the pursuit
of happiness, whether through direct attacks, covert
manipulation of public opinion, or through the dissemination and
application of counterfeit notions of human freedom, it is easy
to fall into despair. That our nation is in peril is not an
exaggeration in the least. In the first place, this dire
predicament is the effect of secularism's insistence on the
detachment of human rights from the moral law. The American
crisis is a moral crisis.
As Christians we are called to analyze culture, and, aided by
the Spirit, heal, elevate and purify those elements within it
which run contrary to the Gospel. Given how far adrift America
is, the restoration of her proper course is a daunting task. But
regardless of the strength, duration and outcome of the storm in
which we are immersed, as Christians, as men and women informed
by the light of faith, we will not lose hope. As St. Teresa of
Avila said, God alone suffices. Our hope does not rest on the
passing form of this world (1 Cor. 7:31), but on the promises of
Christ and the glorious future that awaits us, for "God is
faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his
Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Cor. 1:9).
We are called to become, by faith in Christ, members of the
divine family and thus enter into the invisible and
other-worldly (Jn 18:36) fellowship of the kingdom of God.
Jesus, as the door to eternal life (Jn 10:7-9), has opened the
way to that divine kingdom. Life in Christ is a participation in
God's own life and is therefore a substantially and
qualitatively new way of living. Speaking of his salvific
mission for humankind, Jesus said: "The thief comes only to
steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life and
have it abundantly" (Jn 10:10).
Abundant life! While Thomas Jefferson wrote of life, liberty and
the pursuit of happiness in the context of throwing off a
despotic British government in favor of an independent nation,
Christ speaks of eternal realities which travel inconceivably
beyond the temporal, and which will continue with an unending
permanency guaranteed by God himself. We are brought forth from
nothingness to life by Christ, sustained by Christ, and gifted
with the potential to enjoy everlasting, divinely infused
supernatural bliss by Christ's redemptive sacrifice on the
cross. So long as we remain in Christ, we no longer simply
pursue happiness, but rather it becomes an inalienable and
eternal reality -- and this wondrous state of existence is
available as God's gift to us here, right now, although its
fullest dimension is attained only in the next life.
St. Paul wrote that "Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor
has it so much as dawned on man what God has prepared for those
who love him" (1 Cor. 2:9). Since the glorious state of our
future as Christians far exceeds our understanding, there is
little that can be definitively said about what awaits those who
love God. The temptation, however, is to project our experience
of the often meager happiness tasted here through contact with
created objects onto the eternal "now" of heaven. That is, since
the normal experience of earthly happiness is often so fleeting
and unsatisfying, we tend to view the happiness of heaven
through an unsatisfactory, temporal lens. Given that, we might
not even be too sure we want to live forever!
Most of us have not the slightest idea of what supernaturally
infused bliss is. What is it like? What does happiness that
flows directly from God, an infinitely powerful Being who is
life itself, into the very depths of our soul, feel like? What
might such a powerful encounter with God's love do to us? To be
sure, it is life changing. Additionally, we learn from the
saints that it cannot be characterized simply as a feeling of
pleasure or security or satisfaction or tranquility, or even all
of these put together. It is far more. Take all the pleasurable
experiences in life and fashion them into one event: it would
seem as nothing compared to God's favorable gaze upon the soul
for even a single instant. A tremendous, unforgettable and fiery
love is ignited in the human spirit with but one sudden,
unexpected Divine glance -- an incomparable love of such depth
that all the treasures of the world become less than rusted
St. Thérèse of Lisieux speaks of an encounter she had with
Christ after a period of voluntary mortification she underwent
in order to cleanse herself of less than heavenly desires. "God
did for me what Ezechiel reports in his prophecies: Passing by
me, Jesus saw that the time had come for me to be loved, He
entered into a covenant with me and I became His own. He spread
his mantle over me, he washed me with precious perfumes, He
reclothed me in embroidered robes, He gave me priceless
necklaces and ornaments. He nourished me with purest flour, with
honey and oil in abundance. Then I became beautiful in His eyes
and He made me a mighty queen" (Story of a Soul 101).
Indeed, divinely infused happiness can be experienced right now.
Scripture is filled with numerous references indicating we have
access in the present to the love of God, to the consolations of
the Spirit and to an infused joy that permeates the soul as a
heavenly dew. The love of God is not something to be had only
later, after a long life of deprivation and suffering, for our
personal God seeks to lift us on divine arms, sweep us into his
very life, and caress us in the sweet waters of tenderness.
"See, I come quickly; I have my reward in hand" (Revelation
"All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no
money, come, receive grain and eat; come, without paying and
without cost, drink wine and milk!" ( Isaiah 55:1 ). The journey
toward human fulfillment is found in Christ, whose love supplies
both our strength and our thirst, for the Lamb is our shepherd
who leads us to springs of living waters (Revelation 7:17 ).
Christ gave of himself as an infinite gift of love for all
people, past, present and future. What remains to be seen, is
whether we will reciprocate that love, for Christ gives his
greatest favors only to those who give themselves completely to
him. In the first place, this means living a moral life of
virtue and holiness, characterized by diligent and sincere
fidelity to God and his teaching presented through the Church.
Unfortunately, many brethren, thinking access to the divine
treasures of love can be had by halfhearted measures, and who
even exhibit a spirit of willful dissent from holy mother
Church, fail to understand the meaning of obedience of faith in
loving freedom. To have faith in Christ is to assent fully with
both intellect and will to all his words and deeds, including
whatsoever he has ordained through his Church for our own good.
Obviously, it is necessary to believe the Church and adhere to
her divinely instituted teachings on faith and morals.
Giving oneself to Christ is, of course, not easy; for it is a
disciplined, prayerful and sacramental way of life opposed to
the ways of the world, involving the whole man, both interiorly
and exteriorly. "To be in Christ means being a completely new
creature. Everything of the old is gone, now everything is made
anew" (2 Cor. 5:17). Regardless of the difficulties involved,
take courage and remember they are temporary; for as we share in
Christ's suffering so too will we share abundantly in his divine
glory (Rom. 8:17; 2 Cor. 1:5).
On this Independence Day, it is important to reflect on what it
means to seek life, liberty and happiness. While it is safe to
say everyone desires these goods, not everyone understands where
they are found. In fact, it is not even a question of where they
are found, but in Whom they are found: "I am the way and the
truth and the life" (Jn 14:6). Do we see beyond the present into
the window of eternity? Do we truly desire above all else to
love God for his sake, to become his child, and to live as a
member of the divine family? These are the gifts God offers to
man. These are the gifts the Church presents, as the sacrament
of salvation, to the world, in order that the world may be
brought to Christ.