Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

 This past 4th of July celebration marked our nation’s 242th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. The most famous sentence in this declaration is, “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 ARE unalienable rights from God. And the order in which they are mentioned are critically important.

However for some people the pursuit of happiness can become a debauched value that can be more important than the values of life and liberty. And we see this play out in our experience and in our readings this weekend. The first reading from the prophet Ezekiel, who is a man of God, show us that his values are in proper order. God had given him the gifts of life and liberty. And he defined his happiness by doing the will of God, which meant being sent to proclaim the word of God to the “hard of face” and “obstinate of heart”. If we define our pursuit of happiness like Ezekiel as doing the will of God in whatever difficult circumstance we find ourselves in, we may have the grace to persevere through difficult situations, and over time be surprised that we are happier people for it.

The second reading of St. Paul is from a letter to the Corinthians who were an early Church community that were famous for fighting with each other. Paul speaks about “a thorn in the flesh” that keeps him from being elated. What was that “thorn”? I think it is safe to say, every person in Corinth and every one of us has something that qualifies as Paul’s thorn in the flesh that keeps us humble. We can be successful at so many things in life but there is that one thing in our life that is like a brick wall. A profligate pursuit of happiness might contribute to the pain of this thorn in the flesh. But not for St. Paul who despite his trials his happiness was rooted in Christ rather than his ego.

The Gospel reading shows us that even the Son of God isn’t let off the hook. Like Ezekiel and Paul, Jesus encounters a town filled with hard faces and obstinate hearts. It is hard to believe that the most resistance Jesus would receive outside of Jerusalem would be in his own home town of Nazareth with the folks he grew up with. This brings a new reality to the phrase: “No man is a prophet in his own land.”

Sadly the last people to allow us to grow and change are those closest to us. Jealousy drives all of us to prevent others from doing better than us. Worst of all is our own personal refusal to grow and to change. The Nazarenes stood up in the path of Jesus’ ability to preach and do mighty deeds. Sometimes we also can get in God’s way. Many times we find ourselves capable to hamper the power of God. As we leave behind this past week celebrations on another 4th of July, we can ask ourselves, “What is our faith made of?” As we contemplate our rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in our families and in our community, how does God fit into the picture? Would it make a difference in how we treat our family members? Would it make a difference in how we treat our coworkers? Would it make a difference in how we treat our classmates, our most vulnerable in society, if God was ever more grounded in our understanding of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? The Good news is: God wants to give us even more than life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In Christ, God offers us the gifts of eternal life, spiritual liberty and therefore real happiness.


Deacon Modesto Cordero