HAPPINESS AND CONTENTMENT

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time          

            Once upon a time there was a king who summoned all his advisers to discuss a problem. The king said, “There are too many rocks in my kingdom. Every time I take a walk, my feet hurt, stepping on the rocks. I want you to carpet my whole kingdom so that whenever I walk, I’ll be walking on a carpet – something fitting for a king like me.”

            The advisers left the king, saying to themselves, “How can we put a carpet on all the land of this kingdom.” Finally, after one week, the advisers returned to the king with a solution. They carried two square pieces of carpet and said to the king, “Your Highness, if you always want to walk on a carpet, just wrap these two pieces of carpet around your feet and tie them tightly. Then, wherever you go, you will be walking on a carpet.” The advisers were wise. They saw that, instead of changing the kingdom, they had to change the king.

            This is also true in everyday life. This is an important lesson we must apply in our personal lives. We often want to alter our surroundings to fit ourselves, instead of altering ourselves to fit our surroundings. We often wish to change the circumstances of our lives instead of changing ourselves. There is a Spanish proverb that that captures this point sharply: “If you cannot have what you want, then learn to want what you already have.”

            St. Paul learned this important lesson very well. He says in today’s second reading, “I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances, I know also how to live with abundance.” “In every circumstance and in all things, I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need.” Whatever circumstance, Paul learned to adjust himself to it. He did not try to adjust the circumstance to himself.

            Just like the king in our story, Paul had learned how to adjust himself to the circumstances of his rocky kingdom. So, if Paul was praised, he was happy. If he was criticized, he was happy, too. If he had much, he was happy. If he had little, he was happy, too. He did not try to change the world or others to fit himself. Again, he learned to adjust himself to it.

            What enabled him to do so? Listen to what he says: “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.” Paul is not talking about his own personal resources. He is referring to the strength he receives from Christ. He is actually talking about his humble reliance on the Lord, who empowers him to overcome hardships and difficulties.

            As our lives continue to be disrupted and devastated by this pandemic, should we indulge in wishful thinking that soon our circumstances will become better, if not, will go back to what they were before? Should we not rather learn to adjust to these circumstances? It is true, our outward circumstances may go up and down. They may be good or bad. But our inner attitude or disposition should be a state of permanent joy and contentment.

            It is said that when you are satisfied with the Giver, because you have found in him the life you were looking for, you are freed from the ravenous desire for satisfaction – which is the discouraging existence of so many people. If you truly possess Jesus and if you really believe that you have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ, St. Paul puts it, you have no reason to be sad and malcontent.

            For us to be happy and content, it is important to remember this: We cannot always get what we want and desire, but often we get what we need. We cannot always change the reality that does not meet our expectation, but we can find the strength to meet it courageously. We cannot always have everything necessary for enjoyment, but we can teach ourselves to enjoy what we have. So, my dear friends, do not postpone contentment. Enjoy now!

            How much we enjoy what we have is more important than how much we have. The world is full of people who have more than what they need – and who have more than they know what to do with – but they cannot be happy, they are not happy. I fully agree with Benjamin Franklin when he said, “To be content makes a poor person rich, but to be malcontent makes a rich man poor.” Indeed, it is the capacity to enjoy life that brings contentment and happiness.

            Let us allow the Lord Jesus to empower us to conquer fears, to overcome hardships, difficulties and deprivations, to stretch ourselves and make greater sacrifices, to get out of our comfort zones and reach out to others. Let us allow him to empower us to find God in every circumstance. Let Christ be our strength for everything. Let him empower us to be like him.               

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