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This January, I was privileged to attend the annual March for Life in Washington, DC, which occurs on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case. It turns out that if you are wearing a Roman collar, strangers find it easy to talk to you, no matter where you are! One such encounter was on the DC Metro. A man in his mid 40s asked me if I was a seminarian, then proceeded to tell me about how he believed God’s plan for his life was for him to retire in just a couple of years and become a lay hospital chaplain. He had a speech impediment as a result of a car accident, and wanted to help those who also struggled with helplessness, suffering, and loss.

It was a beautiful plan. And there was one more thing that struck me—the entire conversation, the man never stopped smiling. I arrived at my stop, and as I rose from my seat, I told him I would pray for him if he did the same for me, and I asked him for his name. “Jerry,” he said, with the same cheerful face and in his slow, labored speech, “but my friends call me ‘Happy,’ because God has blessed me with an amiable disposition!”

Happy, I think, knows the key to real, lasting happiness. He is conscious of God’s love for him in specific ways, not just in a cloudy, broad sense that is rarely acknowledged. He had been in a terrible accident which had left him with a permanent disability. But instead of becoming bitter, he chose to become better. “God has blessed me with an amiable disposition.”

Happy recognized a concrete gift God had given him, and he wasn't afraid to make that known. He was joyful, and so joyful that he felt compelled to share that joy!  There is a famous ancient Christian maxim that says, “The measure of your love for God depends on how deeply aware you are of God’s love for you.” Take that truth to heart.  The more we recognize God’s love and gifts, the more we are able to love God.  The two are directly proportional. This is how important the virtue of gratitude is in the Christian life. Even the word Eucharist means Thanksgiving, and the Eucharist is the heart and soul of our worship!  The first letter of John says, “In this is love; not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10) The emphasis is on God’s action, not ours!

The foundation of happiness is not taking steps to root out stress, or trying to fix a hurt relationship, or working to get rid of some vice. The foundation of happiness is recognizing that God has already given us an ocean of gifts!  The work is already complete! May we recognize the wonderful gifts God has given each and every one of us, and may we learn from Happy’s example, so that we can also account for our joy with the explanation “God has blessed me.”

Know of my prayers for all of you. Please pray for me. 

Thomas Skinner

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