By Fr. George Rutler


December 18, 2018
Column: From the Pastor

There could be no easier subject for comment than happiness. The best classical pagan philosophers, even if they did not believe a Creator intended that humans should share in his “delight” at what he had made, taught that we were meant to be happy. Some nineteenth-century “Utilitarians” like Jeremy Bentham, thought that this happiness meant a sense of pleasure without pain. 

As usual, the ancients like Aristotle were more sophisticated than many intellectually clumsy moderns and made a connection between pleasure and virtue. They called this “eudaimonia.” That is to say, you cannot honestly feel good unless you do what is good, and you cannot do what is good unless you yourself are good. But as “only God is good,” real happiness demands that humans give God permission to impart His goodness to our souls. It is possible to fake happiness, and that is why there is so much unhappiness in our culture, which disdains virtue. One can create an illusion of happiness, but it is a kind of moral stage set, and its falseness is revealed in the frightening explosion in drug use, and the seventy per cent increase in suicides among young people in the past decade.

Real happiness is not the result of painlessness, but comes from dealing with pain the right way. This is why the Scriptures curiously remark almost nonchalantly: “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting” (Ecclesiastes 7:2a). Jesus promises a joy that “might be full” (John 15:11), and at the same time He was a “man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53: 3). On Gaudete Sunday, which means “Rejoice,” the Church sneaks a peak into the joy of Heaven. 

Here is the confidence that man’s destiny, willed by God and which can only be thwarted by the selfish will of corrupted humans, is participation in endless happiness. The word for this is more than happiness based on happenstance, but joy rooted in eternal harmony, effectively only with God. The ancient Greeks stretched for a truth that they could not fully express: real happiness, which is joy, is the state of holiness.

This is why Saint Paul says that Christians must rejoice “always” (Philippians 4:4a). Always – and not just after a Happy Hour at McGinty’s tavern, or holding a winning ticket at the Kentucky Derby–because the creature’s source and object of all joy is the Creator.

Chesterton asked rhetorically in his Ballad of the White Horse: “Do you have joy without a cause?” His point: there is no joy without a cause. That would be like having health by chance. Joy is joyful precisely because it has a cause that never fails. Approaching Christmas, the Church sings in astonishment that the Word was made flesh, and when He left this world, He promised that He would never leave us comfortless.


Fr. George Rutler, S.T.D., is a brilliant scholar, author, convert, former pastor of Our Saviour in Midtown Manhattan, now pastor of St Michael’s parish in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City. A donation of any amount may be made to the parish at:


View Articles Father Rutler was ordained to the diaconate in Rome by His Eminence William Cardinal Baum in 1980 and received priestly ordination in St. Patrick's... MORE »

Leave a Reply