The contemporary quest for happiness and the beatitudes

On the occasion of one of the national meetings "Together for Europe", Pastor Leila Hamrat spoke on the theme: "The contemporary quest for happiness in the light of the beatitudes". 
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Happiness is apparently the most shared thing. "  All men seek to be happy ... it is the motive of all men to those who will hang themselves  " does not hesitate to write Pascal to describe this universal quest for happiness.

What is in man the motive, the source from which springs this desire to be happy?  I'm happy because it's good for you!  Said Voltaire. Happiness would thus participate in a dietetics of existence. There is, one could say, a virtue of happiness which is due to its practical utility: one lives badly in unhappiness and sadness.

But the virtue of happiness practiced to excess is becoming a nightmare? Today, one must be happy not to be well. But you have to be happy clappy constantly to not feel marginalized. You have to look good, so that everything goes well. Happiness is no longer an aspiration, an art of living, but it has become a dogma, a collective catechism. You have to be happy at any price and at any price! Happiness as a categorical imperative.

We are on the same level in the utopian world described by Georges Orwell. World of obligatory happiness where cameras constantly monitor that we seem very happy. When this is not the case, a voice takes care of recalling the deviant to the order.

Before opting for 1984, the title of this novel of anticipation proposed by the author was: The last Man in Europe! 
Pascal Bruckner, Jean Claude Guillebaud or Philippe Muray have brilliantly described, analyzed and criticized this ideology of happiness at any price that pushes to evaluate everything from the angle of enjoyment, immediate well-being, the party.

Political, economic and technological logic - at least in our European latitudes - favored a democratization of happiness. The man or the woman that we are are they so happy? How to answer this question? And can we really? 
If the aspiration to happiness is universal, nothing is less subjective than the very definition of happiness. For Aristotle, happiness is a very disputed concept. For the poor, it will be wealth. For the sick, health. For others the notoriety, the honor ... One can be happy in situations where others would not be happy.

Can contemporary man afford not to be unhappy? Is he happy? Nothing is less sure. Behind the facade of consumption and hedonism, there is a lot of sadness, neurosis, emptiness.

Recall some realities: 
Suicide is the leading cause of violent death in Europe. 
The consumption of psychotropic drugs - the pills of happiness - is constantly increasing. French, are we the most depressed? We absorb two to four times more than our European neighbors!

Maybe we confuse what can help to be happy with happiness? But what can help to be happy is not happiness. When someone is said: he has everything to be happy! We usually add: but it is not!

Happiness, after which we run like inconsolable, remains at the center of a fundamental interrogation on the meaning of our lives. We can also wonder if the quest for happiness at any price of our societies - after-religion - is not the modern form of the search for salvation?

The terrestrial paradise where I am, to use Voltaire's formula. That is, happiness here and now. To be dazed, to be entertained and surround oneself to forget that one will die and that one will necessarily die alone!

Unlike Saint Just's aphorism, happiness has never been a new idea in Europe. All ancient morality is applied to develop a wisdom aimed at the happiness of man (Aristotle, Epicurus ...). 
Christianity is not left out. There is this beautiful text with its repeated promises of happiness: the Beatitudes, placed in the mouth of Jesus as an answer to the question of happiness.

The Beatitudes, which surely have not been pronounced in one piece, open the "Sermon on the Mount", this program discourse of the Christian life. This is the first speech and the most important. The evangelist gathered there the teaching of Jesus on the conditions of access to the kingdom of heaven.

I read the text of the Beatitudes (first 12 verses of chapter 5 of the Gospel of Matthew) in the version "The New Standard Bible"

Seeing the crowds, he went up to the mountain, sat down, and his disciples came to him. Then he spoke and began to instruct them:

Happy are the poor in spirit for the kingdom of heaven is theirs

Happy are those who cry because they will be comforted

Happy are those who are gentle because they will inherit the earth

Happy are those who are hungry and thirsty for justice because they will be satisfied

Happy those who are compassionate because they will get compassion

Happy are those who have a pure heart because they will see God

Happy the peacemakers because they will be called sons of God

Happy are those who are persecuted for righteousness because the kingdom of heaven is theirs

Happy are you when you are insulted, persecuted, and falsely spread upon you all kinds of wickedness, because of me.

Rejoice and be transported with gladness because your reward is great in heaven; for this is how the prophets who preceded you were persecuted.

So the Beatitudes are a whole program. A program that wants to show us the way to happiness. A program that announces a promising future.

1st positive observation: the Beatitudes immediately recognize the desire for happiness deposited in every human being, as impetus 1st. 
God has in view happiness and joy. Happy returns 9 times. Then there is talk of rejoicing, of being transported with joy.

Happy, it is by this word that opens the book of Psalms. The Hebrew root ( achré ) from which comes the word happy corresponds to the idea of ​​step, walk, displacement. 
Who are those who are moving towards true happiness? The poor, the afflicted, the meek, the hungry, the persecuted ... In short, all those whom common opinion usually ranks among the unfortunate. 
What are the practices that bring joy? 
Mercy, righteousness of the heart, works of peace, endurance to persecution ...

As much to say it, we are there in front of a proclamation which plays the provocation. The eulogy of a happiness at the same time destitute and turned towards others is contrary to the happiness-hedonism which turns to him radically the back to the ideal of virtue and altruism. The eulogy of a happiness which puts in permanent tension the present and the future, the tangible world and the kingdom of heaven is not in accord with our relation to time and reality dominated by everything and immediately.

Time is lacking to examine in detail each of the Beatitudes. To carry out this project, it would be necessary to bring them into resonance with many other texts of Scripture. I'll just make 2 or 3 observations.

What is common to these 9 Beatitudes is their resistance to common sense. Who spontaneously believes that poverty can make us happy? Who believes that the earth can belong to the sweet? Who thinks to turn back the misery of the world through his action?

The 1st Beatitude gives us the key to understanding the 8 others. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. The poor are frequently spoken of in the Bible, especially in the psalms. It is one of Messiah's tasks to defend the rights of the meek (Isaiah 11: 4). The poor do not just designate the category of the poor economically. The anaw is one who accepts his condition as a lack of condition. The gentle, the humble, the compassionate, the peacemakers, the poor in spirit are part of this people of the poor, the small, the anawims.

Beyond or more exactly below all material consideration, the poor are those who are aware of their original poverty, their lack of being, their failures, their losses and their mourning, and therefore their dependence on God. This dependence on God makes it possible not to be attached "religiously" to material goods, to power, to functions. The poor is the one who accepts not to see all his needs met. He who puts into perspective what he has at his disposal.

This poverty-dependence makes us discover an impenable, inalienable wealth: the inner freedom . He is sovereignly free who does not covet anything. 
And at the same time, this poverty-dependence shelters us: if our treasure is in God, nobody will be able to rob it.

Referring to the bond with the person of Christ, the 9th Beatitude illuminates the foundation and direction of happiness. 
Happy are you when you are insulted, persecuted, and falsely spread upon you all kinds of wickedness, because of me .
Let's not forget, the one who speaks the Beatitudes and to whom we are linked is not a man of power, influence or networks but a young man with empty hands, leaning on God. The Beatitudes are like him. They trace a way of access to happiness quite singular and paradoxical. To our appetite for wealth they oppose poverty, our aggressiveness, gentleness, our thirst for enjoyment, patience and the love of justice, our hardness, mercy, our inclination to evil, purity of heart ...

Because we put our cause in the hands of God, then:


- Happiness ceases to be an absence of misery to become a transfiguration of misfortune. 
- Happiness ceases to be what is conquered to become what is received. 
- Happiness no longer lies only in being happy in the world, but in the act of making the world happy 
- Happiness is not in the accumulation of pleasures in life, but in a pleasure to live. 
 Finally, the happiness of the beatitudes feeds on promises of happiness. Lay happiness as something that is ahead of us - in the kingdom of heaven 
-

- protects against earthly illusions. We can not ask life what it can not give us. It is an implicit way of recognizing that it is only in God and in Him alone that all will be accomplished. The Beatitudes are not an anthropology (a human wisdom) but a theology. Happiness on the march is gathered like a fruit of filiation.

Pastor Leila Hamrat, Paris May 15, 2009 _ Thoughts 
P. Bruckner in The perpetual euphoria 
1984 
The perpetual euphoria 
The tyranny of pleasure 
After the story 
Nicomachean Ethics 
Voltaire in The worldly

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