They are some of the harshest, most shocking words that Jesus speaks in the Gospels: “Anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”
Why do these words sound so counter-intuitive? Because ever since we were children, the culture has drilled the reverse into us. You’re not happy because you don’t have all the things you want to have. You will be happy only when you have so much money, or so big a house, or so much respect. You might not be happy now, but some day you might be if you acquire the right things.
And what follows from this? Life becomes a constant quest to get, to attain possessions. Remember the foolish rich man from Jesus’ parable, the one who filled his barns with all his possessions. Because he had no more room, he decided to tear his barns down and build bigger ones. Jesus calls him a fool because–and I want you to repeat this to yourself as you read it–you have everything you need right now, right in front of you, to be happy.
I know it’s completely counter-intuitive. We say, “No, that’s not right at all; I’m very unhappy, but I’m trying to become happy, and I know I will be a lot happier when I get (fill in the blank).” But I want you to repeat this in your mind: “If I say, ‘I’ll be happy when,’ I won’t be happy when.”
What makes us truly happy? Forgetting our ego and its needs and desires, opening our eyes, minds, and hearts, and letting reality in. What makes us happy is always right in front of us, because what makes us happy is love, willing the good of the other.
Next time you’re unhappy, here’s what you do: you love. When you’re feeling miserable, write a note to someone who is lonely; make cookies for your kids; visit the nursing home; donate some money to a charity; sign up to help with an after-school program; say a prayer for someone who’s in trouble.
Love is not a feeling. It’s an act of the will, and it’s a great act of dispossession. This is the wonderfully liberating path of holiness that Jesus wants us to walk. He wants joy for us. But the path to joy is the path of detaching ourselves from getting and acquiring.
– Father Robert Barron