THE PATH OF TRUE HAPPINESS
Conversion is first and foremost a grace, a gift that opens the heart to God's infinite goodness. He himself anticipates with his grace our desire for conversion and accompanies our efforts for full adherence to his saving will. Therefore, to convert is to let oneself be won over by Jesus (cf. Philippians 3:12) and "to return" with him to the Father.
Conversion thus entails placing oneself humbly at the school of Jesus and walking meekly in his footsteps. In this regard, the words with which he himself points out the conditions for being his true disciples are enlightening. After affirming "Whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it," he adds, "For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?" (Mark 8:35-36). To what extent does a life that is totally spent in achieving success, longing for prestige, and seeking commodities, to the point of excluding God from one's horizon, truly lead to happiness? Can true happiness exist when God is left out of consideration?
Experience shows that we are not happy because our material expectations and needs are satisfied. In fact, the only joy that fills the human heart is that which comes from God; indeed, we stand in need of infinite joy. Neither daily concerns nor life's difficulties succeed in extinguishing the joy that is born from friendship with God. Jesus' invitation to take up one's cross and follow him may at first sight seem harsh and contrary to what we hope for, mortifying our desire for personal fulfillment. At a closer look, however, we discover that it is not like this: The witness of the saints shows that in the cross of Christ, in the love that is given, in renouncing the possession of oneself, one finds that deep serenity which is the source of generous dedication to our brethren, especially to the poor and needy, and this also gives us joy.
The Lenten journey of conversion on which we are setting out today, together with the entire Church, thus becomes a favorable opportunity, "the acceptable time" (2 Corinthians 6:2) for renewing our filial abandonment in the hands of God and for putting into practice what Jesus continues to repeat to us: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34). This is how one ventures forth on the path of love and true happiness.
- General Audience of Pope Benedict XVI, Ash Wednesday, February 6, 2008
From Lent with Pope Benedict XVI: Meditations for Every Day