A parish priest in South Carolina has developed a beatitude challenge that seeks to combat cultural misunderstanding of happiness and encourage Christians to pursue authentic joy.
“The word ‘happiness’ has been hijacked by secular culture, and as Christians we want to take the word back, because that’s a word that properly belongs inside the life of the beatitudes,” said Father Jeff Kirby, pastor at Our Lady of Grace parish in Indian Land, South Carolina.
“In the end, happiness is knowing we are blessed and loved by God, and seeking always to be a blessing and an instrument of love to those around us,” he told CNA.
The “Be Blessed Challenge” has three parts: a book, a website, and a DVD.
The book is called Kingdom of Happiness: Living the Beatitudes in Everyday Life. Each of the book’s eight chapters examines one beatitude, offering examples of the virtues in daily life as well as prayers that coincide with the specific beatitude.
Also entitled Kingdom of Happiness, the companion DVD focuses on powerful stories of people who have lived the beatitudes, both in ordinary and extraordinary circumstances. An example of “Blessed are the merciful” is a woman whose brother and son were killed in the line of duty as police officers. After their deaths, she purposely reached out to the state to request the death penalty not be administered to the murderer.
The website maps out practical ways to live the beatitudes. It includes definitions of each beatitude, psalms and other reflections for each day, and challenges to implement the beatitude in a concrete way.
Father Kirby received his doctorate at Holy Cross University in Rome. He said happiness and the beatitudes were a major theme for the school’s moral theology department, but when he later became a pastor, he realized that his parishioners were pursuing happiness inadequately.
“I’ve realized that the work in the academic classroom, in theology, is not reaching as broadly as we would have liked – the peoples in the pews [and] in the trenches.”
He said the desire to instruct people in the true meaning of happiness arose out of a frustration over seeing people accept a hopeless and unhappy life as the norm.
People seem to have the impression that happiness belongs only to childhood dreams and that hopelessness is the normal human state in life.
But this belief is incorrect, he stressed. Being truly happy is found in being truly human, living out the beatitudes
“Happiness is not just about euphoria, it’s not just about an emotional high, [and] it’s not just pleasure,” he emphasized.
True happiness is achievable, he said, but it requires a level of suffering and self-sacrifice that people rarely associated with happiness. Instead, the culture clings to hedonism, materialism, and egotism, he said.
“It will involve an aspect of sacrifice,” he acknowledged, but “if we are willing to take up that challenge and make the sacrifices, and we are willing to suffer, then we will understand the full breath and the full enrichment happiness can give to us and those around us.”