“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now...Come further up, come further in!” – C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle (The Chronicles of Narnia)

We want to be happy. If we all can recognize this desire in our hearts, why do we seem to have such a hard time finding it? We live in a country that is blessed with many material goods, but there is still widespread sadness and anger. Discouragement, despair and a certain darkness seem to cover our hearts.

Several years ago, I had the unique privilege to live and work with a community of recovering drug addicts that was started by an Italian nun, Mother Elvira. By our American standards, the life was not easy. The community depended on donations for food (Divine Providence) and many of the comforts of home were missing (i.e. regular television, radio, cell phones, your own room, washing machines). The house had a chapel and we would have prayer at various times and a holy hour during the night to pray for others who were struggling. Each of us had chores and house jobs to keep us busy during the day. Amazingly, this is not a 30- or 90-day program, but rather a three-year commitment.

The stripping away of so many things that we rely on to make us happy was a very purifying experience. The turning point for many men occurred when they decided to sacrifice even more of their sleep for personal prayer. Little by little, we experienced peace and a greater joy. The motto of the community, “From the darkness to the light,” beautifully describes the journey of conversion that we all must make. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus begins his Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes? The Lord knows that we are made for happiness and that we also need some help figuring out how to get there. In the community, many men experienced the joy of authentic friendship, the value of service and the unconditional love of God. One of my favorite sayings that I learned from Mother Elvira is that “it is beautiful that you exist!” As I give thanks for the blessing of that community, I am reminded again of C.S. Lewis, “Joy is the serious business of Heaven.”

Rev. Rick Chenault is pastor at Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church.

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