Just a few weeks ago, on Jan. 20, 2017, the 45th President of the United States of America took the oath of office, becoming the chief executive of the government. As with so many new presidents, there is a hope of a change for the better for all citizens. The hope of a better economy, better security, basically a better life for everyone.
While it is true that the government should help to provide for the well being of the nation’s citizens, the government cannot provide people with true happiness. Only God can provide us with true happiness. When we look to the state to provide for our happiness, we are echoing the cry of the Israelites when they cried for a king, as recounted in the 8th chapter of the 1st Book of Samuel. This cry was a rejection of God and his rule. The rejection of God’s rule spelled disaster for the people of Israel.
Although there is much that the government can do to help promote the common good of the people, in the end it is up to us, the people, to promote and bring about the good that truly brings about human flourishing and happiness. The government can certainly facilitate human flourishing and the attainment of the good that brings happiness. However, the government, being a man-made entity, cannot bring true and lasting happiness. Only by being with God can we achieve full and lasting happiness.
The idea of the government providing happiness for its citizens goes back a millennium, as seen by the example for the call for a king by Israel. The idea of a government providing happiness was seen in the last century with communism, rooted in socialism, and fascism. In our own day, the idea that a liberal, secular state, one in which the only common good is the particular good of the individual, is promoted as the way for mankind to achieve the human-flourishing which brings about human happiness.
It appears that humanity might be falling into a naïve optimism that a “particular formula,” here a government, can solve the problems of our day. Saint John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, warned us of falling naively into thinking we can find a “magic formula.” Saint John Paul states: “No, we shall not be saved a formula, but by a person, and the assurance he gives us: I am with you” (n.29). This person is the God-Man Jesus Christ.
Prior to Saint John Paul, in the year 1925, Pope Pius XI had established the feast of Christ the King as a way of combating these secular governments and the ideology they were founded upon, which were causing so much havoc and chaos in Europe. The feast was established to call Europe back to its Christian roots. A call to all the baptized to enthrone Jesus firmly in their hearts and to live by his law of love. It is in the grace of Jesus that we find our happiness and the ability to flourish.
Originally, the feast of Christ the King was to be celebrated on the last Sunday of October, so to fall before the feast of All Saints (Nov. 1st). This was to make the connection that the saints who claimed Jesus as their king flourished greatly. The saints are now eternally happy in heaven. Yet, even while on earth the saints experienced great joy, even when they were under the burden of a cross.
There is much turmoil in our nation today. This turmoil has many causes such as greed, poverty, gender issues, race, law and order, sexuality, marriage and family, education, healthcare, to name just a few. Those who are burdened by these are looking for a relief, one which will bring them happiness. They believe that this happiness is within their reach, especially if the government assists them. Unfortunately, when the state fails to provide this happiness, many use chaos in an attempt to bring about a social revolution.
The only revolution that is needed is one of the heart. Each of the faithful need to enthrone Jesus in their hearts, to find in him their happiness. When the faithful live in the happiness which comes from the grace of Christ they begin to change the world. In order to bring real change, Christian citizens must live by the faith in the public square. When they do so they help the government to establish just laws while helping other citizens to address the issues of our days in accordance with the truth. Only by Christians living like the saints, that is, in holiness of life, will all people truly be given the opportunity to flourish and experience true and lasting happiness.
Father Jason Rocks is currently in Rome at the Pontifical North American College for advanced studies.