Happiness and Holiness
A Reflection on my Religious Life experience 1996-2002 (spent in two different Orders), by Fred Schaeffer, OFS
When I was in Religious Life, many people, particularly close friends, asked me, if I was truly happy. Did I find that deep-seated contentment we all hanker for in life? I would say, yes, I felt pretty good about my life in those years. I found happiness not so much because I was a monk (but that helped also), but more so because I had been reading tons of spiritual books and several self-help books. I began to realize that unless we experience love ourselves, we have no way of knowing how or what God's love feels like. I was brought up in Holland, by parents who were strict, though well-meaning, and who didn't care much for endorsement. They always taught me to be strict with myself, not to give myself too much credit, to be humble, and not to make a fuss. Years, and years of living alone didn’t help me change that attitude. I believe now that it is occasionally necessary to pat oneself on the back, and most of all, one must feel happy with oneself. I never used to care how I felt about myself and that's not so good. There is no question that God loves us very much and that He wishes us to be happy.
Scriptures are filled with examples of God's love for us. The Blessed Virgin Mary, in many apparitions, has clearly indicated that Jesus loves us very much, and that She does, too. If we do not love ourselves in some way, then we would have no basis for comparison how God's love feels; we would have no conception what His love feels like and all the love in the world would simply pass us by. In addition, if we didn't love ourselves, we would not be able to love our neighbor as ourselves, as Jesus commands us to do. Recently, Br. Craig (our late* founder) pointed a bookstack out to me, with many books in the area of human psychology. He had used these books, he said, to do research for a book of his own which he was working on, but which hasn't been published yet. Two or three books that really helped me, all outstanding books, are, "Personality Plus" by Florence Littauer (1992, Revell), "Your Personality Tree", also by Florence Littauer (1986, Word Publishing), and, "You Can Be Happy, No Matter What” by Richard Carlson, Ph.D., (1997, New World Library).
There are scores of other fine books, but these were the best ones I came across. In "You Can Be Happy, No Matter What," the author talks of five principles that help to cope with dysfunctional thinking. We all have such thoughts, some more than others. We think of situations in our past and it causes the original pain to hurt us again, and again, and again. Or, we think of something which could happen in the future and then we weave a whole scenario around it, none of it beneficial to our peace of mind. Of course, you can laugh it away. Although laughter is good, it is important to make sure that you don't go into denial of your problem. Br. Craig's "Humor Helps!" (1998, Woodbridge Press) is a definite help to instill humor and he does so while telling a bunch of funny jokes. Notwithstanding the fact that Br. Craig was a part of the small community I was a member of, I recommend his book without reservations. There are some interesting definitions that lead us, in both the Littauer books, to discover our true personality; these aid us greatly in understanding ourselves and others. Then, I read another interesting book, called "Do It! Let's Get off Our Buts" by Peter McWilliams (1991, Prelude Press) where we discover that there are always reasons why we procrastinate or fail to do good things for all the wrong reasons. For example, I can't tell you how many times I've heard the following line: I guess I shouldn't have done it, but God understands me. See how the word 'but' gets you into trouble? Obviously that excuse doesn't work. We sin; God does not allow it but we sin, since we love ourselves more than we love Him. Why gravitate to the negative when there's so much positive to go to? I used to be a 'worrier.' I used to worry about everything, not only in the present but in the past and in the future. I've decided that this behavior is for the birds... not only is this behavior hurting me, but it lays me wide open to the works of the devil because the devil preys on those who are weak, indecisive, or troubled and he creates a shambles if you allow him to do so. God gave us the intelligence to see through that subterfuge so it is you and I who can and must say NO! Enough! I've simply decided I won't worry anymore, and, to live more in the present.
Living in the present-why? Because you cannot change the past anymore. It's gone! And, the future hasn't happened yet, so why worry ahead of time? You can and you should plan, but don't overdo it, especially not for routine things. God is the eternal NOW - He simply IS because he said so, but also because God lacks nothing, so He doesn't worry either. When you live in the NOW you enjoy each moment and thus your relationship with God is blossoming. Love is charity. Love is also the absence of fear. You can study this in "Love is Letting Go of Fear" by Gerald G. Jampolsky, M.D. (1970, Bantam Books), a book which was a National Best Seller. The author adds a couple of other words we should watch out for: Impossible, can't, try, limitation, if only, but, however, difficult, ought to, should, doubt. These are all words that can get us into trouble! Be careful, he writes, of "any words that place you or anyone else into a category," and, "any words that tend to measure or evaluate you or other people." Most of all, stop judging or condemning yourself and others. There are but two choices, according to Dr. Jampolsky, "Do we want to experience peace or do we want to experience conflict?" Thus there are "only two emotions; one is Love and the other is Fear. Love is our true reality. Fear is something our mind has made up, and therefore unreal"
The principal mission of The Monks of Adoration was prayer, contemplative prayer. Unless you enjoy peace of mind you can't be very effective as a monk so one by one, I laid my cards on the table, as it were, with God. I examined those issues that tied me to my past, that held me back from loving God. I looked at anticipating anxieties, about things in the future. I came to the undeniable conclusion that both the past and the future are totally irrelevant to the work I was trying to do here, the task at hand which is driven by the vocation God had given me; a vocation which is a wonderful gift of His love. And I realized, at the same time, that unless I knew anything about my perception of love, all this would mean much less, or nothing at all. So we should relax a little and learn to be good to ourselves. I figured out that I had trouble relaxing. I always used to have this "gotta do something" feeling. When I became a monk, I figured I would learn to relax but it turns out it takes a bit of effort to relax even in a monastic setting because were always doing something (prayer or work). My day was very full, very intensive. So I found another good book, "Be Your own Best Friend," by Louis Proto (1993, Berkley Books), subtitied: "How to Achieve Greater Self Esteem, Health and Happiness." It's a great book. We must "be our own best friend," because Jesus said to "Love the Lord, Your God, with all your heart, with all your being, and your neighbor as yourself." (Lk 10:25-27). It follows then that if you are incapable of loving yourself, you would also not be able to love God or neighbor. We all know that too much of one thing isn't necessarily a good thing. If we love ourselves too much, then there's a danger that we become selfish or even egotistical. Many people go out of their way to be good to others, to be super charitable, but they don't take good care of themselves. For years, I pampered myself through the addiction of overeating (I wasn't really being kind to myself). You don't eat to make yourself feel good. Eat for nutrition, not for taste! "If we love ourselves unconditionally, we will nourish ourselves." (Proto) Although what you eat or don't eat is important, I'd like to tackle the area of spiritual nourishment, too. "Our minds, emotions, in short, our spirits, need also be nurtured if we are to experience true well-being. (Proto). We need to experience love and being loved. One of the ways of doing this is to be in the presence of those who are loving, caring and sensitive people. As Louis Proto calls it "people with 'good vibrations.'" When you love someone you show this by being friendly, caring and a way to get that message across to the other person is by giving them our full attention when we speak to them, making eye contact. You can also do this by not contradicting or judging them. I've touched on a few books, here, that are generally available in large bookstores or libraries. The books I've mentioned have really helped me calm down, take myself less seriously, but also, to relax, learn to love myself and feel happy-Jesus wishes us to be happy!
The above reflection was written around 2001 to the best of my recollection and published on my first large website (no longer in existence). I hope it is still useful to some reader, today.
* Br. Craig Driscoll passed away in 2015.
Peace and Good,
Fred Schaeffer, OFS
Secular Franciscan Order
Ordo Franciscanus Sæcularis
Divine Mercy Fraternity
Vero Beach, FL
Term expires: 2/10/2022
Fred Schaeffer, OFS
Helen Caldarone, OFS
Mary "Jean" McGovern, OFS
Jack Reddy, OFS
Donna Haro, OFS
Joanne Giordano, OFS
Fred Schaeffer, OFS
Five Franciscan Martyrs