The Task of Happiness: Human Suffering and Christian Joy
The University of Notre Dame Australia
"We all want to be happy". These words of St Augustine, quoted by guest presenter, Fr Paul Murray OP, caught the attention of the audience gathered for his public lecture at The University of Notre Dame Australia's Fremantle Campus on Wednesday 1 August 2012.
Despite Christ telling his disciples that his joy should be their joy, the philosopher, Nietzsche, was obviously a little disappointed in Christians when he remarked that: "His disciples should look a little more redeemed", and that it was not their arguments that let them down but their faces.
With this introduction, Fr Murray proceeded to reflect on the nature of happiness and joy for the Christian, drawing on witnesses of such joy and happiness. His first witnesses were prisoners condemned to death in a South African prison. Reading from their letters, one written personally to him, Fr Murray uncovered the root of our deepest desires and the means to break through the challenges of life to real joy. He suggested three means; the experience of prayer, the experience of being loved, and the experience of suffering. His stories of these contemporary witnesses of transformation were both moving and instructive.
Then calling on his Dominican tradition, Fr Murray introduced the audience to the world and reflections of two great medieval Doctors of the Church, St Catherine of Sienna and St Thomas Aquinas. St Catherine experienced joy and happiness through prayer because it connected her to her deepest desires, what she called 'our inconsolable secret'.
Prayer helped her to realise what she was truly seeking and the God she met in prayer was a gentle mirror of her own goodness despite her limitations.
As for St Thomas, Fr Murray argued that his writings reveal that play, wit, laughter and joy are essential to the spiritual life, not enemies.
The lecture concluded with questions and comments from the audience; questions about what people in a post-enlightenment age are really seeking and how they are attempting to find happiness and joy in their lives.
Fr Murray demonstrated the gift of weaving together the riches of the Christian tradition on happiness and desire with stories that witness to the lived reality.
Father Paul Murray OP is a Dominican priest ordained in 1973. He is Professor of Spirituality and is President of the Institute of Spirituality at the Angelicum (Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas) in Rome and also a poet. He holds a doctorate in English Literature from University College, Dublin.
The School of Philosophy and Theology regularly hosts public lectures on the Fremantle Campus. For more information, please contact the School on 9433 0138 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
MEDIA CONTACT: Michelle Ebbs: Tel (08) 9433 0610; Mob 0408 959 138 Leigh Dawson: Tel (08) 9433 0569; Mob 0405 441 093
Ebbs, Michelle, "The Task of Happiness: Human Suffering and Christian Joy" (2012). Media Release Archive. 854.