Bernardo M. Villegas
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Finding Your Heaven On Earth

          An 80-years-old Harvard study involving 268 Harvard sophomores in 1938 provided the hardest empirical evidence from the social sciences on how to attain human happiness on earth.  Those who have actually attained happiness on earth will not be surprised by the findings of the longitudinal study:  Close human relationships, more than money, fame, professional success, pleasure or other human aspirations, are what keep people happy throughout their lives.  For a Christian, what better relationship with a person could there be than a close friendship with the Man-God, Jesus Christ?  Those who believe that Jesus Christ is both God and Man are missing a lot if they do not exert the effort to cultivate a close relationship with Him who like any one of us has also a human nature.  This is the gist of a recently launched book entitled “Jesus-Centered: Guide to the Happiest Life” by Dr. Raul Nidoy, the Director of Personal Formation of the Parents for Education Foundation (PAREF), a community of schools committed to support parents, who are the primary educators of their children, by providing personal integral education in pursuit of academic excellence and a life of virtue. 

         Famous American author and eminent theologian Scott Hahn does not hesitate to call the book “life-changing and world-changing” because of the emphasis of the book on a continuing relationship with Jesus Christ through prayer.  According to Hahn, the world really changes when we pray: “The change starts inside, because that’s where we carry our world, but it soon spreads through the cosmos, which God is calling us to co-create through our prayer and our work.”  This idea is reinforced by another well-known American educator, Thomas Lickona, author of Educating for Character, Character Matters and How to Raise Kind Kids, USA.  In line with the Harvard study cited above, young people will not persevere in their Christian faith if they do not have a personal relationship with God.  They cannot have this close relationship unless He is a real Person for them, and He won’t be a real Person if they do not communicate with Him—if they do not talk to Him and listen to Him in prayer.

         The book Jesus-Centered is a most effective means, Dr. Lickona suggests, of deepening our own prayer relationship with Jesus, His Father, and the Holy Spirit, along with the Blessed Mother and the other great saints.   Then we can share with our children how, why, and when we pray, the different ways God answers prayer, and how we are trying to grow in our prayer life.  Through our personal example, we can then guide and support the young people in forming their habits of personal prayer.  As a seasoned educator, Dr. Lickona considers Jesus-Centered  so useful so that it can be read like  the Bible:  “Keep it near at hand; turn to it to learn more about a spiritual matter such as the meaning of the Mass, how to make a good Confession, or how to do a daily examination of conscience; or just open it up to whatever part the Holy Spirit leads you to.”

         The subtitle of the book, Guide to the Happiest Life, is no hyperbole.  In the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, “The happiness you are seeking, the happiness you have a right to enjoy has a name and a face.  It is Jesus of Nazareth.”  Centuries ago, St. John Mary Vianney said more or less the same thing: “Burning prayer addressed to God:  this is man’s greatest happiness on earth.”  The book Jesus-Centered has very strong doctrinal foundations.  The last three Popes wrote eloquently about the supreme importance for every Christian to be centered on Christ.  In the Foreword to the book, Msgr. Mariano Fazio, Auxiliary Vicar of the Prelature of Opus Dei and the Holy Cross, reminded us that the third millennium started with St. John Paul II asking the Church to “start afresh from Christ.”  In the Apostolic Exhortation Novo Millennia Ineunte, St. John Paul stated with utmost clarity: “It is fatal to forget that ‘without Christ we can do nothing.’  It is prayer which roots us in this truth.  It constantly reminds us of the primacy of Christ and, in union with him, the primacy of the interior life and of holiness.”  Then Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est that “being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person.”  That person without doubt is Jesus Christ and the encounter is nothing else but an encounter of love through constant intimate conversation with him, which is what prayer is all about.

         The first words of Pope Francis to the cardinal-electors were to the same effect: “All together, pastors and faithful, we will make an effort to respond faithfully to the eternal mission:  to bring Jesus Christ to humanity, and to lead humanity to an encounter with Jesus Christ.”  Msgr. Fazio, who was a personal friend of the Pope when they were both residing in Argentina, is convinced that  it was the deep prayer to Jesus whom the Pope  calls the “center of our life,”  that led then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to be concerned with the peripheries, and to denounce corruption, exploitation of the poor, human trafficking, drugs and indifference.   In Buenos Aires, he would always say goodbye to Msgr. Fazio with these words: “Pray for me.”  In his apostolic exhortation on holiness Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis insisted on what “might seem obvious,” that “holiness consists in a habitual openness to the transcendent, expressed in prayer and adoration.”

         As an alumnus of Harvard University, I am aware that my alma mater is not exactly famous for being a center for spirituality.  Thanks to some of its social scientists who conducted the 80-years-old study on how to attain human happiness on earth, we have an important lead that happiness is all about relations with other persons we get to meet in our lifetime.  For those of us who have been fortunate enough to have been introduced to the Person of Jesus Christ by baptism, confirmation and most important of all the Holy Eucharist,  it would be the height of folly not to cultivate a close and intimate relationship with the one Person who is both God and Man, who has all the answers to our unlimited desire for bliss.  We do not have to die to enjoy the happiness to which we all aspire.  Our heaven can start on earth if we center our lives on Jesus.  The book of Dr. Nidoy is truly a  Guide to the Happiest Life.  It is available in Fully Booked and also in all PAREF Schools (e.g. Southridge and Woodrose) at 299 pesos a copy.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.