Witnesses to Mercy Little and Big Happiness
The Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna speaks on the theme of the Meeting. “Happiness is an event, a grace. The Pope has made this visible with his life.” A proposal that bucks the trend

By Riccardo Piol

“We are created to be happy.” Cardinal Schönborn began his talk in Rimini with these words, resuming the dialogue he initiated at the 1996 Meeting, which urged going “even to the ends of the earth.” At that time, the Archbishop of Vienna had approached an intriguing topic: the chosen people and the salvation of nations, giving a talk that, reread today, already offers an introduction to this year’s meeting.
“ We are created to be happy,” is a direct, forthright answer to the question asked by the verse from Psalm 33 that provides the title for the 24th edition of the Meeting. And in the Cardinal’s words, this answer became a resounding “Yes,” pronounced in front of “dear friends,” and at the same time the account of his personal history. He began with this very statement, a youthful memory of something “said by my parish priest. What he was preaching, I have forgotten now; the only phrase that stayed in my memory is this one.” It is a phrase full of gusto and hope, that immediately put a finger on the title of this session, “The Christian Vocation: a Call to Happiness.”

Question of experience
That we are created to be happy “is written in every man’s heart; it is evident.” And at the same time it is a desire “given us by the Creator himself, that does not disappoint, but represents a goal to which we are destined.” The degree to which this fact has impact on daily experience can be seen in two ways: “It has to be personally verifiable as a ‘happy life’ and at the same time has to be seen as such in others,” like in that parish priest whom the then 16-year-old Schönborn–still far from becoming a cardinal, but already asking himself questions about his vocation–had before him. “Rarely have I known a man who radiated the truth of this word in such a strong and intimate way.”
Then what does it mean to be happy? This is not a theoretical question, but a matter of experience, which the Archbishop of Vienna has approached in a simple–but challenging–way for times like ours. There is “a ‘little’ happiness and a ‘big’ happiness,” the Cardinal explained, “in which the former is, in truth, the school for learning the latter” and consists of “those joys in life that bring a bit of light into our often gray daily life: a good meal, a nice swim after the lecture or before the lecture or instead of the lecture, or a glass of cold beer on a hot summer day.”

Politics as instrument
As we emerge from a century in which many theorized the sacrifice of the “little happiness” of the instant, promising a “big” one in the future, the Cardinal’s words also hit the target of today’s reality, in which so many people expound on their interpretation of the word happiness, but few are capable of indicating something that truly speaks to man’s heart. From the ideologies of the twentieth century to the aftereffects we are seeing today, the assumption seems to reign that the answer to happiness can be given by those in charge of political life who hold power in their hands. “Let us not expect paradise on earth from politics,” the Archbishop said. “Let us expect the common good.” This is because injustice, abuse, and poverty, everything that makes the “little happiness” impossible for man, is an obstacle to the possibility of reaching the “big happiness” that is promised us. This is “the reason why the Holy Father so firmly disapproved of the war against Iraq”–not because of a form of pacifism, but because man’s road to full happiness has to be sustained by the peace that only a stable legal order can maintain. This is something that only an idea of politics as an instrument for the common good can guarantee. “The Pope is not only the defender of the particular rights of the Catholic Church. Throughout the twenty-five years of his pontificate, he has been the untiring defensor civitatis. His intervention in favor of the rights of man, the family, the unborn, social justice, and peace is one great effort to make it possible for individuals and mankind to lead a happy life.”

Happiness is an event
Without this concern for the common good, there is no room for a happy life, for the possibility of the “little happiness” of which the Cardinal spoke, calling it also a “decent life, in peace and security,” which rises up and at the same time leads into a fully achieved happiness, the “big happiness.” It came into the world with Christ, in the promise of the Beatitudes and the sacrifice on Golgotha. “The wisdom of all peoples,” Schönborn said, “knows that happiness cannot be ‘built,’ but happens; it is an event. It has to do with grace, benevolence, gift”–a gift that is received and offered at the same time: the gift of self–as so many saints testify and so many suggestions from daily life help us to understand. “The mountain climber finds his fortune in reaching the summit, which is at the same time the fruit of a concentrated gift of himself to the goal he wants to reach, and the great gift of the summit, which overcomes and rewards all his labors.” It is in this tension that we find the key to the “big happiness” for man: all his efforts have to take place as a gift of himself to the goal. “The Pope,” the Cardinal recalled, has never stopped repeating it, “and he has shown its application in all the areas of life. But first of all, he has made the truth of this phrase visible with his whole life.”

Forgiven sinners
Jesus, addressing God, prays to Him that “all may be one as We are One.” Remembering this prayer of the Son to the Father, so dear to John Paul II, Archbishop Schönborn gave his last and most profound reflection on the theme of the meeting, pointing out how “this phrase suggests a certain simile between the union of the divine Persons and the union of God’s children. Nowhere else is this simile revealed so clearly as in man’s vocation to the happiness that God Himself is, which does not consist of anything other than the total and mutual gift of self made by the divine Persons, in the mystery of love which is God”–a love that does not limit itself to giving, “but wants also to forgive”; a love that is the mercy of Jesus, in front of which “on one hand we become conscious of all the depth of unhappiness of sin, but on the other of the certainty that everything, even the worst sins, will be forgiven.” “Be witnesses to mercy,” the Cardinal concluded, recalling the Pope’s invitation, “because it is the concrete form in which, today, the vocation to happiness can be announced.”