Friday, December 25, 2009

Tiger Woods and True Happiness

(Christmas 2009: This homily was given on December 25, 2009 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Isaiah 62: 1-5; Matthew 1: 18-25.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Christmas 2009]

Tiger Woods has given many golf lessons to people during the course of his career. Today, however, he gives all of us a Christmas lesson, as well as an important lesson about ourselves and about the nature of our lives here on this earth.

About a week after Tiger wrecked his car—during that period of time when the press was reporting incessantly about his extra-marital affairs and self-indulgent lifestyle—I was having a discussion with a man at the gym who is a fellow golfer and a fellow golf fan. And something this man said during the course of our conversation really struck me. He said, “Fr. Ray, what’s wrong with us human beings? It doesn’t matter how much money we have; it doesn’t matter how many possessions we have; it doesn’t matter how many of this world’s pleasures we have—we’re never satisfied. It’s never enough.”

What a great insight! What a great insight about the human condition. Too bad all the newscasters in the secular media missed it (at least everyone I listened to missed it!). They were too busy focusing on the sordid details of Tiger’s infidelities to worry about important insights that might really help people understand themselves and understand life.

We’re never satisfied. It’s never enough.

That’s the deeper message of Tiger’s fall from grace. I say that because it’s hard to think of someone who had more of what this life has to offer than he had. If anyone should have been “satisfied,” it was Tiger Woods! He had more money than he knew what to do with; he was the best in the world in his chosen profession; he had popularity numbers that any politician would envy; he had his physical health; he had a beautiful wife and two beautiful children.

He had “everything” that the world tells us we need for happiness.

But “everything” was not enough! Incredibly, all of that did not satisfy him. He had to have more: more pleasure; more fun; more excitement.

He was clearly not a happy man! Do you realize that? A happy man does not cheat on his wife; a happy man does not engage in the kind of reckless behavior that Tiger engaged in; a happy man does not hurt the people he loves like Tiger hurt the people he claims to love.

The Tiger Woods tragedy should cause us to do a great big “reality check” as individuals and as a nation. What is the meaning of life? Is it simply to have a good job, make a good salary, have a nice family and provide well for them?

Tiger succeeded in all of those areas, and something was still missing.

Where is true happiness to be found?

It certainly can’t be a matter of making lots of money, becoming famous, having fun and accumulating lots of stuff. If it were, then Tiger would have been the happiest guy on the planet—or close to it.

Our happiness, of course, will always be limited here on earth, because we are imperfect creatures living in a world tainted by sin.

But genuine happiness can be experienced in this life; although it’s not a matter of what we have on the outside (Tiger Woods has shown us that); it flows, rather, from what’s on the inside.

True happiness comes from knowing your Savior—Jesus Christ—who loved you so much that he took on mortal flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, was born on Christmas Day, suffered, died and rose again so that you could have forgiveness for your sins and perfect happiness someday with him in his eternal kingdom—as well as a more ordered life here on earth.

That, incidentally, is the “why” of Christmas; it’s why Jesus came.

As Psalm 89 says, “Happy the people who know you, Lord.” (Ps 89:16)

And as Jesus himself said, “I came that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” (Jn 10:10)

True happiness comes from experiencing the Savior’s forgiveness in the very core of your being. There’s incredible freedom and joy in that. As Psalm 32 puts it, “Happy the sinner whose fault is removed, whose sin is forgiven.” (Ps 32:1)

Speaking of forgiveness, when was the last time you went to confession?

True happiness comes from knowing the reason God put you on this planet and from faithfully following the Lord’s plan for your life. As we’re told in Psalm 94, “Happy are those whom you guide, O Lord, whom you teach by your instruction.” (Ps 94: 12)
And again in Psalm 119, “Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk by the teaching of the Lord.” (Ps 119:1)

Genuine happiness is rooted in a living relationship with the living God that runs deep, that is not superficial! It does not come from being committed to the Lord half-heartedly, and only when it fits into your busy schedule—which is precisely the way that Tiger Woods was committed to his wife and family.

That type of commitment does not work in a marriage, nor does it work in our relationship with God.

I’ll conclude my Christmas homily this morning with a famous line from the writings of St. Augustine. Augustine never played golf (he lived back in the 4th century), but, prior to his conversion to Catholicism, he definitely would have been a worthy rival for Tiger Woods in committing sins of the flesh.

He was an expert in that area.

After he found the Lord and gave his life to Christ; after he allowed Jesus to be born in his heart, he wrote these well-known words: “You made us, O Lord, for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

I pray for Tiger Woods, that he will someday find the cure for his restlessness where St. Augustine found the cure for his (which is the only place it can be found): In a personal relationship with his Savior, Jesus Christ, in the Church.

And may all of us do the same--if we haven’t already.

God bless you, and Merry Christmas.