How many times have we heard, "Jesus Christ suffered and died for us." How important it is to look at the cross and thank him for this. It is only right to thank someone who loved us so much that he gave up his very life.

We also are aware, through the Scriptures and the teaching of the Church, that Jesus lived a life without sin and that he died for us sinners, even while we were still in our sins (cf. Rom 5:8).

We have heard the oft-quoted irony that Jesus took upon himself the suffering that we deserved (for our sins), so that we might have the reward that he deserved. We know this, we believe this and we thank him for this incredible gift. But how often does it dawn on us that Jesus died for us because he just wants us be happy?

Yes, it seems only logical to ask why would Jesus die for us: that is, take our sins upon himself and die in our place?

We have all read accounts of people who give their lives for others. St. Maximilian Kolbe, for example, offered his own life in the place of a married father of a family when both were prisoners in Auschwitz. We also know of brave firefighters and police officers who place themselves in harm’s way each day and are often called to sacrifice their own lives to protect their communities.

In Gethsemane, Jesus clearly understands what was being asked by his Father to “drink the cup” of his suffering and death on the cross for us. He asks the Father if there might be some other way to accomplish this, that might avoid this “cup,” but he submits himself to the Father’s will (Lk 22:42). Did Jesus just suffer and die for us then out of blind obedience?

On the contrary, the driving force behind everything God did through Jesus Christ, from the moment of his conception to the moment of his death, had only one fundamental purpose: that we be happy!

“Happy,” like “love” and “beauty,” is one of those words that can be taken in different ways, from the eye of the beholder. Theologians often use the word “beatitude” instead of “happy.” Some modern translations of the the Beatitudes substitute the word “happy” for “blessed.”

It is clear that, through Christian eyes, true happiness and blessedness are one and the same thing, though this is not always obvious at first.

Experience teaches us, sooner or later, that what we want and what we need are not always the same thing. We may pray for something — anything — and God will surely hear us. The answer we receive, however, may not be exactly what we asked for.

A student who prays to pass an exam, for example, without putting in the time to study, cannot blame God for refusing to grant a special dispensation. Asking God to overlook a sinful pattern in a relationship is like expecting a spouse to disregard acts of infidelity. St. Augustine himself, before his conversion, once “prayed” along such lines: “O Lord, make me holy — only not yet.”

True happiness does not come to us when we pursue sinful actions and refuse to give them up. Happiness can only come from holiness, from living according to the teachings of Christ and his Church. To say that God desires our happiness is the same as saying God desires our holiness, which alone will lead to true freedom and eternal life — true happiness.

As we read the Gospels, we often see even Christ’s closest disciples engaging in vices like gossip, ego-inflating “one-upmanship,” finger-pointing and even betrayal. Such behaviors bring misery to both the individuals involved and the community at large.

Today, there are many practices that, while promising happiness and freedom, actually lead to great miseries like addictions, diseases and other unintended consequences. The use of certain pharmaceuticals, for example, that promise relief from psychological or physical pain, can quickly enslave and impoverish the user. Contraceptive and even so-called “safe” sex can induce relationships based not on lasting commitment and mutual, self-giving love, but on exploitation and pure self-gratification.

In order to find happiness, we want to strive after holiness, which is exactly what Jesus Christ died and rose to make possible for every one who is willing to accept him as Lord and Savior. Even on a most practical level — just try this! — people who make a concerted effort to pray each day, say the Rosary, read Scripture, attend Mass frequently and turn to Lord with a heart open to his grace will find their lives changing, slowly but surely.

A good question, in fact, to ask in one’s spiritual life is, "Am I changing? Do I find myself becoming a better listener, less judgmental, more generous or less inclined to fly off the handle with my family and friends? Am I becoming less impatient, more consistent in my work, less envious or prone to talk about others?"

Each of us has some area of our life that we know needs to change. Only God knows our hearts, but whatever is eating at our peace and happiness, we can be sure that is exactly what the Lord wants to drive out and heal.

Jesus is the man for sinners. Yes, he died for us sinners and to take away our sins. We must realize, however, that the reason he does this is because he loves us and knows the sinful habits that make us miserable. He wants us to he happy.

Our prayer might be like his prayer to the Father: to let a habit or attitude of sin pass and to help us do the will of God who shows us the way, the truth and the life in the teaching and example of his Son.