I was told by a Franciscan friar that many people believe that we have a choice: we can either be happy or holy, but the truth is that we can be both. Consider the story of Stephen, the first martyr of the early Church. He proclaimed the good news, yet the crowd who heard him rebuked him and then stoned him. “Stephen said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together. They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.” Acts 7:57 Even while Stephen was being tortured he still maintained a joyful appearance that surpassed all imagining.
Stephen was only the first of many early Christians who suffered and then were martyred for their faith. The stories of the trials and tribulations of most of the apostles ended in death. Nevertheless, these men went through all this pain while remaining devoted to the Lord. This devotion gave them holiness and because of their holiness, the Lord granted them happiness even in death by martyrdom.
Only God has the ability to instill the pure joy of knowing our Savior Jesus Christ within each of us. Stephen looked into the sky and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. That was enough. “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst’.” John 6:35
There is no denying that life as a believer and follower of Jesus Christ can be difficult, sometimes unbearable, but if we hold fast to the word of God, we are guaranteed true happiness in life. In fact, we are guaranteed not only happiness, but we have the promise of so much more–the holiness that leads us to heaven.