My friend Pedro María Zabilde went to the barber (and I ask permission to tell in my own way what happened to him and comes in his book Happiness is not for fools). The barber, talkative as a lawyer, considered good conversation as much a part of his trade as a brush or a razor. As soon as he saw his client settled in the armchair, he fired the question of his ritual:

– “Football, politics, religion?”

– “Fire! -said my friend to himself – what a varied menu!” And he opted: – “Religion”.

– “Light religion or strong religion?”

– “Fire!” -he whispered again to himself- “What difference does it make?”

– “Well, look: light religion is commenting, for example, that January 17th is Saint Anton’s Day, that Our Lady of Fatima appeared on the 13th, or that the Pope has more autumns than my mother-in-law. And strong religion is… I don’t know if you understand me, to go deeper”.

– “Well then, strong religion”.

And the good man immediately pulled out of his pocket a ball of questions, more or less complicated, that he had been storing up from previous conversations.

– “What do you think about the existence of evil? Do you think a Father would consent to earthquakes and cyclones where thousands of creatures die, among them innocent children without any defence?”

– “All right, I…”

But the barber would only let the interlocutor say a “well”, because he would then fire off a new round of questions:

– “And what about the injustices that stain our society? Do you think it’s nice when countries sink into misery and others belch wealth and abundance?

– “Well, as a matter of fact…”

– “Don’t you think we Christians should walk a little more cheerfully? Show that we have faith in a person who is alive and commends himself, and not give that image we sometimes give of poor devils, shrivelled up and sad as a catafalque?”

After this take he had to take a deep breath, which allowed his listener to state decisively:

– “Well, I agree with you through and through.”

The barber went on with his work and my friend was left to ponder that great truth as New York: Christians should feel obliged to keep the commandment “Thou shalt be happy.” If they go about afflicted and weak, they do God a disservice, for they imply that divine service is a heavy burden instead of the joyous privilege of serving the King of kings.

Peter Zabilde believes that happiness is not yet rationed and that a citizen, to be happy, needs three important things: a few drops of goodness, two fingers of intelligence and a sense of direction.

A good heart to start with. There are people who suffer from liver disease, are selfish and seem to eat tiger for breakfast every day. Those people say goodbye to happiness! To be happy, we have to be kind, cordial, to be happy to see others happier. The vinegar of the sour heart – and in what way! the salad of life. We have to say “hello”, “good morning”, “well done”, “please”, “excuse me” like someone who makes a pure spring gush forth from within. A sincere compliment or a smile lights up more than a hundred lamps. The ecology of optimism and hope needs activists from all parties.

Secondly, to savour happiness, you need a few pebbles of intelligence and common sense. Those who get into trouble all the time – economic problems, problems with gambling, alcohol, tobacco, drugs or bad habits – ruin their own happiness and that of their family, community, friends and neighbours.

And it is necessary, finally, to know how to drive the car of life on the right road, without leaving the track. Running without paying the tolls of calm and deep reflection does not lead to the source of joy and meaning, which consists in believing in God and loving one’s neighbour.


Abílio Pina Ribeiro, cmf

(PHOTO: Nathon Oski)


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