My friend Pedro Maria Zabilde, in his book Happiness is not for fools, tells us a delightful episode: he went into a large, clean village barber’s shop and came across a well-bred barber, a cultured man, as talkative as a lawyer, because he considered that good conversation was as much a part of his trade as a razor or a brush. As soon as he saw his client settled in his armchair, he didn’t want to leave the cost of the dialogue to others and he asked him the ritual question:

“Football, politics, religion?”

– “Gee – said my friend to his buttons – what a varied menu!” And he opted: “Religion”.

– “Light religion or strong religion?”

– “Geez!” – he whispered again to himself – “What’s the difference?”

– “Well look: light religion is commenting, for example, that the 17th of January is Saint Anthony of temptations, that Our Lady of Fatima appeared on the 13th or that the Pope is a bit crooked. And strong religion is… I don’t know if you understand me, deepening”.

– “Well then, strong religion”.

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

– “What do you think about the existence of evil? Do you think it’s proper for a Father to allow earthquakes and cyclones to happen where thousands of people die, including innocent and defenseless children?

– “Well, well…”

But the barber only allowed his interlocutor to say “Well, well”, because he would immediately fire off a new round of questions:

– “And what about the injustices that stain our society? Do you think it’s nice to have countries sunk in misery while others boast of wealth and abundance?

– Well then …”

– What do you think of Project Man? Not even it can sometimes revive the young people undermined by drugs, to the point of drying up their lust for life?

– “Well, indeed…”

– And don’t you think that we Christians should be more cheerful? That we should bear witness to the resurrection of Jesus? Show that we have faith in a living Person who saves us, and not give that image we sometimes give of poor creatures, bitter and sad as umbrellas without sticks?”

After this tirade he had to take a deep breath, which enabled his listener to declare decisively:

“Well, I couldn’t agree more.”

The barber continued his work and his interlocutor was left to ponder the last of his truths, as great as the Vatican: Christians should feel bound by the commandment “Thou shalt be happy”, since they serve no less than God. If they are sad and afflicted they let God down, for they give the impression that divine service is a heavy burden rather than a joyful privilege, a happy reign.

My friend Pedro Zabilde considers that, to be happy, a citizen needs three important things: to be good, to be intelligent and to have a driving licence.

To be good, to begin with. There are people who suffer from livers, who are very selfish, and who give the impression that they eat tiger every day for breakfast. Let those people say goodbye to happiness! To be happy, you have to be kind, cordial, loving, you have to be happy to see others happy. The vinegar in the heart turns the joy of living sour – and how! – the joy of living. We have to say “hello”, “good morning”, “good morning”, “please”, “excuse me” as if to make pure lymph gush out from within. A sincere compliment can be worth a lot of indulgences, and smiling at someone can be as good as taking them Holy Communion. The ecology of optimism and hope needs militants from all parties.

Secondly, to be happy, one must be intelligent, which does not mean intellectual. Intelligent so as not to get into trouble and then not know how to get out of it. Trouble with the economy, gambling, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, bad habits. If you get into this way, you have mortgaged your happiness and that of your family, community, friends and neighbours. Why complicate life? Without a few kilos of common sense, nobody savours happiness.

And lastly, it is necessary to know how to drive the car of life on the right road, without going off the track. Many children of good mothers are busy running around aimlessly, without ever stopping for a few minutes of calm and deep reflection. Without having a fruitful relationship with the source of joy which consists in loving one’s neighbour, and with the Source of Meaning which, after all, is God.


Abílio Pina Ribeiro, cmf

(PHOTO: JJ Shev)


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