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T.M. Taylor

Many of the things that we most desire can be obtained only if we dot aim directly at them.  They are as it were by-products of something else.  Happiness is one of these things.  If you go after it directly and of set purpose you miss entirely.  You may of course have what you are pleased to call a good time, but that is quite a different thing and it does not last long.  Goodness is another of these by-products.  You cannot attain it either by aiming at it.  That is what the Pharisees tried to do and tried very earnestly.  Yet Jesus said of them, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.”   For the pride of the good person is the deadliest sin of all, and for that reason in the parable of the Prodigal Son the virtuous brother who stayed at home (the Pharisee) was all the time farther away from the father’s house than the younger son returning from the far country with nothing but a broken and a contrite heart.  You cannot read the Gospels without seeing that Jesus did not tell people how to be good in the manner of the moralists of every age; he told them how to be happy.  The Sermon on the Mount, for instance, contains among other things a series of recipes for happiness: they are called the beatitudes and they suggest that happiness is a by-product of some other things, such as simplicity and humility and mercy and purity of heart and being persecuted for righteousness’ sake.  These sound like paradoxes, for it is by no means self-evident that the meek shall inherit the earth or that it is better to give than to receive – to take another saying of Jesus reported by St Paul.  I am pretty sure that we err in treating these sayings as paradoxes.  It would be nearer the truth to say that it is life itself which is paradoxical and that the saying of Jesus are simply a recognition of that fact. 

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In their many different idioms the classical spiritual writers have attempted to throw light on the eternal question of union with God. 
Every month we give you a brief passage from a spiritual classic.