Sunday Sermon for August 4, 2013, the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Readings: Ecc 1:2, 2:21-23; Col 3:1-5, 9-11; Lk 12:13-21

Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities! All things are vanity! This is one of the most quoted lines in Sacred Scripture, but it is also one of the least accepted. We tend use this line when something goes awry. It puts things into perspective for us. The problem is that until the point at which the thing went awry the person was not seeing it as vanity but as something of great importance. How could something go from having great import to being vanity in such a short time?

There are many things in this world that are important, but ultimately they will all be gone. One day the world and everything in it will be destroyed in fire. All of the material things that we accumulated throughout history will vanish. Even the things we could speak of from a scientific perspective will no longer have any merit. For instance, gravity, relativity, chemical reactions and the like will be useless because there will be not be anything to interact with anything else. So, these things that are so important to our day to day lives and even to our existence on earth, will be without value when the earth is no longer in existence.

Even so, while everything is still in existence and we have to go forward with our daily lives, we have to work, we need a place to raise children, we need to educate the next generation. It is good and reasonable to leave an inheritance for your children, even though Qoheleth sees that as a vanity as well. The real issue, however, comes down to the motive for which we do things. We know that our Lord has commanded us to live lives of charity. Our society directs our focus inward on the self. Our Lord tells us in the Gospel reading today where such a focus leads: selfishness in this life and a loss of Heaven in the next.

Our motive for work, purchases, savings, inheritance and anything else you care to add to that list must be one of charity. By this I do not mean merely considering what will be “nice” or pleasant for your children or your family. Instead, it means that it has to have reference to God. In other words, we want to serve our families and pass things on to them because it is God’s will and because it will give glory to God. So often what our society holds as good and important is offensive to God. We might think we have or do certain things because “everyone else is doing it.”

This kind of reasoning is merely earthbound. St. Paul tells us in the second reading that we are to seek what is above. More than that, he tells us to put to death whatever in us is earthly. This is because we are made for Heaven and our time on earth is directed toward preparing for eternity. If we choose to live worldly lives we are headed toward death. But if we choose to live in this world with our focus on God, then we are heading toward life.

When we do this, everything changes for us. While externally we may continue to do many of the same things, our internal disposition toward them will be completely different. We will no longer go to work just because we have to or just so that we can pay the bills. Instead, we will go to work because it is God’s will and it will help us to grow in holiness. It will also inform our attitude and the way we do our work. Yes, it will also pay our bills, but that becomes a secondary point. The same idea extends to every other area of our lives. Our love for neighbor will flow from our love for God, so our service to family, friends, the poor or anyone else will be for their good, but firstly, because we are doing it for the Lord.

This requires a change in the way that we think because it is certainly not the way most of us have been taught. There are three points in today’s readings that can help us in this endeavor: seek the things that are above, store up treasure or be rich in what matters to God, and see the vanity of things by looking at the larger picture. This last point is not to make one depressed or have a bad attitude. Rather, it is to see that anything that is not done for the glory of God and the good of souls is useless in the sense that it will pass away and be recognized no more. Treasure in Heaven, on the other hand, will remain forever.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit