Sunday Sermon for July 31, 2016, the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Readings: Ecc 1:2; 2:21-23; Co 3:1-5, 9-11; Lk 12:13-21
Vanity of Vanities, all things are vanity! What a great line and what profound insight Solomon shows in writing these words. Most everything that the world holds up to be of some importance is nothing but vanity. Unfortunately, it is very easy to get caught up in the things of the world and suddenly find ourselves thinking them to be important as opposed to being vain.
Solomon himself demonstrates this weakness of human nature perhaps better that anyone. We have a man who, in his younger years, was blessed with many graces, great spiritual insight, wisdom beyond anyone who ever lived, and even the grace of divine inspiration to write Sacred Scripture. He served the Lord, built a temple, dedicated his life to service of God and the people entrusted to his care.
After some time, he began to get caught up in the gifts God had given him rather than to be caught up in God Who gave the gifts. He gave himself over to stockpiling money and material good, he gave himself over to the cravings of the flesh, he gave himself over to the worship of false gods. From being the wisest man who was dedicated to serving the one true God, he became a fool by his own doing and sought pleasure and power even when this meant violating God and His holy Laws.
This is the problem with greed and materialism: it leads us away from God and puts our focus on vanity rather than on that which will fulfill. St. Paul even tells in the second reading that greed is idolatry. This is also why our Lord, in the Gospel reading today, instructs us not only to guard against greed, but He also reminds us that life does not consist of possessions. It is interesting that Jesus even uses the same word, “fool,” to describe the man who seeks the riches of this world rather than the riches of Heaven. It may be of interest to note that the Greek word that is translated as “fool” is “moron.”
While we all do many foolish things in our lives, the real fool is the one who puts his trust in anything or anyone who is not God. Each of us can look into our own hearts and ask where my priorities lie. In order to live in this society we need money and we need some material goods. Where there is a problem is when we make the money or the material goods too much of a priority.
A quick look at the readings today gives us a whole host of vanities that ae easy to get caught up in. St. Paul tells us to put to death those things in us which are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desires, greed, dishonesty. Solomon points out in the first reading that our attachments lead to worry and anxiety. Jesus speaks of greed and materialism in the Gospel.
If we want to move away from the vanity, what would it look like? Jesus tells us to be rich in the things of Heaven. This would mean prayer, works of charity, striving to love God more, detachment from the things of the world, making God our top priority (not in words only, but in our actions), dying to self, etc. Solomon says that laboring with wisdom, knowledge and skill are good, but the vanity comes when we do this for the wrong reason. We need to work as a matter of service to others and because it is part of our dignity. As a matter of justice we will be remunerated for our work, but money should not be the main purpose of our work.
St. Paul summarizes what this would look like the best: “If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” We can ask ourselves if this or that thing (action, activity, material thing) will lead me closer to God or away from God. Some will answer that material things are neutral, so how can they move me closer to or away from the Lord? Is it something that you need or something you merely want? Is it desired for prideful purposes (to show off or be seen); is it an attachment? Do I need the really expensive item with all the bells and whistles or will the less expensive one fulfill what I need? Granted, there are many things we do not absolutely need, but they are perfectly reasonable to have. The Lord is not asking that we deprive ourselves of basic needs, but neither should we have too much. In a nutshell: everything selfish is vanity; everything of charity fulfills.
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 www.thewandererpress.com.