In the book, Priests for the Third Millennium, written by Archbishop Dolan, the Archbishop of Milwaukee wrote this book when he was rector of the North American College which is the seminary in Rome. It’s a great book giving advice to seminarians and priests on an array of issues. In the chapter on simplicity he tells the reader about an incident that occurred when he was doing graduate studies as a young priest in Washington D.C. During his semester breaks while driving back home he would stop for an overnight with the Dominicans and he particular enjoyed chatting with this particular Dominican priest and he would always notice that this Dominican’s room was very simple and almost looked like a guest room. So one time he asked the Dominican priest, “Where are all your things?.” The Dominican responded with a question, “Where are all your things?” Dolan responded but I’m just passing through. The Dominican gave an answer that he never forgot, “Aren’t we all passing through.”
This morning/evening we hear the famous line from Ecclesiastes, “Vanity of vanities.” The choice of the reading to correspond with the gospel is inspired: it forms a wonderful companion piece to and commentary on, one of Luke’s favorite themes—the danger of wealth. The meaning of the term “vanity” is of key importance for understanding the book: it occurs six times in this Sunday’s brief passage, and thirty-seven time in the book. “Vanity” does not mean “pride in one’s appearance.” The Hebrew word means “breath” or “vapor,” that which is insubstantial, fleeting, and transitory. Psalm 39:7 expresses admirably the sentiment of the reading from Ecclesiastes: “Mere phantoms, we go our way, mere vapor (= “vanity”), our restless pursuits; we heap up stores without knowing for whom.” The Gospel is going far beyond “you can’t take it with you.” In this gospel Jesus challenges the crowd to “guard against all greed.” The “rich man” evaluates his life in terms of possessions and believes he is secure. On God’s scale of values, this man is foolish because these things are fleeting. The question the gospel raises, then, is “what matters to God”? Clearly, in things, possessions, there is no lasting profit. There is only lasting profit in that which leads us to “seek that which is above” as we heard in the second reading because we recognize that “Christ is all and in all.” Thus, what really matters to God is that we learn a new set of priorities. The readings and psalm give us ample suggestions: wisdom of heart, kindness, joy, gladness, gracious care, put to death what is “earthly,” put on a new self, living in the image of our Creator, opening ourselves to the “Christ who is all and in all.”
As we sit at our kitchen tables to read the Sunday Newspaper or sit down and watch some television we are bombarded with advertisements to buy the latest gadgets that will make us happy. Don’t have any money well use your credit cards, max them out because these things will make you happy. You don’t want that small little home anymore? Buy the big and beautiful home because this will make you happy. You want that great convertible, this will make you happy. Yes we might feel happiness in the beginning when we buy these items and these items are goods in themselves but are we truly going to be happy with these items? Will this solve the problems in our lives? Are we truly rich in these items that we buy?
My dear brothers and sisters we will only become lost in this world of possessions. These possessions will not be there for us when we get sick. These possessions will not be there to comfort us in our sorrow. These possessions will not be there to solve the problems we are having with our children. These possessions will not assist us in our financial woes.
The only possession that is valuable in our lives is the possession that came in form of a child in Bethlehem. The one that taught us to love one another as I have loved you, the one that showed his ultimate love by being scourged and crucified, the one that rose from the dead and gave us eternal life. This is possession that paid one price that will last for eternity and as the second reading stated this morning/evening, “there is no Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free, but Christ is all and in all.”. This is the one that we need to put at the center of our lives. This is the one that will bring us consolation, peace, and joy when we get down and out.
St. Augustine a great doctor and saint of the church was a man that loved living life but had nothing to do with God until he had a conversion. In his confessions he describes the love that he has for God and we should also make these words become a part of our being. “Late have I loved you. O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.”
My dear brothers and sisters we must realize to have wealth is not an evil thing but we must not let what we have become distractions from what really matters most for “think of what is above, and not of what is on earth.”
Living Liturgy, p. 184-85