Qh 1:2;2:21-23; Col: 3:1-5,9-11; Lk 12:13-21
Vanity of Vanities
Francis, the son of a rich aristocrat, impoverished by war, had dreams of making it big by the only means open to him, namely, bidding for high positions of power and pelf in the Church bureaucracy of his time. His single-minded pursuit of privilege and profit was rudely shaken by an older gadfly of an ascetic, Ignatius of Loyola who relentlessly went after him with the challenging logic of the Gospel: “What does it profit a person to gain the whole world and at the same time, suffer the loss of his soul?”. It took more than two years to break down the walls of resistance, but at last the Lord had His way. Francis accepted the wisdom of the Gospel. He surrendered his worldly aspirations for riches and honours, became a Companion of Jesus, poor and humble, spent himself in spreading the saving message of the Gospel across the oceans and faraway continents, died a lonely death on the barren island off the coast of China, and soon gained fame and glory of totally different kind-that of a great missionary and an acclaimed saint.
The Word of God today invites us to open ourselves to this same wisdom by meditating upon the essential emptiness and worthlessness of craving for material wealth, worldly honours and earthly fame, fortune and favours.
There is something inherently enslaving and entrapping in the pursuit of possessions, pleasures and power. They intoxicate us, deaden our sensibility, kill our humanness, harden our hearts, dull our brains, make us blind, selfish, insensitive and cold. There is also something addictive in them. The more we have, the more we ant to have. Richer we are, the more insecure we become. We do not want to let go, to share and to sacrifice. There is also an element of false security. Placing all or trust in our bank balance, our properties, our high paying jobs and our positions of power, we feel we do not need anyone else, not even God. It is only when we sustain a big loss or an accident, an illness or a failure that we open our eyes and feel the need for God. So it was with Ignatius. So it was with Augustine and so many other lesser mortals.
It is in this context that today’s liturgy takes on special significance, ‘Vanity of vanities. All is vanity’, says the First Reading. We toil and struggle, spend sleepless nights, sacrifice our leisure in order to make money and amass wealth. Soon it is time for us to leave it all behind and go to meet our Maker. As Job says, “Naked I came into the world. Naked I go”. What do we gain from all this care and preoccupation? What is the use of planning to build bigger and bigger barns to hoard up surplus grain? As the popular wisdom says, none of us take any of this along with us when we die. We truly deserve to be called ‘fools’ as in today’s Gospel. The man in the parable was a fool not because he had surplus produce which is really an achievement to be lauded. He was a fool because he was preoccupied with hoarding up the surplus rather than sharing it with the needy. He was a fool because he was absorbed in the perishable at the cost of the imperishable, holding on to what is transient and temporary while ignoring what is permanent and precious.
That is why we need to pay heed to St. Paul’s advice to “let our thoughts be on heavenly things and not on the things that are on the earth… putting to death greed which is in fact worshipping a false god.”
The advice is very timely these days when rampant consumerism brought about by globalization and economic liberalization has created a craze for latest gadgets and ever-increasing pay packets in the pursuit of which the young and bright of our fellow beings sacrifice their rest and recreation, life and leisure, relationships and friendships and even marital happiness submitting to the heavy yoke of inhuman work schedules, stressful job demands and unhealthy eating habits- all for the sake of fat pay cheques. What for? Vanity of vanities, all vanity! No human happiness! No simple joys of normal life! We end up with stress-related psychosomatic disorders, broken marriages, emotionally wounded children and emptiness within. Barren lives in the midst of material plenty and luxury!
Hence the relevance of the Responsorial Psalm asking God to “make us know the shortness of our life so that we may gain wisdom of heart”. May we all be given this wisdom of the heart so that we may clearly see where our treasure is: “Fill us with your love so that we may rejoice and always be happy”.