Not a very bright tone to today’s first reading, is
there?----"Vanity of vanities," says Qoheleth, "all things are
vanities!" In fact, these lines sum up all of Ecclesiastes. This
book belongs to the wisdom tradition and is one of the latest books
in the Hebrew scriptures. As you read through it you realize it is
addressed to people of means. While our congregation might not be
wealthy, nevertheless, in comparison to the vast poverty of the
world, most of us certainly are "well off." So, we can’t brush the
text aside as if it were addressed just to the upper crust of
Ecclesiastes is a wise person’s reflections on life. In today’s
passage the sage reminds us that nothing can survive death: no
success, reputation, gain or profit will last beyond a person’s
lifetime. Qoheleth’s views life with gloomy eyes and attentive ears
and decides everything is in vain. It’s hard to imagine how this
pessimistic book ever made it into the Hebrew canon of scripture.
The author is uncertain, but because this book is attributed to
Solomon, it got included in the bible. What can we say about this
somber and pessimistic reading today?
Well, it does point us to the gospel. Ecclesiastes sobers us up
in case we have been intoxicated and distracted by a reliance on
what we have achieved on our own. If we base our merit and sense of
self worth on what the world values and grasps, then Qoheleth says
to us today, "Wake up you dreamers, what you treasure is ephemeral
and lacking in permanence." We can gain from Qoheleth’s wisdom, if
his words prompt us at this liturgy to look over our lives and
examine where we are investing our energies and what dominates our
At a recent retreat I attended, a preacher said, "If you want to
know where your heart is, look over the stubs in your checkbook –
where you money goes, that’s where your heart is." I guess you could
say the same thing about our calendars. Look over the last few
months – how have we been spending our time? With whom? Doing what?
Where? As we do this review of priorities, would Qoheleth’s words
today cause us to squirm? "Vanity of vanities...all things are
vanity." I don’t think I would want to have Qoheleth over with
friends for a dinner party. He’s a real "downer." But here in church
today, he is a wake-up call directing our attention away from the
ephemeral towards what will last and be enriching for us and our
families, as well as making some contribution towards a better
There is something else Qoheleth contributes to our reflection
today. Though he is one of the sages, he is very different from
other traditional wisdom writers. They taught that life made sense,
good deeds were rewarded and hard work resulted in prosperity and
happiness. For example, look at the Book of Proverbs: "The reward of
humility and fear of the Lord is riches, honor and life" (22:4).
"The trustworthy person will be richly blessed; the one who is in
haste to grow rich will not go unpunished" (28:20). Really? But the
good don’t always gain in this life and experience shows that the
humble don’t get honored. We also know the greedy and "the one who
is in haste to grow rich" step over others in their treasure quest,
do get rich and don’t seem to get punished.
We need sages like Job and Qoheleth to remind us that in this
life we don’t always see the good rewarded, justice prevail, or hard
workers paid fairly for their labors. For most of the world’s poor,
life isn’t fair – far from it – it is imperfect, limited and
oppressive. Qoheleth shakes the comfortable out of our dreamy,
rose-colored illusions. Granted all in our congregation may not be
experiencing frailty in their lives, but at least some are. So, the
preacher might speak for them today, voice their frustrations and
fears and speak a word of hope to them from God today.
Only Luke has the parable of the rich fool. Here we have a person
who doesn’t’ seem to have heard Qoheleth’s wisdom about the
transitory nature of the things on which we often place trust – "All
things are vanity!" Luke is beginning a section in his gospel about
possessions, covetousness and anxiety (12:13-21;22-34). The
petitioner from the crowd initiates these teachings. The rich man in
the parable has pinned his hopes on what he owns; but ignored who he
is. This man already has enough for himself; but his appetite is for
And we? Do we know when enough is enough? A friend repeats this
mantra as a daily reminder so as to avoid greed and practice a
simpler life, "I have all that I want, I have all that I need." It’s
a statement that can stir thanksgiving in our hearts as we offer
today’s Eucharist. Granted, we pray for important needs in the
world, and for our friends, family and church. But a simpler life
view might help keep our vision and prayer focused on what’s really
important. As we hear this parable about hoarding we can reflect on
what we have back home and so be moved to rid our attics, basements
and garages of things we don’t need – but others might. There are
many poor in our parish and community who don’t have the essentials,
but for those of us who have more, we are urged by the parable to
get our priorities in order and do a realistic evaluation of our
lives. "I have all that I want, I have all that I need." A similar
statement could be said about our nation, "We have more than we
want, far more than we need." But others don’t, so let’s open our
"barns" for them – especially the desperate fleeing
The farmer in the story isn’t a bad person. He is rich, but
that’s not a sin – except in Luke’s gospel riches are looked upon
with suspicion. And sure enough, as the story unfolds we discover
the man’s true spirit – he is greedy and isolated from others. Luke
may be suggesting that such are the effects of riches on a person’s
life. We Americans admire rugged individualism; we extol "the
self-made person." We congratulate the ingenuity of such people;
they "pulled themselves up by their own boot straps." Well, that’s
not how people in Jesus’ world thought. Individuals were always
members of a community, not viewed apart from their surroundings.
Indeed, a person’s very identity was based on being a remember of a
certain family, a particular tribe, a specific town, etc. Apart from
the community, a person had no identity. So, Jesus’ hearers would
have been shocked by this farmer’s "rugged individualism" – he has
isolated himself from the very community that gave him his identity,
his sense of self. He never consults with anyone to discuss what to
do with his excess, neither God, nor someone within his family or
community,. Instead, he has set about tearing down his barns to
build bigger ones. As far as he can tell, this farmer has had a
really good year, but his gaze is turned only on himself, his
conversation is only to himself. "Boy, I’ve done real well for
myself. I think I’ll expand the house....get a bigger car...stash
extra money away...move to an upper class neighborhood...get a
boat...etc." He’s not a bad guy, but God calls him a fool. The man
should have read Ecclesiastes and kept things in perspective.
Luke is making his usual point in this parable. Christians have
to share what we have and live in trust that God will provide us
with what is really important – deep and meaningful life, "daily
bread" and more. According to the ending of last week’s gospel, we
will get the best gift of all from our "Abba" – the Holy Spirit –
unearned, totally free
for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
PRAYER FOR PEACE
Ever Creating God,
Still point of Eternal Peace
stir up within us
your dream that all may be one.
Free us to be instruments of your peace.
Jesus, Word birthed from creative love
Word spoken and broken,
Unending Word of Peace,
enable us to be preachers of that Word,
bearers of the message of your peace.
Holy Spirit of Unfolding Peace,
Breath of God’s Love,
enkindle in us the desire to be embers of your peace
with a passion that will set the world on fire. Amen
—The Dominican Sisters of Peace
All things are vanity!
If someone were to look at your life, what or whom would they
believe you are in love with, or have faith in? In the material
society that we live in, many judge others by their possessions. We
can even judge ourselves in this way. However, Catholic social
teaching explains that human dignity is inherent in every human
being and is not predicated on material status.
This is an important thing to remember as a follower of Jesus,
who often didn’t even have a place to lay his head. If he returned
today, would we walk past Jesus, a man with little in material
assets? How many of us walk past the homeless and count them as less
valuable? How would we have treated the poor family of Jesus when
they were on the run for their lives? What is our reaction to poor
families fleeing violence in their home countries today? When Jesus
spoke truth to power, would we have been there by his side? When you
see injustice today, do you join with others to oppose it?
August is a good month to take time to make some personal
assessments before the busy-ness of the fall. Clear your
surroundings of material possessions that could help someone else.
Getting rid of "stuff" frees you up to determine what you truly love
and gives you a chance to see what God has placed on your heart to
address. Consider your gifts and where they can be used. Have a
conversation with God to sort it all out. Then, resolve to step out
in faith to make a better world where human dignity is promoted.
Here are some places for your belongings (not in the landfill,
please!): Habitat Re-Store or Green Chair Project (will pick up
furniture), Dress for Success (women’s work clothing and
accessories), Interact (women’s clothing), Catholic Parish Outreach
(infant-toddler clothing & equipment), Note in the Pocket (we will
have a drive for school kids clothing in the future, stay tuned),
First Baptist on Salisbury (men, women & children clothing), Garner
Area Ministries, Salvation Army, or North Raleigh Ministries thrift
Here are some places that can use your talents: Any of the Social
Justice Ministries at Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral. Go to this link
and scroll to bottom of page for the ministries and click on them to
"What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will
-Fr. Pedro Arrupe
---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS
Director of Social
Holy Name of Jesus
Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for
persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted
in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Ecclesiastes reading:
Vanity of vanities, says Quheleth,
vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!
Qoheleth is a wake up call directing our attention away from the
ephemeral towards what will last. Here is a mantra we repeat as a
daily reminder to avoid greed and practice a simpler life, "I have
all that I want, I have all that I need." It’s a statement that can
stir thanksgiving in our hearts as we offer today’s Eucharist.
So we ask ourselves:
- Have I placed my trust in what is passing and will not
sustain me in times of difficulty?
- What reordering must I do in my priorities to put more
balance in my life?
POSTCARDS TO DEATH
to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an
inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form
it is carried out."
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison
system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and
addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them
to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them
you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith
Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might
consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
- William Anthony #0654093 (On death row since 6/3/99)
- James Jaynes #0206197 (6/4/99)
- Iziah Barden #0491889 (11/12/99)
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh 27699-4285
For more information on the Catholic position on the death
penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:
Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the
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