18th Sunday in Ordinary Time -
A Reflection by Fr. Leo
Vanity, is the theme of our scriptures today. And they make it clear that vanity is not compatible with a healthy spiritual life. The dictionary defines vanity as, “excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own appearance or achievements.” It adds in it’s second meaning that vanity has “the quality of being worthless or futile.” Let us begin there, and take a closer look.
First, I think we must be clear that vanity is an “excessive” pride. Pride is not a bad thing, in fact it is necessary in developing a healthy and flexible ego. What is referred to in the term “vanity,” is the self-centeredness that makes one ego-centric. The perfect example is the rich man in today’s gospel. He has an excess of material goods and thinks only of himself. With a lack of charity, he builds barns for his grain rather than share with those in need. He builds no “treasure in heaven.” His focus is on material wealth, not spiritual.
What is the difference between material and spiritual “treasures”? This is the second thing to consider in today’s scriptures. It is best to avoid a false dualism between the “things of heaven” and “the things of earth”. There is a unity between spirit and matter that just is. It is the focus of the soul that can create an imbalance between “spirit” and “matter”. Here again the example of the rich man serves us well. Having wealth in grain was not a bad thing, it was his selfishness that keeps him from the “fullness of charity”.
Vanity is real for all of us, and we may be blind to it just as the man in today’s gospel was blind to his. I’m not looking for judgment here. It is best to look for understanding. Our selfishness has roots, and knowing our roots can help us in our transformation to living with a greater consciousness of ourselves as part of something greater. One reason may be that we don’t experience ourselves as the daughters and sons of God, who’s life we share. We are souls with a capacity for spiritual wonder and fulfillment. If we fail to recognize and develop our spiritual life, we may become overly anxious about material wealth. We may not come to know the joy of living in a loving relationship with the people and world around us.
Each of us will need to sort this out for ourselves. We will need to decide what it is we want to live and die for. This is where reflecting on the end of today’s gospel is helpful. If we were dying and aware of it, what would be important to us? It is perhaps that, which should direct our lives today and put in perspective all we think is important. One guide might be, does what we live for bring us peace or anxiety, and can we surrender ourselves to live for what brings us true peace. It is that surrender that brings us to the fullness of charity we pray for in our liturgy.