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August 14, 2018

The Futility of Vainglory

Pastors corner with Fr Henry Ibe
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Aesop was one of the greatest story tellers in ancient Greece and in one his fables, a fox once saw a crow perching on a tree branch with a piece of cheese in her beak and thought to himself: “That’s for me, as I am a Fox”. He moved to the foot of the tree and cried out:”Good day, Mistress Crow, how beautiful you are looking today: how glossy your feathers; how bright your eyes. I feel sure your voice must surpass that of other birds, just as your figure does; let me hear but one song from you that I may greet you as the Queen of Birds.” The crow fell for the trick and opened her mouth to sing. In the process, the cheesefell off to the ground and the fox had succeeded in literally outfoxing the crow. He quickly snapped it up and said to the crow: “In exchange for your cheese I will give you some advice for the future: Do not trust flatterers”. This story captures the essence of the theme that runs through today’s readings – the vanity of human striving and the futility of vainglory. Without Christ as the centre and the goal of our life, we labour for nothing.

Today, we learn that life does not consist in getting rich and is not defined by material possessions or physical attributes. The rich fool in today’s parable had enough to last him well into the future but his only worry was how to store his wealth. He lived in his own world and cared little about God and those around him. His inability make himself rich in the sight of God was what made him a fool. Material possessions cannot bring us enduring security and the desire for more cannot save us. As Psalm 127:1 says: “Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain”.The pursuit of wealth as an end is vanity – a chase after the wind. Reality is the super-rich also cry! They also fall sick and suffer disabilities and their families fall apart too. The wealthy also suffer loneliness, and they also die like the rest of us. So why all the striving?

In the business world, we see top executives getting outrageously high pay packages while the poor workers get laid off in their thousands. We see big companies exploring loopholes in the law to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Many take advantage of corrupt governments and a weak civil society to neglect their social responsibilities like taking care of the environment. Ours is a rat-race existence whereby people have to climb over the bodies of others to reach the top. It’s very discomforting when Christian people have no scruples about lying their way to the top orengaging in self-seeking flattery. But it’s all vanity as Qoheleth insists in the First Reading. He questions what we gain from all the toil and strain that we endure under the sun, especially given that we have to leave everything behind when we are gone. It’s all vanity! What is the gain in struggling so hard for something that does not endure? We must, therefore, redefine our concept of the good life and happiness. Everything should be seen in the light of eternity and our moral conduct must have a view of the end of history.

The emphasis on the vanity and meaninglessness of things might sound harsh, but it’s only a reminder that our life on earth is short-lived.It will come to an end.Thus, we should never treat the things of this earth, as wonderful and beautiful and useful as they are, like they were ends in themselves.They arenot. The bounties of this life are only meant to help us fulfil a much higher purpose, that of knowing and loving God.Money and possessions are necessary for us to live dignified lives, and it is definitely no sin to enjoy them.But if striving after them makesus neglect a healthy relationship with God, the Church, or our neighbours, we risk ending up like the rich man in the parable.Our Lord knows how easily we are tempted by money and possessions!That’s why he makes this lesson so clear:”Be on your guard against avarice of any kind, for a man’s life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs” (Luke 12:14).We should instead strive to be rich in what matters to God. Our human efforts, no matter how great, cannot bring us the lasting peace and security that we so much long for.

In the Second Reading, St Paul encourages us to: “Look for the things that are in heaven, where Christ is sitting at God’s right hand” (Col. 3:1). Everything we do in life should be geared towards our final reward in heaven. This must be the focus of our thoughts as we struggle to lift our minds above the concerns of the world. That means getting rid of our evil desires, especially greed, which St Paul likens to idolatry. A Christ-centred life means we learn to think of giving and not getting, serving rather than being served, and forgiving instead of being vengeful. We must learn to grow in the enduring wealth of love; to shun avarice, to not take advantage of others for material gain: to live simply that others might simply live.

Brethren, we gain more fulfilment in our earthly duties when they are carried out with our Christian vocation in mind. That way we grow rich in Christ – we prosper materially even as our soul prospers (cf. 3 John 1:2). We need to do all we can to avoid the pride of the crow and the avarice of the rich fool. That is our challenge for this week. Therefore, let us pray for the grace to channel all our talents and creative energies towards our ultimate home in heaven. Amen!

 

Readings: Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23; Psalms 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14, 1; Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11; Luke 12:13-21

 


 

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