Well…what exactly is vanity? And more importantly why is it sinful?
Most times we think of someone who is vain as someone who spends too much time in front of the mirror. Someone who thinks plastic surgery is just fine and fears the wrinkles and the graying or in my case, the losing, of the hair.
But vanity is also found in another place where we will immediately recognize it:
“Do not take the name of the Lord thy God, in vain!”
Again, a common misconception says that this only refers to cursing and using the name of God. “God damn it!” might be the most common example and when we think about that “curse” (or perhaps because we don’t really think about it), we discover the height of vanity.
We’re asking God to send someone or something to hell. We’re judging and saying that God in fact, SHOULD, send this person to eternal damnation. We know better than God does and we want to make sure that God is awake.
We also think that we know what is good for us and we try to stay in control at all times. A big mantra at work when I was in radio was “get ahead, stay ahead” in reference to workload but also to climbing the corporate ladder. The overriding theme is “This will make you happy.”
And that is what the central character of our gospel parable buys into today. He has an excess at the harvest. He has more than enough. So instead of sharing that harvest with his neighbors, he tears down the entire storage facility and builds bigger ones and then he will be set for a long time.
Sounds silly and it is. But we wouldn’t say that about someone who puts 8 million in the bank, would we?
Perhaps we should ask what he’s saving for–and does he or she really need to save that much? Aren’t there things that they can do right NOW with that excess cash?
Ecclesiastes, the great scripture scholar Lawrence Boadt, CSP, who died this week, has a theme that we might all do well to heed:
Simply put, we should “enjoy what God gives us now and use it the best we can….In the end Ecclesiastes message is one with that of Job–-trust and surrender to God’s loving care even if you cannot know where it will lead.”
In other words, you do not know better than God and do not know what God’s plan for us is. Therefore stop worrying about things and take things as they come. For tomorrow, we may perish.
The worry of not having enough, or most importantly of God not being enough is central to our readings today. Do we have enough money, food, shelter, enjoyment, sex? Can’t everything be just a wee bit better?
And there it is: vanity.
God can’t really be all that I really need? Don’t I need more than that?
Israel would value the name of God so much they wouldn’t say God’s name out loud. They’d simply breathe in (yaaaaaaaaa) and out (wuuuuuuuaaaaah)
and would say that Yahweh was even closer to us than to our own breath.
And what more could we need than that–for it gives us life.
But there is a far deeper question to ask ourselves…
Are we enough? Or are we too vain to bother?
Can we give all that we are and all that we have for others in need? Can we ransom our lives for many? Can we live our very lives not merely for ourselves but instead for those who are in need and for those who call us into their lives to be companions?
This week our Catholic Charities Volunteers in Buffalo begin to pack up their barns with the little that they have. They have spent their final week giving themselves away, if you will, to the organizations and people that they serve. I’ve seen them make gifts and videos for one another–simple gifts from their heart–so that they might remember and remind themselves of their time spent together–a precious gift all its own.
But it is the closeness that they now have with one another in community–a community that they have built that is difficult to now leave–that goes far beyond our own usual vanities. For these 8 people have seen each other that the best and worst. Women have been sans makeup and men were able to drop macho bravado for tenderness. They have cared not only for one another, but rather in the care that they are able to give each other, they empower each other to give to the world.
They give themselves away for others. They’ve done it for a year and now they cannot help but to continue to do that. They know that “One’s life does not consist of possessions.”
And that indeed makes them all richer than they ever imagined.
As am I, merely for knowing each one of them.
PHOTO CREDITS: Christina Sky Tello, Megan Crossman