You Probably Think This Post Is About You

Qooheleth (the name means preacher and he is the narrator of Ecclesiastes) starts off Sunday’s first reading with the words: “Vanity of Vanities…all is vanity.”

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.

Vanity.

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

Peace Be With You

Today’s gospel places the disciples in the upper room after hearing about the two disciples who were on the road to Emmaus.

Jesus appears before them and utters those words of comfort: “Peace be with you.”

We say those words rather casually when we offer the sign of peace at mass but in this context can you imagine what they truly meant. The disciples thought they were seeing a ghost! Moreover, they were stuck immobile in the upper room unable to move, even with the Good News given to them by the women and by the two on the road to Emmaus. Indeed fear can keep us paralyzed.

So those words of peace are what calms their troubles. When I do imaginative prayer with this gospel I place myself as one of the disciples, I want to believe that Jesus is really there but then I doubt it.

But when he eats that piece of baked fish–I can almost hear myself saying “That’s the Jesus I know! He’s the one who was always eating and drinking with us! Those people threw him on the cross and killed him but he’s back and he’s still hungry! Somehow that figures!”

I could almost hear myself teasing Jesus, “Oh sure, save some for us will ya?” And Jesus would smile back at me and maybe even break a piece of fish off and hand it to me and perhaps even offer it and then chomp it down instead of giving it to me. “You want a piece, Mike? I’ll bet you do! Gulp! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

I also noticed in the reading of this gospel that Jesus merely says to look at his hands and feet–but there are no mention of any wounds here. Could he NOT have wounds? Could this Jesus be completely healed of those wounds and could that be what he is pointing to–so that the disciples believe that ultimately death cannot kill God and that resurrection makes one whole again?

When we are in our darkest moments do we believe that Jesus can enter into our dark fortresses that we build to try to isolate ourselves and keep others at bay? Do we believe that there is no door that Jesus can’t open and when he does, even when we aren’t expecting it, are we ready to accept the peace that he offers with that entrance and offer some small token of hospitality?

Or do we try to slam the door? We can try to keep God out but somehow the strong driving winds of Pentecost find us eventually. It seems to me that the peace that we all crave can be found if we just open ourselves up to not hiding from God–especially when we feel shameful or alone. We need God then more than ever and instead we decide to go into that upper room and stay there.

“Peace be with you,” Jesus utters. And we hear that.

What do we do when that invitation comes to experience the peace that comes along with realizing that God can defeat death and calm all our fears?

Do we start celebrating by eating and drinking with Jesus or do we just stay put in our own misery and faithlessness. Thinking that God couldn’t possibly do anything for us?