Joseph A. Genito, O.S.A.
National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia
Ecc 1: 2; 2: 21 -23
Ps 90: 3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14, 17
Col 3: 1-5, 9-11
Lk 12: 13-21
When we take stock of our lives in reflective moments, do we measure our value by our work success, or accomplishments, or material possessions, or how many social contacts we have? Are we tempted to think poorly of ourselves if we have failed on some level or another? Isn’t it a tendency of human nature to attribute our value to standards outside of ourselves, concerned about what others think of us, or what we’d like them to think of us? If we value material possessions and social status as the measuring rods of our worthiness, then we have subscribed to an arbitrary system of judgment. And when we look at that manner of judgment, if we do so as intelligent, faithful human beings, we will probably arrive at the same conclusion as the author of Ecclesiastes – that it’s all meaningless. Two of the greatest minds in the history of the Church – Augustine and Thomas Aquinas – arrived at a similar conclusion after years of scholarly writing in search of the meaning of life and of God, that it was all straw, a drop in the ocean in contrast to the eternity and magnificence of God and all that God had created.
Humankind has asked the same questions since the dawn of intelligent life – why are we here, why are things as they are, where are we going, how does it work, what does it all mean? And despite the tremendous leaps in technology, scientific advances in every discipline, we still have no answers, and no matter how intelligent or clever we think we are, we still cannot comprehend the mysteries of the universe. How many times in history have we witnessed the fall of those who think they can rule the world, only to come crashing down to face their pitiful limitations?
For the truly knowledgeable believer, enlightenment comes with acceptance that we are incapable of controlling or engineering life so that it obeys our desires. Wisdom prevails when we acknowledge that we cannot stock up treasures that will buy us eternal life, the vanity of vanities stated by Qoheleth. But neither will giving up in fateful resignation that all is lost, that we can do nothing, when we encounter what seems like the futility of life.
The answer is not to think we can fully comprehend the answer to life’s questions, but to follow the example of Jesus who also had to rely on faith in order to deal with the unanswerable situations he encountered. To live as he lived, doing what we can to cooperate with God’s guidance and accept and work on the things we are capable of doing, will bring us eternal life but not eternal human life. Those with the eyes of faith see that the way of Christ transcends the limitations of humanity, eventually bringing us into a realm so completely other than our human experience that it is folly or vanity to try to comprehend it. When we put on Christ, St. Paul tells us today, we put to death what is limited and finite and put on a new self, one which goes beyond our human limitations, to put our attention on what is above and beyond explanation but not faith.
We are called to listen to the wisdom of Jesus Christ as he exhorts us to store up for ourselves treasure in heaven. What we have now is but a faint trace of the wonders of life eternal, so it is useless folly, vanity of vanities, to spend so much time on things that are passing. Rather, in the way of Jesus, let us build up for ourselves the heavenly riches that matter.