Pope Francis spent the past week in Canada on a highly anticipated papal visit. The context of his visit was the abuse of Indigenous children at the residential schools managed by Catholic organizations. Francis described the purpose of his visit in these words: “Dear brothers and sisters of Canada, I come among you to meet the Indigenous peoples. I hope with God’s grace, that my penitential pilgrimage might contribute to the journey of reconciliation already undertaken. Please accompany me with prayer.” Once among the Indigenous people, the Pope said, “I am sorry – sorry for the ways in which, regrettably, many Christians supported the colonizing mentality of the power that oppressed the Indigenous peoples.” I do not know of another instance when a Pope visited a country and looked so vulnerable. But that is Pope Francis. He is known for his simplicity, his humility, his compassion, and reconciling spirit.
Pope Francis’s simplicity, humility, compassion, and reconciling spirit is a good way to reflect on today’s scripture readings. His example shows us how to be what the gospel reading says, being “rich in what matters to God.”
Here are my three points for today.
Vanity of Vanities
Today’s first reading from Ecclesiastes cautions us against vanity. “Vanity of vanities”, says Qoheleth, “vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” (Eccl 1:2). The Oxford dictionary defines vanity as “excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own appearance or achievements.”
When Pope Francis issued his apology to the Indigenous peoples some said he went too far while others thought he did not go far enough. Here is what Pope Francis said, “As a church, all of us need to be healed from the temptation of choosing to defend the institution rather than seeking the truth. With God’s help, let us contribute to the building up a Mother Church that is pleasing to God.” Pope Francis set aside institutional and personal vanity and focused on the hurt of a victimized people. Vanity focuses on the self. Vanity focuses of self-achievements. Vanity focuses on self-promotion. Vanity focuses on self-preservation at all costs. Pope Francis focused on the pain of the victims.
If today’s first reading cautions us against vanity, then Pope Francis is showing us that humility, simplicity, compassion, a spirit of reconciliation, focusing less on self-preservation and more on becoming life-giving to others are the antidotes for vanity.
Pope Francis’ attitude can be translated in daily living. It does not always have to be about winning arguments, coming out on the top, or always looking invincible. It is OK to be vulnerable, to accept that we cannot go alone, to swallow pride and reach out in reconciliation. There is virtue in living humbly. It is godly to lead lives of simplicity. It is honorable to focus on the well-being of others rather than of self-promotion and self-preservation.
Vanity and Greed are Synonyms
I said in my first point that vanity focuses on the self. If this is true, then there is a link between vanity and greed. Vanity and greed are both about the self. Perhaps this is why Jesus cautions the crowd by saying, “Take care to guard against all greed…” for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions” (Lk 12:15). In so many ways, vanity and greed can be synonyms because both vanity and greed focus on the self with no reference to eternity and others. In today’s second reading, Paul takes us further. He refers to greed as “idolatry.” He says,” Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry” (Col 3:5). Perhaps we can say that vanity, greed, and idolatry are synonyms because they make us focus excessively on the self.
We have an example of vanity, greed, and idolatry in Jesus’ parable of the rich man with a bountiful harvest. In Mosaic Law, there were strict guidelines about how one should conduct oneself after the harvest. First, the farm owner must offer the first fruits at the temple. Then the farm owner must celebrate with all his family and the aliens in the land (Dt 26:11).
In Jesus’ story of the rich man with a bountiful harvest, the rich violated both of these norms. By overlooking the obligation to offer the first fruits, he broke the first commandment. That was idolatry. He also forgot his family and the poor of the land. Notice that in the few words he speaks to himself he used the pronoun “I” six times. He said, “What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest? This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’ This is vanity. This is greed. This is idolatry.
Let us take Jesus seriously as he says to us today what he said to his disciples: “Take care to guard against all greed.”
Let us guard against greed, for greed is idolatry.
“Rich in what matters to God”
The parable of the rich man ends with, “You fool!” (Lk 12:20). Little did the rich man know that he was being foolish. Vanity is foolishness! Greed is foolishness! Idolatry is foolishness! On the contrary, Jesus his disciples to “rich in what matters to God” (Lk 12:21). As Pope Francis said in Canada, “With God’s help, let us contribute to the building up a Mother Church that is pleasing to God.” He is speaking like Jesus did. As individuals, as disciples, as church, as society, as the world, the key is to “become a people pleasing to God,” or in Jesus’s words, become people who are “rich in what matters to God.”
Perhaps an example will help.
Last Wednesday, I had the funeral Mass of eleven-year Syncere Snyder. Syncere’s uncle, Jeff, delivered a eulogy. It was a most touching tribute to a brief but beautiful life. Jeff ended the eulogy with these words: “Some of you may have lost Faith from this situation, but don’t! Syncere was very Faithful to God and would want you to continue to have Faith through his passing. Remember there is a higher purpose for everything that occurs, so take this moment to strengthen your Faith – to help pull each other through this loss and never take a second for granted. Love one another, hold each other tightly, and remember tomorrow is never promised.”
In their intense and unspeakable grief, this family was able to focus on the value of unfailing faith on God. They were able spare a thought for those who were struggling with faith and invited them to learn the lessons that the tragedy placed before them. There was no focus on the self, no self-pity, no vanity, no greed, no holding on, and no focus on themselves. Rather, in a time of crisis, they were simply rich in what matters to God. Both this family and Pope Francis are great example for us.
May our celebration of this Eucharist lead us to the One who set vanity, greed, and the self aside and by His simplicity, humility, and self-sacrifice brought reconciliation to us. He was God and was rich in what matters to God. May our participation in his life in Holy Communion, make us more like Him. Amen.
Image: Vatican Media
Fr. Satish Joseph was ordained in India in 1994 and incardinated into the archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2008. He has a Masters in Communication and Doctorate in Theology from the University of Dayton. He is presently Pastor at Immaculate Conception and St. Helen parishes in Dayton, OH. He is also the founder Ite Missa Est ministries (www.itemissaest.org) and uses social media extensively for evangelization. He is also the founder of MercyPets (www.mercypets.org) — a charitable fund that invites pet-owners to donate a percent of their pet expenses to alleviate child hunger. MercyPets is active in four countries since its founding in December 2017. Apart from serving at the two parishes, he facilitates retreats, seminars and parish missions.