Monday, August 5, 2013

Vanity of Vanities

Today's (Sunday's) mass readings were really powerful. I have always been attracted to the Wisdom Writings, especially Job and Ecclesiastes. Unfortunately, many Catholics don't know what to make of them and so avoid them - they are too depressing, they think? They are not - the fact that the Bible takes on the 'mortal questions' is good news. If the word of God could not follow me down the dark paths of life's griefs it would be a useless book.

The readings were well selected - even the Psalm. Of course, on the surface, the Gospel reading seemed bit of sync, but it wasn't - the matter hinges, it seems to me, on the word vanity. In common parlance, vanity is the word we use for someone obsessed with their appearance. But vanity really refers to the emptiness of a thing. putting so much stock in your appearance is an emptiness and hope can be vain if it can never obtain. Thus, 'the Teacher' of Ecclesiastes calls the way that evil men prosper, etc., vain because it is morally offensive and thus empty of value. The Gospel was about Jesus being asked to settle an inheritance dispute, and then answering with the parable about the plans of the rich man doomed to die 'this very night.' Vanity. the plans of the worldly are vain, they rest on empty assumptions. It is remarkable that we find in the Bible an author calling the way God runs the world vain. He allows it to be morally vacuous. Of course, you can't find the treasure unless you are prepared to move a lot of dirt first. The author dismisses a false, overly pious, view of things to get to the truth, eventually, eventually. You can't call all of this stuff good; it's not good.

So I can relate. Why God is allowing me to suffer in ways that I can't make sense of (ever have that feeling?) is simply because He doesn't want me to call the dirt the treasure. That has to be moved out of the way first. I received the widow's mite yesterday. It was remarkable how something so small suddenly meant so much to me. A local widow who has a deep affection for my family is constantly slathering us with her affections. She has given us little bits of money before. We have not needed it, and I have thought her gesture sweet but awkward - I was sure we were financially better off than she was! But after a week of finding my visa maxed, one of my accounts over-drawn the the other about to be over-drawn, the widow's mite meant so much more to me. We are talking about the difference between being able to buy milk and bread or not. I have always been poor and in need of 'the kindness of strangers,' but never this bad. The treasure was the widow who was not embarrassing me or inconveniencing me, but who was God's instrument for teaching me that nothing is greater than the love that wills the good. Not love that has calculated the good, but simply wills the good. Everything else is vain and a chasing after the wind.

So, read Ecclesiastes, my friends.


  1. I wish I had money to give you. I'm sorry I can't at this time, but I offer my prayers to the Infant of Prague that He will assist you somehow.

    With a heart full of compassion,
    Therese McDonald

  2. That is very kind of you. Yes, please keep us in your prayers - this is a time of trial and testing my fidelity!

  3. This comment is not for public posting. I have been unemployed with a family, too, and know how trying it can be. Anyway, I know that you have taught at university, so you may not be interested in teaching at a lower level, but have you thought of applying for jobs at secondary schools? Phoenix, Arizona has a number of (public) charter schools that teach a classical/great books curriculum, and those schools (search under "Great Hearts" academies or "Veritas Academy") are always looking for good teachers. Pay is low, unfortunately, but it might be a relatively good fit.