Reflection on the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2:21-21; Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11; Luke 12:13:21
Vanities of vanities! All things are vanity! I remember Carroll Stuhlmueller saying that line. It was when we were in the novitiate — Judy, Jeanne, Mary Ann McGivern, Anndavid, Barbara Nicholas, I in Father Carroll’s Scripture classes. Vanities of vanities and all is vanity. I don’t think I could ever say exactly what the words meant, but he conveyed something to us when he used them.
I sometimes find myself confronted with those same words. Vanities of vanities and all is vanity. Qoheleth, the preacher in the first reading, uses them to talk about the futility of spending too much time accumulating material wealth — at least, that is how I usually think of this reading. And this Sunday what Qoheleth says is set alongside what Jesus says: Take care to guard against all greed. One’s life does not consist of possessions.
For those of us who live here, co-members and sisters alike, earning big money has not been a driving force in our lives. So can we make sense of Qoheleth’s line — “Vanity of vanities and all is vanity” — in our lives here at Loretto? Of course, you know by now that I must have found some way to make it work or I’d be preaching only on the Colossians reading today!
We who live here at Loretto would probably agree we have what we need of material things — and more than we need, perhaps. We don’t know want — we are not hungry or lacking adequate housing. In many ways we live in abundance.
So what is “vanity of vanities” for us? What must we do to follow Jesus’ admonition, “Guard against all greed?”
– Maybe one thing is to be careful that we not take things for granted. It helps to be grateful. It helps to be thankful. Then we are less likely to take things for granted.
– Another thing could be to watch out for any sense of entitlement within ourselves. Do we find ourselves thinking, “I’ve worked hard for a long time. I deserve whatever it is — food I like better than this food, or faster service, or more attention — from a friend or from a nurse aide or from someone in authority.”
– One thing for sure is asked of us. We are asked to trust in God’s faithfulness. We can live that out in daily ways — by trusting ourselves, by trusting each other, and, as Charles Nerinckx said to our early sisters in Loretto, by trusting our vocation, expecting all from God’s goodness.
We move into Eucharist now, into one of our daily ways of giving thanks. We can ask for the grace to trust, even though there are things that frighten us. We can ask for the grace to be thankful even when we want things to be different.
We simply have to trust in God’s faithfulness. There is no other way.