Deacon Cornell's Homily


Ecclesiastes 1:2,2:21-23
Colossians 3:1-5,9-11
Luke 12:13-21


August 4-5 , 2007, 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Vanity of Vanities! All things are vanity! Our man Qoheleth was having a very bad day, I would say.

I just finished a book that surveyed the history of philosophy from Plato to Sartre. What was very interesting to me was how many of the more recent philosophers presented their philosophies as a brand new way of looking at things when their main thesis could be found in Scripture. In today's first reading from the book of Ecclesiastes, Qoheleth which means gatherer in Hebrew, presents a despairing view of life that says nothing is new, and nothing is of value. Existentialists such as Jean Paul Satre or Friedrich Nietzche would be very comfortable with Qoheleth's two millennia old view of life.

One might legitimately ask why should such a negative view of life be included in the Bible. The primary reason is that it reveals very clearly what life seems like to any one who denies or ignores God. Every human being has a longing in them. St. Augustine says that there is a hole in our being that only God fits. As Francis Collins, who heads up the human genome project puts it, no creature has a longing or hunger for something that doesn't exist. He sees this longing for connection to someone outside us as a clear indication that God exists and has made us for God. As Jesus points out in his parable of the rich man, once we remove God from the equation, people quickly turn to material things to try and fill that longing. But no amount or type of material things can fill the longing that every human being has inside. So where people have put all their focus on material things, despair soon follows.

I would suggest that this despair that results from any philosophy that ignores or denies the existence of God is the prevailing ingredient in most of today's philosophies. We see story after story of those who have their fill of material things sinking into addictive behavior in an attempt to fill that longing. But somehow our society still does not learn and it continues to push money and power and "things" as the road to fulfillment.

So what is the answer? Should we distance ourselves from anything that is material? Sell everything like St. Francis of Assisi and become cloistered monks or nuns? You might get that impression from the first part of our second reading from Paul's letter to the Colossians. Various philosophical movements such as the Stoics would be very comfortable with Paul's admonitions against lying, immorality, impurity, and evil desires. But they would be confounded by Paul's reasons and where he ends up in this section. Paul is certainly not suggesting that we withdraw from the world and reject anything of this world. Paul could never present that as a way of life since his own life was anything but. We are hard pressed to find any one who plunged more fully into life than he did. Paul uses language that is clearly baptismal to explain why we should avoid those negative worldly attitudes or behaviors, reminding us that because we have died with Christ in Baptism, we have risen to new life in Christ, and those negative behaviors are inconsistent with a life in Christ.

Jesus never taught that riches in themselves are bad or that we should avoid them. As he does in this parable, he instead taught that it is putting riches before God or even before other people is what is bad. Riches are given to us as stewards. We are to use these riches for those things that matter to God rather than hoarding them for ourselves.

What a perfect set of readings for a summer weekend here in Stow in 2007! How do we cope with the despair laden approach to life that bombards us from every side? Where do we focus our attention and our efforts? Are we like the rich man in the parable, building bigger and bigger storehouses to squirrel away our things? This summer season presents us with a wonderful reminder to slow down a little and focus on the things that matter to God. As Paul reminds us in the last part of the second reading, our real treasure is to be found in the kingdom of God, where the differences between us melt away. Let us take stock of the harvest we have been blessed with. What is that we are filled to overflowing with? Is it material wealth, is it a sympathetic ear, or even just a little free time? How can we move from an attitude that seeks to hoard these gifts to one that seeks to spend them in pursuit of the things that matter to God? It is spending those gifts on things that matter to God that makes us truly rich, and acts as the perfect antidote to despair.

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