Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity. Boy, old Qoheleth was having a bad day when he wrote that first reading, wasn't he. Qoheleth, in Hebrew, and Ecclesiastes in Greek, means "the one who addresses the assembly". The rest of the book of Ecclesiastes continues this depressing message that nothing has any real value. People might legitimately ask why such a depressing book was included in the Bible. For one thing, it is consistent with all of Scripture's realistic view of life. The Bible is not some story of life seen through rose c0lored glasses. As despairing as Qoheleth's assessment is, it is a view that is shared by many today. Tradition identifies Qoheleth as King Solomon. Whether it was actually King Solomon or someone writing from his perspective, Ecclesiastes is an extended description of what Jesus is teaching us in the Gospel reading: if we forget where everything in existence comes from, and why it exists in the first place, we quickly learn that there is nothing of lasting value in life. Solomon had it all: riches, fame, power, wisdom, 700 wives and 300 concubines (I find it hard to say "wisdom" and "had 700 wives" in the same breath!). And yet it is clear from Ecclesiastes and several other books of the Bible that he died depressed and reviled.
The truth of the matter, as expressed by St. Augustine, is that we are made for God, and until we rest in God, we will never find fulfillment. Now does this mean that material things or worldly success is inherently bad, and we should avoid it like the plague? The Gospels and all of Scripture certainly put the lie to that. Every thing in all of creation was created by God, and God found it very good. The book of Wisdom puts it this way: For God fashioned all things that they might have being, and the creatures of the world are wholesome; There is not a destructive drug among them nor any domain of Hades on earth. God made this creation to be a paradise, and has promised that we humans are to be the instruments of returning it to that state. But to do that we have to remember those two important things about material things and wordly success, that they all come from and belong to God, and they are given to us for the benefit of others.
There is an old story about a man who close to dying and he asked God for the favor of viewing heaven and hell before his death. An angel takes him down to Hell first. As he walks through the doors, he sees long banquet tables filled with every pleasurable food and drink. It is a feast beyond imagination. But all the people seated along the tables are emaciated and bickering with one another because they have six foot long spoons and forks strapped to their arms and they cannot feed themselves. The man shudders and tells the angel he is ready to see heaven. When he walks through the pearly gates, he is astounded to see the very same banquet setup. Same food and drink, same 6 foot spoons and forks attached to their arms, but the people seated along the tables are well fed, and chatting happily with one another. The difference is that the people in heaven were using their utensils to feed the person across from them so every one was taken care of.
So what does all this have to do with us? Each of us can reflect on the readings and find aspects of it that apply to us but I would like to look at these readings from the point of view of our collaborative community. We have been blessed with an abundance of gifts from God, most particularly the gift of Eucharist. We are gathered by Christ to enter into eternal life right now. We participate in the ongoing sacrifice of Christ which is outside of time. We are fed with the bread of life and the cup of salvation so that we might be joined more fully to the body of Christ. All too often we think about this in terms of what Eucharist brings to us. But like everything on earth, Eucharist is given to us for the benefit of others rather than for our personal benefit. I am sure you have heard people questioning why our communities all stand as we all receive communion. The most frequent objection is that this takes away from my "private time" with Jesus. This is looking at what Eucharist means to me. If we instead understand Eucharist as one of the sacraments of initiation that makes us missionary disciples, we realize that it is anything but private time with Jesus. We eat the body of Christ and drink the blood of Christ so that we might become the body and blood of Christ. But Christ is not just Jesus. All of us and more are the body of Christ; so when we put that consecrated host in our mouth, we are consuming everyone who makes up Christ, the Body and Blood as well as Jesus who is the head. If we become Christ more fully, we should then act as Christ acts. That is the whole point of the New Evangelization, or the Disciples in Mission efforts. And how does Christ act?
One of the things you will notice as we start implementing the Collaborative Pastoral Plan is the emphasis on hospitality. We do this because Christ is the epitome of hospitality, of one who welcomes the lost, and cares for the marginalized. This is how we really celebrate Eucharist: by making St. Elizabeth of Hungary and St. Isidore parishes active centers of hospitality. We need to get to know one another as individual people with unique stories, not just fellow parishioners. And while there will be a number of organized efforts such as gathering after mass and hospitality teams, in the end each one of must extend that hospitality. I know it is hard with family schedules and the rest but a big part of it is getting here a little early and not running out after the sending forth hymn. It is treating everyone who comes through those doors as we would a visitor to our homes. I just want to finish by saying you are already doing this. I have felt wonderfully welcomed this weekend, and I thank you deeply for that hospitality. So let us approach this holy table today with hearts fully open to Christ, so that we might be more fully formed in to the Body of Christ. This way, when we are sent forth at the end of Mass we will bring the hospitality of Christ to everyone we meet, starting right here.