Thursday September 23, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Ecclesiastes 1:2-11) Gospel (St. Luke 9:7-9)
When we hear these words in the first reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes – Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity! – we hear him say that there is nothing new. Well, we can look over the last hundred years and realize that there has been more change in the last century than in all of human history combined. Still, at the same time, I think if we were really honest and we looked at it, more than ever we can say, Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity! We can zip around in our cars and airplanes; we can pick up the phone and call people; we have computers that we can hook up all over the place and all kinds of things that we can do at this point. And all they have done is make our lives even more miserable than what they were before.
All things are vanity except for one, and that is Christ. Even with Him, we have to make sure that what we are doing is correct. We hear in the Gospel reading about Herod, who was very much perplexed, and he kept trying to see Jesus. On the surface, that would sound like something that is excellent, except that he wanted to see Him for the wrong reason.
We have to make sure that what we are doing is right because the one thing we can look at in our own lives and say, "This is not vanity," is our vocation. It does not matter what our vocation is; within the vocation, each and every one of us is called to the exact same thing, that is, charity. That is what will last forever; everything else is going to pass away. Everything else is going to pass away: all of the wealth, all the telephones, computers, cars, planes, and everything else. Thanks be to God, they will pass away. The only thing that is going to remain is love. It is the purpose of our creation. It is the fruit of our redemption. It is the only thing that is going to fulfill. As Qoheleth said, The eye is not satisfied by seeing nor the ear by hearing, nor is the heart satisfied by any of the things we have tried to fill it up with. The only thing that is going to satisfy is love, and if we do not love then we are the most miserable of all creatures because we run around and do all kinds of things, and at the end of it we are not satisfied and all we can do is repeat with Qoheleth: Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!
Now it does not mean they are all bad. There are things we need to do and so on; that is not a problem. I am not saying that we should not have a telephone or a car; I am just saying that, thanks be to God, they are going to go one day. They are not the end-all and be-all, and they are never going to satisfy either. By themselves the things are not bad, but they can become that way if we put the wrong kind of emphasis on them. And so we have to make sure that our focus is right. The things of this world are there so that we can make use of them, but we have to be very careful not to make them major priorities. They are there to help us. Ultimately, what they are there to help us do is to love; if they do not do that then there is something wrong. If something does not move us closer to Christ, then it moves us away from Him. If it does not increase the capacity of the heart to be able to love, then what it is doing is filling the heart with something that is not love; therefore, it is decreasing our capacity to be able to love.
As we look at all these things, what may sound like somebody with a really bad attitude saying, Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity, if we look at it from the point of view of the spiritual life it is not a bad attitude at all because it is looking at things realistically. He is looking for something that fulfills. He is looking for the very purpose of life. And he is seeing that all of the things are nothing. None of them has ever satisfied and none of them ever will, but there is only one thing that does, and that is love.
So it is the love of God and love of neighbor that we have to be about. We have to seek Jesus Christ, Who is Love Himself, but we have to seek Him for love’s sake, not for our own curiosity, not for what we are going to get out of it because love is not about "What do I get". Love is about "What do I give". The Beloved, on the other hand, Who loves in return, will take care of what we receive. Our task is simply to love, and in loving we will find true and full satisfaction. We will find fulfillment. We will find everything for which our hearts long. When we find Love, Who is a Person, then we will find that which is not vain. We will find that which is true, that which is complete, that which will fulfill the desires of the heart. That is what Qoheleth was looking for, and he could not find it in anything because no material thing can ever do it. All that can satisfy the desire and the very purpose of creation of the human person is love, and Jesus Christ is love. So as long as our focus is right, everything else goes to the wayside. It is seen in its proper perspective, it can be used for what it was meant for, and it can be let go of because the detachment will be there. But when we find true love then our hearts have found what they were made for. They will be united with Christ, they will seek the good of those around us, and they will find that which is not vanity but that which is true and the very purpose of our being: to love and to be loved.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.