Vanity of Life and Elusiveness of Truth

(August 4, 2019)

Bottom line: Like a shimmering bubble our lives pass quickly and are soon forgotten. Jesus and the Church remain.

In our first reading Qoheleth says, "Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!" The Hebrew word for vanity has the sense of "bubbles". When we were children most of us had those little bubble blowers. Now, you can see guys in parks with much bigger ones. The bubble forms and refracts a rainbow of colors, then bursts. Such is our existence. Vanity of vanities. All things are vanity.

Jesus applies this viewpoint when someone asks him to settle an inheritance. Jesus tells about a man who has a bountiful harvest - a bumper crop. And what does the lucky man do? Unlike Joseph in Egypt he doesn't think about how his good fortune can help others. Instead he falls into greed which is a form of pride. He says "my harvest", "my barns", "my grain". He starts imagining paradise on earth: "rest, eat, drink and be merry".

He doesn't realize his life hangs by a thread: maybe a clot moving to his heart or in his brain a vessel ready to break. He may own a lot of grain but he doesn't own his life. That night God demands his life like a creditor calling in a debt. A rich man can buy a lot of things but no one can purchase his own life. Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!

St Paul also picks up the theme of this life's vanity. "Seek what is above," says Paul, "(not) what is on earth." Material things are good and necessary. They can, however, become idols - substitutes for God.

We all want some security yet only in God do we have lasting security. In this life we strive for security, justice and truth but they elude us.

Regarding the elusiveness of truth, Bishop Barron gives an example in Letter to a Suffering Church. Writing about the cases of abuse that the Pennsylvania Grand Jury describes in graphic detail, Bishop Barron observes this: "even churchgoing Catholics tended to believe that the terrible instances mentioned in that study were recent cases". Not so. As Bishop Barron and others point out, "of the 400 or so crimes reported, precisely 2 occurred after 2002".

Here in Seattle we can say something similar. You have to go back to 1988 to identify a criminal case. In the eighties Archbishop Hunthausen began a series of reforms. He did it without fanfare but effectively. Succeeding archbishops continued and strengthened those reforms.

Sometimes I feel like a guy who belongs to a family that once had a good reputation. People would say, "Oh, he's a Bloom. You can trust him". Then some family members abuse the trust and instead of correcting them or calling the police, the elder members try to cover up. Word gets out and the Bloom elders get sued. Eventually they set some standards and enforce them. Quite understandably, few people applaud the Blooms' efforts to reform. Lawyers keep finding old cases. Who can blame them? Still, it does seem unfair the newspapers report those decades-old cases as if they happened yesterday. Some of the Bloom children say, "I'm tired of people making fun of us. I'm leaving". I say, "No, we have a good heritage. For sure, some Blooms messed up. But we are fighters. We are a family."

I hope you will stick with our family - not the Blooms, although we could use some new members, but the Church family. The question before us is how we move forward. Bishop Barron devotes his final chapter to that question. Prayer of course is most basic. That kind of prayer involves taking a long view. Our own lives are brief - like a bubble forming, shimmering, then dissolving. Here below we have no abiding security, justice and truth. That will happen only when Jesus comes to judge the living and the dead. Today I ask you to renew your commitment to Jesus and his Bride - the Church.

Next week we have a change of pace. I've invited Deacon Pierce Murphy from St. Michael, Snohomish. He is Executive Director of Stewardship and Development for the Archdiocese. He has quite a bio. I put it in the bulletin. Deacon Pierce has an important message for us.

Today take this home: Like a shimmering bubble our lives pass quickly and are soon forgotten. Jesus and the Church remain. Seek the things that are above. Only there will we find lasting security, genuine justice and unfiltered truth. "If you were raised with Christ seek what is above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God." Amen.


How John Paul Bent the Course of History (Audio version of homily for 16th Sunday, Cycle C - 2016)

Spanish Version

From Archives (Homilies for Eighteenth Sunday, Year C):

2016: Pope Francis & Youth Week 2: Stop Being Wishy-Washy
2013: Rich in What Matters to God
2010: This Very Night
2007: Vanity of Vanities
2004: Midsummer Day's Wake-Up
2001: What Matters to God
1998: The Rich Fool and The Wise Poor Man

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)

Take the Plunge Bible Study (audio resources) *New episodes for Ordinary Time leading up to Lent*

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Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Pat Freitag (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bishop Robert Barron

Bulletin (St. Mary of Valley Parish)

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MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru