Ecclesiastes 1:2
Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!
Throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, there is an almost unrelenting skepticism – about everything. The issues with which Qoheleth deals, and the questions he raises, are aimed at those who would think there is any real value in this life, including possessions, fame, success, or pleasure.
Wisdom itself is challenged, but – folly is condemned.
In the gospel today, Jesus also is giving a parable that talks about the foolishness of thinking of this world as being of any ultimate importance.
St. Paul, today, gives us an answer to all of these concerns when he says very simply: “think of what is above, not what is on earth.” Why? “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
I think this is one of the problems that we are facing in our modern society. There are so many people attached to the things of this world, but they don’t find peace in those things. This is what Qoheleth was trying to get across. In fact, a couple of verses after our first reading today, Qoheleth says: “all is vanity and a chase after wind.”
This is part of the problem. People today are not understanding that what they are chasing in terms of happiness is an illusion. Happiness is only an emotion. Joy, however, is a virtue from God. Let me repeat that: happiness is an emotion, joy is a virtue.
Now, there is nothing wrong with happiness, but it is something that is very weak in comparison to the virtue of joy. This last week, we celebrated the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola. This is the truth that he discovered. For a while he found a happiness in the things of this world. But he discovered the joy that the saints lived in as he read their lives. So he began pursuing joy instead of just happiness.
The entire book of Qoheleth, called Ecclesiastes, is a criticism, and a sarcastic one, of people who are focused on this world only. That’s why he says “all is vanity and a chase after wind.”
But, as I said St. Paul offers us the solution to this is vanity. We won’t escape it if we seek the things of this world. We won’t escape it by always pursuing some sort of earthly perfection, which is much of the industry of “looking young”. How many people chase after all kinds of things to try to maintain their sense of being young and vital? It is all vanity!
We can enjoy the things of this world, but if our hearts are set on those things, we will be destroyed! What is it Paul says? “Seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”
He then goes on in the reading today to describe other things that are important for us to do, and not do. Finally saying that we have been renewed, been made new. Because of this rebirth, we are all one in Christ – Christ is all and in all.
It is through him, with him, and in him, that we are able to find the virtue of joy. Why settle for the illusion of mere happiness? The society around us is full of people who think they can be satisfied by happiness. But if you look at their lives, they are chasing the wind.
The Psalmist gives us a simple prayer: “Teach us to count our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart. Relent, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants!”
To this I would add: teach us to pursue the virtue of joy, and not settle for the mere happiness that this world wants to present as the best of life.
Jesus, keep us from pursuing the vanities of this life. Keep us pursuing the joy of heaven, as we are thankful for the gifts you have given that give us happiness here on earth. They too, are a sign of your blessing and of your joy that you have for us. Help us to not chase the wind. Amen.