04Aug 04 August. 18th Sunday (C)

1st Reading: Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23

“Vanity of vanities!” You can’t take it with you when you die

“Vanity of vanities!” says the Teacher, “vanity of vanities! All is vanity. Even one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.”

Responsorial: Psalm 89:3-6, 12-14, 17

R./: In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge

You turn people back into dust
and say: ‘Go back, children of men.’
To your eyes a thousand years
are like yesterday, come and gone,
no more than a watch in the night. (R./)

You sweep men away like a dream,
like grass which springs up in the morning.
In the morning it springs up and flowers:
by evening it withers and fades. (R./)

Make us know the shortness of our life
that we may gain wisdom of heart.
Lord, relent! Is your anger for ever?
Show pity to your servants. (R./)

In the morning, fill us with your love;
we shall exult and rejoice all our days.
Let the favour of the Lord be upon us:
give success to the work of our hands. (R./)

2nd Reading: Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11

Since Christ has returned to the Father, we must seek the things that are above

Since you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

Gospel: Luke 12:13-21

The Rich Fool, a warning against greed and selfishness

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”


 Thought for the day

If a lesson is to be learned from times of recession, it would resemble today’s Gospel. Riches are precarious; material security is unstable; dreams of untroubled longevity are soon dispelled by “events.” Paradoxically, our experience of life as fickle can take us in the opposite direction. We might be tempted to plunge ourselves into more enjoyment of the present moment, as St Paul caustically observes: “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Cor 15:32). The road less travelled is to become “rich towards God.” It still means enjoying and living the present moment but in a completely different,  and ultimately more lasting way.
In the first reading there’s more than a hint of Samuel Beckett’s: “What do I know of man’s destiny? I could tell you more about radishes.”   (Kieran O’Mahony)


Foolish thinking

We know quite a lot about the social and economic situation that Jesus saw around him  in Galilee. While wealth was growing in Sepphoris and Tiberias, hunger and misery were widespread in the villages. Farmers ended up without land and the land owners built ever bigger silos and granaries. In a short story reported by St Luke, Jesus reveals what he thinks of such a situation that is so opposed to the more human world for all that God wants . This parable is not only to denounce the abuses committed by the land owners, but to unmask the foolishness of their thinking.

A rich landowner is delighted by a big harvest and doesn’t know how to store so much abundance. «What am I to do?». His monologue unmasks the foolish logic of the powers-that-be, people who only live to hoard wealth and security, leaving the needy completely off their radar.

This rich man plans his life and makes decisions. He will tear down the old granaries and build even bigger ones to store store his mighty harvest. He has made his fortune and now he will live only to enjoy himself: «Take it easy, eat, drink, have a good time». But God interrupts his project: «Fool! This very night the demand will be made for your soul; and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?». (J A Pagola)

If I were a rich man

“What does it profit us to have gained the whole world, and to have lost or ruined our own self?” (Lk 9:25). “Our life is not made secure by what we own, even when we have more than we need” (Lk 12:15). A worthy and purposeful life focus merely on heaping up money or a material legacy. The rich man in the parable believed his future was secure, and that his good fortune was entirely due to his own merits. It must have come as a shock to learn that his life was God’s to give and God’s to take away. We might even feel a sneaking admiration for this industrious man. There is in all of us some streak of greed and covetousness, wanting to own things at all costs.

Greed can spring from lack of love, and many people try to fill that void with property and celebrity. There is ample evidence of this on every side. The clamour of the rat-race, an obsessive scramble to advance by fair means or foul, the demands of already well-paid professionals for higher salaries, backed by the withdrawal of service if these demands are not met. Jesus opposes such self-seeking and wants us to face the question: What are my hopes for the life hereafter?

The rich fool spent all his energy piling riches upon riches. The other extreme would be to see no point in working for a living. “Why bother with service since life is so short, and we can be fed at public expense?” Living off state benefits is not a valid vocational option. This was a temptation of some in the early Church, who thought that the second coming of Christ was so near that everyday work was superfluous. Saint Paul, who was mainly concerned for their spiritual growth, shows himself a pragmatist on this matter. “If anyone refuses to work, he should not eat.”

Virtue is usually midway between extremes. This also applies to our desire for money. On the one hand we have the voluntary poverty of Jesus; born in a place used to house animals; he left this world owning nothing, stripped even of his clothes before crucifixion. On the other side, we need some worldly goods, a place to live and money to live on. And there are many ways to use money responsibly. Someone rich who uses their money to provide worthwhile employment, is doing more than one who claims to believe the gospel but does nothing for the welfare of others.

We lay up treasure for ourselves in heaven, not only through loving God, but also by love of neighbour. To play our proper part we must put to death our vices, especially greed which is like worshipping a false god. Nothing can better show the relativity of money than the question, “This pile of yours, when death comes knocking – whose shall it be?’

Thou Fool

Has the parable of the rich fool anything to say to us? Should we ignore our financial advisors and make no provision for the future? Has any Christian community ever put this parable into practice, literally? Even the earliest church in Jerusalem needed the services of seven deacons to administer the distribution of alms, so that the apostles could devote themselves to preaching Christ’s message.

We need to ponder the parable. The rich man’s fault was not in planning ahead. He was perfectly right to provide for the rainy day. Where he went wrong was in thinking only of himself, his own comfort and well-being, while ignoring the wretched fellow starving as his gate. He forgot his responsibility to the community at large. It is only when we live and work in some social solidarity that we fit in with God’s plan for us.

The last sentence of the parable is stark and clear: Do not store up treasure for yourself, but seek to be rich in the sight of God. What does this mean? Later it becomes clear: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God… Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” (Lk 12:31-34)

Seeking the Kingdom of God requires more than just joining others in worship. It includes all the chances for practical service that life puts into our hands. By giving ourselves in neighbourly service we “lay up treasure in heaven.” Whatever we give to others in this way is not loss, but the kind of gain that really counts.

Rich, but not wealthy?

Jesus speaks of treasure in heaven, as quite different from financial profit on earth. “There are no pockets in the shroud” is a wise old saying. To be poor in spirit, even if I am well off, so that my money does not own me, nor am I enslaved to it. It is a commonplace that while the first million (euro, pounds or dollars) may be the hardest to make, it breeds a compulsion to make even more. It cannot be right that some people own thousands of times more than the lowest-paid worker. Naked capitalism, unrestrained by some requirement of social sharing, is far from the fairness that God requires. There’s such a difference between monetary riches and spiritual wealth. There is no greater wealth than a loving, kind heart. Money cannot buy happiness.

It is such a simple lesson, but one we never will learn unless we want to. When we die, we have to let go of everything. A doctor was at the bedside of a wealthy woman wo was dying, who a reputation for being miserly. She had no family of her own, so there was great interest as to who would inherit her wealth. (“Where there’s a will, there are relatives!’). When she passed away, one of the nurses whispered “I wonder how much did she leave behind?” Quietly the doctor answered, “She left everything.”

Reflection from Fiddler on the Roof

Some use could be made of the farmer’s (Tevye’s) song about the value of money, from the 1964 show, Fiddler on the Roof.  It begins with a bit of rumination, then leading to some delicious wishful thinking.

“Dear God, you made many, many poor people. I realize, of course, that it’s no shame to be poor, But it’s no great honor either! So, what would have been so terrible if I had a small fortune?” >>>>

He first thinks of what he could buy and own, to show off to the neighbours:

I’d build a big tall house with rooms by the dozen
Right in the middle of the town
A fine tin roof with real wooden floors below
There would be one long staircase just going up
And one even longer coming down
And one more leading nowhere, just for show

Then he thinks of other benefits of not having to work any more:

If I were rich, I’d have the time that I lack
To sit in the synagogue and pray
And maybe have a seat by the Eastern wall
And I’d discuss the holy books with the learned men,
several hours every day
That would be the sweetest thing of all

And he finishes up by referring everything to God and Providence

Lord who made the lion and the lamb
You decreed I should be what I am
Would it spoil some vast eternal plan
If I were a wealthy man


Saint John Vianney, priest

Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney, (1786, 1859) from the district of Lyons, France, served as parish priest of the village of Ars for over 40 years (hence his popular soubriquet as “le Curé d’Ars“). Canonized in 1925, he is widely admired for his blend of calm humility and generous zeal. His story as told in The Diary of a Country Priest (1936) by Georges Bernanos, brought him to the attention of many readers. He is venerated as a spiritual guide and as the patron saint of parish priests.

2 Responses

  1. Prasad Ruwan

    very inspiring reflection points are there. For the first time I read. Thank you for this wonderful service which is so pleasant before God. Prayerful blessings for this mission!

  2. Seamus Ahearne

    More loose thoughts:
    Qoheleth observes that nothing satisfies. There is always a restlessness in the human heart. Even Augustine was praised for a similar sentiment. I have a skewed view of life and see tensions as a tease to make us find a balance and a middle way. Rich/Poor; Haves/Have-nots; ‘Much wants more and loses all.’ (Aesop); “Can’t buy me love.” (Beatles). It is a challenge never to be put off or put down.

    The little ones:
    I look at the little ones in school. Their bright, rich curiosity is marvellous at age 7/8. And then they deteriorate. There is a disappointment in the languid nature of learning after that or so it seems. Is there a way to drag out the inner wonder of a child so that every child can flourish with curiosity; with excitement; with discovery? I wonder do celibates miss out on the challenge of children to draw out the best in themselves? (Children and Adults).

    The cost of formation:
    I see our cohort of religious/priests and note how much time, money, and education (formation) has been poured into them (or wasted). The fruits are not always obvious. Many parade about overloaded with degrees and say or write very little. That is a waste – a poor return on investment! Where is that urgency to discover; to search; to reach out into the nether regions of the heart and imagination? We appear to fall asleep or live off the past and too few of the band-of-merry men (sadly yes – men!) soar with delight and exuberance. We forget the adventure of a ‘camino’ (journey) during our exile- trip in life. (‘Earth’s crammed with heaven’ – E Barret Browning; ‘The Grandeur of God’ – Manly Hopkins).

    Our teachers are highly trained but the wish is, that they keep on learning. If a teacher isn’t always learning; they shouldn’t be allowed out into the world of education. If a minister of faith isn’t learning (and excited); should they be allowed near a living Community? A thirst for knowledge is really a thirst for God.

    Torn jeans:
    Young folk especially young girls wander about with painted eyebrows (so horribly artificial/unreal). With blacked out eyes. With torn jeans. With cosmetics which destroy beautiful faces and beautiful bodies. What a sad reflection that the delicious beauty of youth is distorted by youngsters trying to be someone else or a different version of the self? I like folk never to be satisfied but not in this way. How can we help each other to reach out and celebrate the wonder of God in daily life? I have no problem with young folk or anyone being outrageous but it is the non-acceptance of the body beautiful concerns me. The challenge is to celebrate the self; life; people and the world around us and to be grateful. (Reach for the stars).

    Mueller and Burke:
    We live in a land of plenty. But what is ‘plenty’? The ‘plenty’ in my mind – is beauty, wonder, revelation, grace, Godliness. There is a great waste everywhere. So many miss out on the obvious. And the obvious becomes unclear. Cardinals such as Mueller and Burke are steeped in the wonders of faith and they can still emerge with drivel. What has happened? They are frozen in a dead faith and the life of God can’t thrive. Is not the incarnation continuing with God on a daily basis? Life is daily revelation. Mueller and Burke have built barns of nonsense and bulwarks of certainty. Sometimes it is easy to sympathise with Quoheleth. What’s the use? Why bother. It is a waste of time. No one cares. Everyone is caught up in secularism. My pal Augustine never stopped rummaging in the depths of the mind. He came up with stupid comments but he kept trying. It warms the heart that Francis – keeps on going; keeps on showing the simplicity of faith; keeps on pointing out the essentials.

    The spancelled twins:
    Boris and Donald would make a good warm- up- act but are a disaster as the main gig, They are outlandism and dangerous. They make It easy to stop believing in politics. Fatalism can seep into the bones and kill the spirit. We see so much that is wrong in politics, in Religion, in the self-centerness of capitalism. But whatever about those dangerous twins (Boris & Donald) – they were elected. They are still there. We aren’t allowed be weary. The core of faith tells us – to keep going and to keep learning and growing and seeing. How do we stretch the sinews of our minds, hearts and imagination to keep us laughing or wondering? We can never give up.

    There are pollutants everywhere. They can submerge us. They can suffocate us. They can destroy us. (‘Don’t let life get you down!’ Val Doonican used to sing). There is a call for more regulation in creches; more notices to be hung around Houses and Church on Safeguarding; more regulations on GDPR; more regulations on Accounting. We will be praying for vocations soon to keep up with the bureaucracy of life. Never mind – the Gospel. Never mind – Jesus Christ. We won’t have time for such peripherals (Jesus, Gospel, Faith). Cover our backsides, will be the overriding concern. Many are intimidated by such job- creation in the whole administration industry. It is off-putting. Why do we bother? Or should we? It is an easy temptation to be distracted and weary. Our friend Quoheleth might agree and be a comfort. But we can’t let him or them, get us down. We can’t give in or give up.

    Celibacy has given us time and space – to avoid the noise and mess of living. Homes with children and wives, can really upset a bachelor’s life. It should mean (as celibates) that we are a very happy group, full of God and never worried about ‘waking up dead.’ We have mind- and- heart space! We might consider ourselves even presently, as living a life of luxury. We badly need women to disturb us! But sometimes we are like ‘dead men walking.’ (To misuse a phrase). The world of Church should be a Tent where we are fully aware of the ‘cloud’ and always exciting. Dour, dull, dreary, depressed – cannot ever be the mark of the Church or of the Liturgy. Or the Tent. Or the Ministers. We have to fight the prophets of doom.

    So today is teasing us to get the balance right. To do our stretching exercises. To laugh at the ridiculous. To growl at God. To cheer at the wonder and awkwardness of life. To live every moment. To prove that there is life before death. Quoheleth: Go away. We can’t allow ourselves to indulge in such nonsense. We have enough scaremongers and moaners. ‘Lift up your heart.’
    Seamus Ahearne osa