Sunday, August 05, 2007

Vanity of vanities

~excerpted from a homily by Fr. Phillip N. Powell, O.P.: An exit graceless and without mystery?

Living among all the true, good, and beautiful things of our world, Paul warns us against the pride of believing that we rule here; that we hold the earth in its orbit and polish the glitter of the stars; that we breathe out the atmosphere, feed the trees, stoke the heat of summer and spring and make the leaves brown in autumn and the mist white in winter. We are warned against the greed of self-importance, the avarice of carving idols of our needs and wants and then shaping ourselves in the images and likenesses of what we unwisely think we most desire: full bellies, stuffed pockets, muddled minds, tranquilized hearts. Idol worshipers become their idols. And suffer their fate: the fires of the trash heap. This is foolishness! This is vanity!

In fact, it is worse than folly and vanity; it is deceit, lying. Paul writes: “[…]since you have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed […] in the image of its creator […] Stop lying to one another […].” We say we are reborn in baptism. That we have died with Christ and risen again in new light and in his glory. Do we look reborn? Do we work and love and fight and have kids and battle disease and learn and grow and win and lose and eat and sleep—do you do all of your living and your dying…reborn in Christ? If not, then truly, for you, all things are vanity; all of your days are sorrow and grief. A great misfortune.

The German poet, Rainier Maria Rilke, writing in 1905 in his collection, The Book of Hours, his love-poems to God, talks to God about His people: “Lord, the great cities are lost and rotting./Their time is running out…./The people there live harsh and heavy,/crowded together, weary of their own routines. […] Their dying is long/and hard to finish: hard to surrender/what you never received./Their exit has no grace or mystery./It’s a little death, hanging dry and measly/like a fruit inside them that never ripened.” Lost. Rotting. Harsh. Heavy. Crowded. Long, hard death—a little death. Dry. Measly. Lives like fruit never ripened. Is this the limit of the bounty we are called to in Christ Jesus? Is this the scarce basket of harvest? Is this what we get for our faith in Him, our hope in His promises, our love for Him and one another? Won’t you be glad to die after this misadventure, this funny little tragedy you have lived? Stop lying to yourself! You have taken off your old self and put on Christ, so that “when Christ your life appears, then you will appear with him in glory. Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly”—your defiance of God’s will for you; your double-bound heart (whom do you serve?); your restless obsessions and compulsions; your need for vengeance, dominance, worldly success and admiration—any and every desire that is not a painful longing for God; take an axe to your idols—cultural celebrity, war at any cost, peace at any cost, your love of being owed something; burn the idols you have carved to your public image, to your duty and logic, to your safe loves and your tourist soul: “Jesus Christ” is the ONLY name given under God’s heaven for our salvation.

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