Perhaps it relates to today's parable on the suddenness of death, but I had to laugh at the following bumper sticker: I want to die in my sleep like my grandfather ... not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car. It looks like someone else has a morbid sense of humor.
Anyway, this Sunday we see one of the curious features of our lectionary: In the middle of the summer, when many people are thinking about getting away to the beaches or the mountains, we have some of the Bible’s most depressing readings. Qoheleth gives the famous words: “Vanity of vanity! All things are vanity!” Then he goes on to describe the toil, anxiety, sorrow and grief which fills man’s days. And even though he is plagued by fatigue, he no longer experiences the sweetness of falling gently into sleep.
Jesus is equally stark. A man comes to him all worked up because his brother has cheated him out of the inheritance. Rather than show sympathy, Jesus tells a story about a person who amasses wealth, hoping it would bring him peace of mind. Just at the moment when everything fell into place, God demands his life. Fool!
These are hardly the thoughts one wishes to meditate on before taking a summer vacation. However, if my own experience is any indication, I would argue that summer is the best time to read the book of Ecclesiastes. I find myself susceptible to an odd depression just when things seem the best. But far from making me feel more blue, Qoheleth has a way of pulling me out of it. If this sounds strange to you, all I can say is, give it a try.
Like the Buddha or like the German pessimist Schopenhauer, Qoheleth faces the tragic sense of human existence. Nevertheless, he also makes room for enjoyment of life: “If a man lives many years, let him enjoy them all…Rejoice, O young man, in your youth and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth.” (11:8,9)
For his part, Jesus did not spend time brooding over life. He had a direct realism about what this world can and cannot offer, but it did not cause him to be a “wet blanket.” On the contrary, his enemies accused him of being a “glutton and a drunkard.” (Mt 11:19) A false charge, but like any memorable accusation, it had some basis in reality. The Gospels attest that Jesus enjoyed festive gatherings.
What Qoheleth and Jesus knew well is that even the best things of this life cannot give unqualified satisfaction. And the one who seeks his happiness here turns out to be the most pitiable. Peter Kreeft has a worthwhile series of lectures titled What Would Socrates Do?: History of Moral Thoughts and Ethics (Portable Professor Series). In the course of the lectures he emphasizes that we humans are oriented toward meaning. We can forge ahead, even in miserable circumstances, if we see something which gives us hope. Holocaust suvivor Victor Frankl attested to this in his book Man's Search for Meaning. And Peter Kreeft notes that depression and suicide are more common in countries like Sweden and Denmark where citizens are well provided for. In contrast, counties like Mexico and Greece have quite low suicide rates. This does not mean that wealth and security are bad – but they do not bring ultimate satisfaction.
This wisdom is common across many cultures. It forms the foundation for the Buddhist religion – and can be seen in the Hebrew Scriptures, as well as throughout the long Christian tradition. Unfortunately, although this wisdom is common, we humans easily lose sight of it. We would do well to return often to today’s Psalm. After mentioning that a typical life span is seventy to eighty years, the psalmist reminds us that in reality our lives are like the grass which wilts in a single day - and that God can claim a person's life while he sleeps. Then he adds this prayer:
From Archives (18th Sunday, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
From Fr. Jim Northrop:
There certainly has been a lot of debate and news over the issue of Catholics and abortion lately. I read a letter to the editor yesterday in one local paper from a "pro-choice" Catholic that spurred a great interest for me to send off a reply, but I have decided not to. If people like this actually saw the horrible reality that they are supporting and how it destroys people's lives, there's no way they could chose to support it. My involvement with Project Rachael Post Abortion Healing Ministry has certainly opened my eyes to this. While many people see abortion as just an issue, I can no longer even hear that word without seeing the faces of some of the women I have met whose lives were scared by abortion. I remember the tears rolling down their eyes and all of them saying if they realized what they were doing and the terrible impact this decision would have on their lives they would have never made it. All those confused people who would call themselves "pro-choice" Catholics need to go on a Project Rachael Retreat. I think they would have a change of heart if they saw what they were supporting. Jesus put it best:
And this is the verdict, that
the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to
light, because their works were evil.
Abortion is total darkness. Too many people fail to see this. So, the debate rages on and people's lives are destroyed. My involvement with Project Rachael has given me a new perspective and commitment to work for a culture of life. My hat goes off to all the brave women who have found their way back into the light and experienced the depths of God's love and mercy. Go Light Your World!
Kerry's Tortured Logic on Abortion
Naked Public Square (Twenty Years Later)
Fyodor Dostoevsky On Humble Love
My bulletin column
St. Mary of the Valley Album
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World Youth Day 2013
(click on the picture to view 40 slides from our WYD experience)
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
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KRA's & SMART Goals (updated June 2013)
A Homilist's Prayer