By Father James Rodriguez
Indisputably, the Bible is the Word of God. It is inerrant and inspired by Him, and His Spirit permeates every last letter of every last book contained in it. There is divinity in this collection of ancient texts, but also a very deep humanity. Sacred Scripture contains breathtaking insights into the human condition, making it relatable and accessible to all people at all times. It’s no wonder that God’s Word would so closely resemble its Speaker.
In today’s first reading, the famous text from Ecclesiastes, we’re given a taste of the bitterness that is sometimes our lot in this life.
However, as usual, something deeper is going on. The very name Ecclesiastes is a reference to the Church (ekklesia in Greek) as it was used as a primary text in teaching newcomers to the faith.
Qoheleth seems to be throwing his hands up in despair: “all his days, sorrow and grief are his occupation,” but to call this vanity is a call to humility. Over the last few years, it seems there is always something to complain about, yet licking our wounds doesn’t help them heal. The Lord wants us to approach Him, to sacrifice our self-pity for the sake of the peace that comes from trusting Him.
We are not to ignore our problems, global or personal, but to bring them to Him in a spirit of acceptance and humble submission. I know well that this is easier said than done, but I also know well that it is absolutely necessary if we hope to be saints.
Psalm 90 hammers home the point in the psalter’s typical eloquence. It is a song of absolute trust in God, recognizing the utter impermanence of our lives. We are finite, yet God loves us infinitely. If we look to Him to teach us, then “we may gain wisdom of heart,” the beginning of sanctity and the joy we were made for. St. Paul speaks of that wisdom in today’s second reading, calling us to set our sights higher in the way that only the truly wise can.
Like the kings of orient we sing about at Christmas, we look up, beyond the earthly realities while keeping our feet firmly set in them. There is something human and divine in each of us, like the Bible, yet we are not inerrant like it, so we have to undergo purification, sacrificing “the parts…that are earthly.” St. Paul offers a good examination of conscience here that we would do well to review frequently and bring to confession, for he himself was someone who needed and received purification.
In the Gospel, Jesus calls us to detachment from what St. Paul called “the greed that is idolatry,” since the rich man made a god out of his prosperity. Clearly Jesus is not discouraging us from planning and preparing, but if those plans remain human, untouched by the divine, they are inherently less than what they could be. If more of our leaders, businesses, art, hobbies, and entertainment were more consecrated to God, what a cultural transformation there would be! In lieu of this, let us ask God to transform us, to consecrate us, so that we might be agents of the divine, touching His creation and restoring it, person by person, in the Sacred Heart.
Readings for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23
Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11
Father James Rodriguez is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church in Rockaway Beach.