Cycle C – Homily – Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time – 31 July 2022
Also called the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Lectionary I Lectionary II
Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23 Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23 (with Psalm 49:1-12)
Psalm 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14, 17 Hosea 11:1-11 (with Psalm 107:1-9, 43)
Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11 Colossians 3:1-11
Luke 12:13-21 Luke 12:13-21
This is certainly an interesting reading from Ecclesiastes – and definitely a rather famous reading too. Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity! That sure is the truth, isn’t it? Can’t you just picture old Qoheleth (author of Ecclesiastes) sitting there with a long, oblong face, probably complete with a long, oblong beard, and drooping oblong eyes, and an extended oblong mouth saying, “Vanity of vanities?”
The first time I wrote a homily on these readings, I was in Australia. (Back in those days, some of us rotated in writing homilies. Not so anymore.) Since that was for the First Sunday of August 2001, it was before 9/11. Somehow things changed after 9/11. We all know that. But some of the problems I faced in writing that homily over two decades ago are just the same as the problems I faced today in putting together this homily. Maybe those problems are even more intense now.
I was in Australia doing a speaking tour and I had asked for that particular Sunday because I had a feeling it would be especially meaningful. At the time I had no idea how truly meaningful it would be. When I asked for that Sunday, I had not even looked at the readings!
The theme of our tour was “Unity in Diversity.” It occurred to me as I started to prepare the homily what Qoheleth (author of Ecclesiastes) said about vanity, that every time we fail to see unity in our diversity we are engaging in vanity. Think about it!
This message had been especially poignant for me at the time because of the people I was traveling with – Ruth Mills, a woman Anglican priest, and Hoan Ribera, a Roman Catholic Jesuit priest. We were definitely an eclectic group! But this message applies to any group. No two people are the same – not even identical twins. Can any of us even calculate the diversity found in our world? I don’t think so. And yet we are unified by our humanity and unified by our relation to the divine.
One of the things that struck me as a lay person occurred when either Ruth or Hoan celebrated the Eucharist. I was not ordained, but at Hoan and Ruth’s insistence, I did take my turn leading our daily liturgical celebrations. Hoan and Ruth both considered my liturgical leads to be valid. And lay-led celebrations were definitely common in the early church. Is it not Catholic vanity to say that only one of the three of us could be validly consecrating the bread and wine? Is it not Catholic vanity to say that Ruth is not “proper matter” to be presiding at the Eucharist just because she is female, regardless of whether or not Anglican orders are recognized by Rome?
I am angered by our vanity. I was angered back then and today I am even more angered. Look at some of these rulings – more talked about in Catholic circles but certainly not limited to the Catholic church. Pedophilia (which, granted, is one of the most heinous of crimes) is still only worthy of a slap on the wrist (or an occasional police report) but women’s ordination is now considered a sacrilege. Women’s ordination is a crime worthy of excommunication because it defiles a sacrament. This is a new ruling. Pedophilia, which destroys the lives and souls of the victims, is a major sin but it is not serious enough to warrant excommunication. But, women’s ordination is not simple disobedience but is a sacrilege because the female body (being a second class creation) defiles the sacrament.
I am angered by the vanity.
And another statement from recent times comes from a recent Vicar of the Diocese of Rome. He has urged gay priests to step out of the closet and leave the priesthood. Can you believe the arrogance? That is in arrogant opposition to the laws of science, to the laws of biology, to the laws of psychology. Well, Benedict XVI would definitely get his smaller, purer church! But, what did Jesus teach? Not exclusion – but rather inclusion. Unity in our diversity.
I am angered by the vanity – by the arrogance – by the self-righteousness.
Think back to the theme of unity in diversity. We are as diverse as the stars – and we are as unified as the stardust!
Colossians today tells us that if we are raised with Christ, we should seek what is above. So, why don’t we? What is above is not the diversity of our petty rules. The diversity of our petty rules is vanity. The diversity of all of creation is unity and what is above – with Christ -- is the unity of all of creation striving for oneness with the Creator. Our hair splitting and our dictating our rules to God is vanity. And how can vanity be what is above?
In Luke’s gospel today, Jesus tells us, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
So, I have been sitting in my pew meditating on the Eucharist – a feast that was given for the unity of all. And I have been horrified by the greed of our churches – multitudinous denominations. Yes, our churches are rich. Some not in money – but richness is not limited to money. And our churches are greedy. Our churches say that all things are theirs and that even that which comes from another church ultimately comes from one church. Our churches are filled with the vanity of self-righteousness. Our churches are filled with the sense that they possess the way. Maybe they do. But is it not greed and vanity to say that only one way is valid?
I can accept the “only one way” concept as a valid answer to the vanity and greed of self-effacing righteousness only if that one way is emanating from God, only if that one way is extending from heaven and enveloping the earth. I cannot accept that pompous vanity that says the “only one way” originates on earth and encompasses heaven.
I cannot say that my eyes have been opened by these Eucharistic experiences. But, I can say that my heart has been pierced and my mind has become swollen with tears because our vanity – our attitude of “we are right and you are wrong” – has so totally corrupted the message of Jesus the Christ.
Despite what we say, we do not possess Christ in the sense of our ideologies greedily protecting him from the onslaughts of the “heretics” who do not split hairs the same as we do. We do, however, possess Christ in the sense that we are in Christ and Christ is in us. Christ is in all of us. That is – ALL of us. In our magnificent diversity, we are all unified in Christ. We do not have a monopoly on Christ and our lives do not consist in an ecclesiastic monopoly on the ministry of our mandates to love and serve.
This past week (last week of July 2022) perhaps we saw a glimmer of awareness of our collective arrogance, our collective ignorance. Pope Francis made a repentant trip to Canada. Was that trip the right thing or the wrong thing to do? Was it too much or too little? Did it go in the right direction or the wrong direction? It is far too early for any of us to answer any of those questions with certitude. But, the point is that what Pope Francis did was what no other person in an official capacity had done before. He acknowledged the arrogant and self-righteous vanity of church leaders of the past. We (as individuals and as church communities) must concentrate on this and continue to overcome the vanities that are so contrary to the gospel of Jesus.
Vanity of vanities, indeed! How dare we set rules to appease our vanity and foster our greed and dictate that we alone are right! The Pharisees did that and Jesus had a great deal to say about the teachings of the Pharisees. Let us be unified as one people of God. Let the ecumenism of our celebrations image the unity that Christ pleaded for all of us. The things the churches have presumed actually belong to God and not to us. Let us each erase our greed and our vanity and let us reach out to each other in love and let us be one – unified by our diversity and not being torn apart by the vanity of it.
Dr Roberta M Meehan