"Mataiotes mataiotetos, kai panta mataiotes." How many times our professor of
Sacred Scriptures, fifty years ago, repeated this axiom in Greek so that our hard
heads as student seminarians would start to comprehend something very deep,
at the core of the Wisdom Books of the Hebrew Scriptures. Yes, we learned it and to
this day it still comes to my mind as we read from the Book of Ecclesiastes in
this Sunday’s First Reading (1:2- 2: 21-13), the words of Qoheleth: "Vanity of vanities,
everything is vanity." Sometimes it takes long years to arrive at certain wisdom
that the sacred author synthesized in those words so filled with deep meaning.
We may think we are invincible and we can conquer the world only to have
this world put us back in our place where we belong. It is that desire of excelling
and accumulating, of feeling powerful and rich that so many persons seek day
after day only to have such reality come down crashing like a deck of cards on
us and we are reminded that indeed only a few things are real and worth having in
life. The rest is just VANITY.
Sometimes even the violent elements of nature as we have seen a few weeks
ago in Oklahoma bring us to this state. The survivors of this violence of nature
often testify, even right after the very destruction of their own most prized possessions,
that THINGS can be replaced. It is OUR LIFE that cannot be replaced
and therefore the survivors are happy to be alive after the total destruction and
impelled by some force of nature or of God's Spirit to affirm: We will stay and we
will rebuild again!!! The VANITIES of life we all can do without. It is the faith in
God, the hope for a future, the presence of the family, the belief in the support of
a community that will enable the human spirit to rise up literally from the heap
of destruction and to keep excelling at being truly human.
One of the most important books I ever read was Viktor Frankl's "Man's
Search for Meaning," published in 1946 chronicling his experiences as a concentration
camp inmate in Auschwitz during World War II. It has been categorized as
one of the ten most influential books in the United States. In it Mr. Frankl wrestles
with the idea of suffering and deprivation but also with the opportunity it
presents to rise above the human foibles encountered and build a positive experience
out of the destruction human forces had heaped upon him. In brief, what
remains in the human spirit in the midst of such deprivation is his own inner
strength of character, his own freedom that rises beyond the depravity and deformity
and bitterness of human beings. It might be something we all will never
experience in our lives, but it tells of the inner quality of a person and of the value
we put on the things of this world or on persons and their qualities of worth.
For us Catholics, that is elevated exponentially on account of the worth imparted
to us by the Son of God, Jesus, who has elevated our nature to the rank of being
adopted children of God. That Fatherhood of God, of us all, the sense of humans
being almost divine, was the cause of deep joy to the point of shedding tears for
This thought process of Qoheleth has been interpreted by many as pessimistic.
But truly it is realistic and would keep humans grounded and even dependent
on this God who is our Father and source of everything we are and do. His
advice is not to make us negative and depressed but may contribute to have an
authentic value system that is necessary to keep the practice of religion REAL.
Even mystics of the likes of St. Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross would
advise the spiritual soul to practice the prayer of surrender to God. It is in that
complete surrender, as Jesus did to his Father, that we will have our ultimate
value before God. It was what St. Paul preached, that in living Christ day by day
he, Paul, would no longer count but Christ would: It is not I who lives but Christ
living in me (Galatians 2: 20), quite an inspired ideal for all of us.
MATAIOTES, ETIÓ MAKRIÁ!!--VANITY, GO AWAY!!
May God's Peace be with you,