Nothing Earthly Lasts Forever

07-31-2022Weekly Reflection© J. S. Paluch Company

“Teach us to number our days aright.” Is there a more wise and prudent prayer for people of all ages than this verse from today’s responsorial psalm? As we savor the lovely but limited days of summer we are reminded that nothing lasts forever. In today's first reading, the master teacher (Qoheleth) asserts “All things are vanity!” while the Gospel of Luke describes the ease with which our possessions can possess us. The second reading makes the point as well: “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” We see the problem of wealth from both sides today —from the viewpoint of the wealthy person who inevitably has to leave his riches to someone else and from the perspective of the potential inheritor who is at odds with his brother over how to divide their inheritance. The problem is clear; the wisdom is also.

You Can't Take it With You

Stephen Covey, in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, lists as his second habit: Begin with the end in mind. Is that not the point of our scripture reflections today? We know we will die. We know we “can’t take it with us.” If you've ever been tasked with cleaning out the home of a deceased person, you know how easily once-treasured items simply become another burden to deal with. Or you may have experienced how quickly the joy of owning the latest smart phone becomes as outdated as the model itself. So how do we think about all the stuff that we buy, accumulate, fret over where to store, and pay taxes on? Heaven forbid if we ever have to move!

Rich in What Matters to God

Luke sets us on the right path when he affirms that we must be “rich in what matters to God.” Needless to say, he is not saying that possessions themselves are evil. Today's psalm asks God —twice—to “prosper the work of our hands for us!” The danger is that, as one wag put it, “we never have enough of what we don’t really need.” What does matter to God? What is the opposite of vanity? Kindness to one another, mercy, forgiveness, generosity to the poor and needy—all of these remain beyond death. These are what we can take with us when we die. The great mystery in all this is that God is never outdone in generosity; the more we give away, the more we have.

July 31 is also the feast day of Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). He epitomizes richness in what really matters. His military and court aspirations evaporated after he was seriously wounded in battle. His subsequent change of heart led him to found one of the most influential religious orders in the history of the Church. If the opposite of vanity is wealth that remains after death, Ignatius is most appropriately honored today.