Below is an adaptation of the homily I delivered this past weekend. In case you need a refresher, the readings can be found here.
Vanity of vanities, all things are vanity, so Qoheleth! We are called to always “seek what is above” and to keep our focus on things that really matter: namely, God and what comes after our mortal journey here on Earth. Yet, I think that we can have a lot of “clutter” in our lives that can keep our focus from being where it needs to be.
Decluttering definitely seems to be “in vogue” at the moment. There is no shortage of methods, books, and even T.V. shows that purport to reorganize your life and get rid of unnecessary attachments. One such method, created by the popular Marie Kondo from Japan, focuses on keeping only those items that “spark joy” in our lives. To some extent, this is true: we should closely examine those things that we have in our lives and take an honest inventory if they bring joy and happiness, and this rule of thumb can be applied not just to material things but to habits, relationships, and any number of different types of “clutter” we might have in our lives.
Our Lord, as always, challenges us to move deeper than to simply find those things that make us feel good. Our Lord challenges us to stay focused solely on what is above, rather than on Earthly attachments, and so we have the parable of the rich fool who simply could not let go of his earthly wealth.
Perhaps we have all stood in the place of the rich fool at one time or another. I certainly know I have – packing my room from the seminary was evidence enough that I was holding on to too many things! What does the rich fool do when he runs out of space? Somewhat comically, he decides to tear everything down and build a bigger barn, a bigger storehouse for all his things: “This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”
Now at first glance, it might seem that the rich fool does the right thing: after all, he is simply being responsible with his possessions, right? In fact, he even makes a resolution to enjoy his time, to rest, but being who he is, this is an empty promise. He will not rest, eat, drink, and be merry: eventually, his possessions will continue to grow, and he will run out of space again. He will have to rebuild again, and the cycle will continue. How often have we been stuck in similar cycles? Jesus teaches us, however, to separate ourselves from some of these attachments, to not be like the rich fool. If we follow the way of Jesus Christ, “Our detachment from worldly goods should mean we have no anxiety about our basic” needs (Didache Bible commentary). In order to live the life we are called to live as disciples of Christ, we must rid ourselves of these unnecessary things and seek things above.
Let’s go back to the modern “decluttering” method mentioned above. We now see that simply asking ourselves whether or not something gives us joy is inadequate. We must respond to the call of Christ to move deeper into our faith. We must ask ourselves whether or not something keeps us from seeking things that are above. We must ask ourselves if whatever it is we are contemplating ridding from our lives gives glory to God. That is the test we are looking for, the question we must ask ourselves: “Does this give glory to God?” If Jesus called me home right this moment, would I hang my head in shame over this thing or would I be joyful that our Lord could see what I have done with this particular part of my life?
Remember that we’re not talking simply about material things. We are talking about applying this rule of thumb, “Does this give glory to God?” to everything in our lives. Let’s look at a few examples: does spending time with a particular person give glory to God in what we say and do together? Will a desired trip to the coast give glory to God? Does buying a new car give glory to God? If you notice, all of these questions can have a yes or a no answer: does the friendship exist to support and encourage each other, or is it spent in gossip and using the other person for gain? Does the trip to the coast consist of spending quality time with family or enjoying God’s creation, or does it consist solely in gorging our mouths and emptying our pocketbooks? Does the new car represent a true need to support myself and family, or is it something that I am buying just so I can keep up with my next-door neighbor?
And what is the most profound way that we can give glory to God? Of course in the Eucharist. There is nothing else on Earth so important than being in the presence of God Himself. When we come together in the Eucharist, we more fully become who we are created to be as sons and daughters of God. Our Lord tells us, “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” In the Word of God in Scripture and the Word made present in the Eucharist we hear His voice – what more could we ask for than to give glory to God in what we do in the sacrifice of the Holy Eucharist?
In some sense, the rich fool was correct: I believe we are to “eat, drink, and be merry,” – God wants us to be happy, healthy, and holy, but the fool simply did not live out his promise to himself. The key, my friends, is to take what we have, and in the words of Saint Paul, “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” Our time on Earth is limited and we cannot take any of our riches with us, yet we are still called to be a joyful people. Perhaps it would be good to remember these words from Hilaire Belloc: “Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, / There’s always laughter and good red wine. / At least I’ve always found it so. / Benedicamus Domino!” Live life to the fullest, stay focused on things above, and if today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts!