To the words that begin our first reading at Mass today…
Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth,
vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!
…let us add these words of St. John of the Cross:
“To be perfectly united to God by love and will, the soul must first be cleansed of all appetites of the will, even the smallest” (Ascent of Mount Carmel).
In the language of St John of the Cross, the word “appetites” refers to disordered inclinations or affections for oneself or creatures, we could say the “vanities of the world,” tendencies which are more or less contrary to God’s will.
In talking about the value of Ignatian Spirituality for leadership in his book Heroic Leadership, Chris Lowney talks about his being driven by the “I-want-it-so-badly” virus, a type of a modern formulation of the “vanity of vanities” of Qoheleth. Lowney shares how he so wanted to get to the top of company, to be wealthy, recognized, have the best house and the most exciting life. He wanted it so badly that it seemed it must be right precisely because he wanted it so badly.
How subtle are the deceptions of the evil one. This absolute certainty that God is on our side might be a delusion. Often it is one of the signs that we are after things that fall under the category of “vanity of vanities.” Maybe it is not God’s design for us that we have the things we so badly desire, but only an “ego itch” actually leading us astray as we chase after our vanities and vainglory. “Disordered inclinations and affections for oneself or creatures.”
In the second reading today, St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians teaches us simply, clearly, leaving us no wiggle room to justify collecting our vanities here on earth:
Brothers and sisters:
If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above,
where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.
And lest we think that these words are some fantasy or imaginative contemplation of Christ in heaven, Paul clearly lays out in no-nonsense and practical terms what this means for us here on earth:
Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly:
immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire,
and the greed that is idolatry.
Stop lying to one another,
since you have taken off the old self with its practices
and have put on the new self,
which is being renewed, for knowledge,
in the image of its creator.
So, brothers and sisters, cherish these words today, these words of God who is longing for your heart, “put on the new self.”
Indeed, my friends, God says to us all, “If today you hear [my] voice, harden not your hearts.”
Image Credit: Image by Daniel Reche from Pixabay.