From time to time in a moment of frustration or tiredness, we might ask ourselves this question: ‘what is it all for?’ or ‘what is life all about?’
‘All is vanity’, the First Reading bleakly tells us. It is a sombre and depressing thought that for all our work and toil, we will one day be replaced in our job, and someone else will live in our home. It is however a reading that is a challenging reminder to us not to get so caught up in work and wealth for its own sake. The First Reading is meant to be instructive rather than to be one that stands alone to leave us in despair. Of course work has value, not only to provide for ourselves, but to provide a service to others, even if there is profit, and to apply our God-given talents, to partake in the creativity that the Creator has given us, to use our ingenuity, such as it is, to lighten the burden of others and to build up the world around us. And we have a right to housing and possessions, but we also have responsibilities.
It is good for us to sit back once in a while to ask ourselves the ‘why’ of what we do, and not remain so focussed on ‘what’ we do. People may often ask us ‘what do you do?’ as a conversation opener, but thankfully never ask us why we do it although from time to time people might comment ‘I could never do that’. We must also be careful that our role in work does not define us as persons, and that we are so caught up in our work that we forget life’s real purpose – to get to heaven.
The man in the parable got what he wanted, and still wanted more, and then he got what he deserved!
It is one of the few parables about a man on his own and wanting to enjoy life and property and riches without reference to anyone else. There was no relationship, of family, no children, no relations, no concern for sharing with those in need, it was accumulation for its own sake, and therefore greed. He had a talent for accumulating wealth but he was spiritually poor. He tried to have a paradise without God. There was no heavenly wisdom in his actions.For some people the answer to the question of the meaning of life is: ‘Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die'. ‘It’s all about having and about enjoying yourself, because time is short and you won’t be around forever so make the best of it.’ But living a life without consequences, to believe that you can have who and whatever you want is however to live a life of hedonism which is ultimately shallow and fails to satisfy for very long. We see in some celebrities vain attempts at immortality, careerism, profit, prestige, fame, notoriety, power, of appearances, of glamour (through cosmetic surgery), of being talked about in the tabloids. And yet their autobiographies are full of sadness and attempts at escapism through abuse of food, drink, drugs, scandal and infidelity.
How often, like the rich man, have we heard of heart breaking stories of money invested and gone, or projects completed and a person does in the stress of the effort? I remember there was a publican who spent over £200,000 (punts) in extending his pub, and he died soon afterwards, how the best laid plans in retirement fall through, how people sadly do not see their worldly dreams fulfilled, and die before enjoying retirement.
Such anecdotes make us stop and think about the shortness of our own lives and to question our priorities in life as well as who will follow after us.
The expression ‘you can’t take it with you’ is well captured in the story of the Irish-born self-made millionaire in America who stipulated that he buried in the land of his birth. On the crate carrying him home were stamped the words: ‘of no commercial value’. The other expression there is no trailer after a hearse reminds us of the stark reality of the saying ‘you can’t take it with you’. So there is the question of creativity certainly but also of stewardship, of the relative value of everything and the value to our relatives!Desires, even disordered ones, all point to a sense of incompleteness, of longing for completion, for fulfilment, for satisfaction, point to our restlessness, of never seeming to have enough, of not being satisfied.
May we learn from the fictional character in the Gospel today to re-evaluate our philosophy of life, what drives us, and what do we ultimately desire.
May the parable invite us to look at our possessions as to whether they possess us, to ask ourselves if we can say in all honesty: ‘I am happy with what I have’ and that I can give to others readily.May we ask ourselves, like in the first reading: ‘what is it all for?’ and know that there is a positive answer that involves us but that life is not all about us!
The way to heaven is summed up in the Beatitudes: the way of peace, purity, poverty (detachment), persecution, mournfulness, meekness, mercy, and hunger for what is right.