I'm en route today to the annual Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus, this year held in San Antonio, Texas. The Knights do great work for the Church and society, and I am happy to be able to attend this assembly to demonstrate my support.
At one point in the flight I fingered through one of those airline magazines they keep in the back pocket of the seat. I couldn't get over the large number of advertisements for a wide variety of surgical makeovers, notably for plastic surgeons and for clinics that specialize in hair or dental implants. Quite a market in vanity, it would seem. I wonder what the author of Ecclesiastes would have made of it. In the first reading of yesterday's mass, we heard his famous lament: "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity." It is a haunting cry against the emptiness, illusion and meaninglessness that we confront in so many ways, but which the advertisements demonstrate maintain an abiding attraction. How much money is spent on those makeovers? How much energy and time is given over to that which literally impacts only the surface of things? And this when what is needed above all is a societal makeover that addresses the poverty and injustices that afflict countless numbers of our brothers and sisters both at home and abroad. Such societal change needs to probe deep beneath the surface to the truth of human dignity that inheres in each and every person regardless of any visible difference; it demands that we move away from the ubiquitous and imprisoning focus on the Self and toward a shared concern for the common good.
This is how we build up treasure in heaven, as Jesus admonished us to do in yesterday's Gospel passage. Concern for earthly possessions is yet another expression of vanity, of a chase after that which is ultimately empty and unable to satisfy. God alone satisfies, as St. Teresa of Avila famously said. When we open our hearts to allow ourselves to be possessed by the love of God revealed in Christ and poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, we too will say that, in comparison, all else is truly vanity. To be embraced by God's love is to encounter that which alone is real. This in turn moves us out of ourselves to see beyond the illusory to the real situation of our world, and motivates us to dedicate our use of resources not to their accumulation but to their sharing for the sake of those in need.