About two weeks ago, I was driving to Union Memorial Hospital in the city to visit a parishioner. I went down 33rd Street, and for the first time in a long while I drove past Memorial Stadium.
Or, what used to be Memorial Stadium.
It’s now a YMCA, and a park and a bunch of buildings; but as I drove I remembered riding there with my dad and grandfather and parking in the side streets of the neighborhood around the “old” stadium. We’d join thousands of fellow Baltimoreans as we made our way up 33rd Street to the ballpark. It was gritty; it was “educational”; it was community.
I missed the old place.
Last week, as we were discussing the pope’s visit to Rio, my little brother was speaking indignantly of how Brazil was moving their drug addicts and visible poor to the outskirts of the city for the World Cup this year and the Olympics in 2016 so that they can put on a “cleaner” face for the world. I found it ironic, incidentally, that Pope Francis made one of his first visits to a slum outside of Rio.
I reminded him, though, that this is not just something done in other countries. We go now to Oriole Park at Camden Yards precisely because it is a “cleaner face” to put on for visitors than old Waverly. We are not that different. We spent a lot of money to throw out the old in favor of the new and “improved.”
In our gospel today, Jesus tells a story of a man who has everything – even more than everything, in fact. With an abundant harvest, he sees a need to enlarge his storehouses to hold even more of his wealth. However, as the parable teaches, he cannot take this with him. His life would be taken from him, and that entire surplus would do him no good.
I saw a bumper sticker once that read, “He who dies with the most toys wins.”
We both would die – toys or not. And this is exactly what the writer of our First Reading is recognizing. Everything we do – for our benefit or not – eating, drinking or being merry – enriching or impoverishing – none of it matters, as we will all die, just like everyone else. It seems, as he says, to be “vanity of vanities.”
However, this is not so. Jesus shares with us the answer. As St. Paul writes, we should set our hearts on “what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” In other words, our true wealth is in heaven and in everything that connects us to heaven.
During World Youth Day last week, when Pope Francis visited that slum, he reminded the youth and the world where true peace and justice come from. He said, “The culture of selfishness and individualism that often prevails in our society is not, I repeat, not what builds up and leads to a more habitable world: rather, it is the culture of solidarity that does so; the culture of solidarity means seeing others not as rivals or statistics, but brothers and sisters.”
This selfishness and individualism is apparent in the attitude of the rich man blessed with a great harvest. Rather than seeing the good he could do for others, he only saw the “problem” of containing all that abundance for himself. He failed to see the point of being blessed – which is to be a blessing to others.
Catholic Social Teaching holds that none of the world’s resources belong simply to one person, group or nation. Instead, they are God’s blessing upon His world and are meant to be shared among us. This is not “communism”; it is creation; it is holiness.
When we find ourselves blessed, we ought to be grateful. When we find ourselves blessed, we ought to rejoice. When we find ourselves blessed, we must see ourselves as able to be a blessing to others – giving of our substance and not of our excess – giving others what is “right,” not what is “left.”
Again, this sort of attitude arises from hope, not from fear of shortage in the future. The Holy Father also said last week, “Nowadays, everyone, including our young people, feels attracted by the many idols which take the place of God and appear to offer hope: money, success, power, pleasure. Often a growing sense of loneliness and emptiness in the hearts of many people leads them to seek satisfaction in these ephemeral idols. Dear brothers and sisters let us be lights of hope!”
The only “vanity” that we can suffer is that of being vessels empty of love – like that poor empty field where Memorial Stadium once stood. Today, let’s fill up with Christ, and recognize how truly blessed we are!