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Thursday, July 28, 2016

SIC TRANSIT GLORIA MUNDI 18th Sunday (Year C) | July 31, 2016 (English)


All of us mortals long for the more, the better, the greater, and the ultimate! The history
of the world, and our own personal histories reflect this timeless and ageless truth - we
for fulfillment, for what satisfies, for everything that gives lasting
meaning to our existence. We even pine for immortality, for the
proverbial fountain of youth, physical prowess, and beauty. We hanker
for everything that lasts, and all things that lend perfection and
lasting dignity to our person.

All that we long for, and all that we look for are not bad in themselves. They are
legitimate ends for men and women created by God with the natural tendency towards
"self-transcendence." This includes our legitimate desire for material wealth and

liturgy, though, offers some kind of a warning. Today's readings would
have us take a second look at what we consider as the "ultimate." The
Lord, today, would have us reflect a little bit deeper on the values we
hold dearly, on the priorities we have set for ourselves, on the targets
we have focused on, and on the bases of the happiness and
meaningfulness we have pegged ourselves and our lives on.

For, truth to tell, there is so much blindness in the world, so much lack of clarity, so much lack of perspective.

The view from Hollywood, for one, is an absolutist one. Entertainment and fun is the
ultimate gauge of one's happiness and well-being. Everyday, we are bombarded by
pictures of svelte, upbeat, and perpetually smiling actors and actresses, whose lives
to revolve around party upon glitzy party, their seemingly happy and
ever smiling faces paying tribute to the mantra of youthful life based
for the most part on the culture of fun.

So is the view from Wall Street. Wealth and fortune, and the examples of those who
it, constantly hog the infotainment headlines. They act as the
modern-day prophets of the capitalist gospel of prosperity and financial

This absolutist culture is nowhere more visible as in the marriage of capitalism and
in the many shows that dot the prime time landscape: reality TV and
shows that consistently gravitate towards Hollywood, New York, Chicago,
and, of late, Las Vegas - all centers of commerce, entertainment, and
fun. In many other places all over the world, entertainment and shows
mostly revolve around the so-called "primate cities" which function as
hubs of development, wealth generation, and the place where to get the
"proverbial pot of gold."

Today, the Church goes counter-cultural, as usual. Today, I am afraid, many people,
the young, would find the Lord's good news as one that rather goes
against the grain. However, I would like to suggest that, more than
being a put-down, today's
biblical readings are an invitation for
all of us to gain back perspective, to put back the horse before the
cart, and to regain our sense of clarity.

In a culture that has
co-opted our minds, our attitudes, and our hearts, and which has
gradually led us to absolutize and prioritize our "labor," "toil and
anxiety," and all "the part of [us] that are earthly," the Lord reminds
us today through Qoheleth that "all things are vanity." In essence, what
we are told is not that all the above is bad, but that they are simply
not the ultimate, for they are nothing but "vanity," that is, mere
"vapor," "breath,"  something that is merely transitory. They are useful
and important, true, but transitory, not permanent. Being transitory,
they are not to be considered the "end all and be all" of human

I had the fortune of meeting and being a friend to a
Filipino couple and their children over the past 30 years. When I got to
know them, I was doing pastoral work as a substitute pastor in a big
parish in Manila, while I was preparing myself to go to Rome for further
studies. At that time, they had a booming and lucrative business that
placed them among the more well-to-do members of the parish community.
The relative wealth they enjoyed, however, did not get to their heads.
They kept a low profile, while at the same time, gave generously to the
church, while anonymously helping a number of poorer members of the
parish. As I got to know them better over the subsequent years, I
realized that their lives had been some kind of a roller-coaster ride,
with the proverbial ups and downs, failures and successes, joys and
disappointments. Their wealth and financial status shot up and shot
down, in an unpredictable cycle that would have daunted people with
lesser faith. But through all this, the family remained steadfast. They
were happy when they lived in prosperity, but they were happy all the
same when there was precious little to spare.

They were a clear
example of persons who understood the relative importance of
wealth.Unfortunately, in my experience as a priest and an
educator/teacher for so many years, I have also encountered people who
showed exactly the opposite attitude. Already having more than they
could reasonably use to live decent lives, they still want more and
more. I have seen people whose drive for more seemed to be the all
important rule in their lives, with their families taking a back seat,
and values taking a still farther slot in their order of priorities. For
some of them, the unbridled drive for wealth and/or power have
gradually hardened their hearts, making them callous to the needs of
others, and the welfare of their competitors or opponents, as the case
may be.

And neither are Church personnel and religious priests immune to such a pervasive
that can also lead some of us to resort to manipulation and machination
in order to safeguard coveted, lucrative posts or hold on to power. To
our shame, there are posh parishes all over the country that have become
untouchable turfs of some well-connected clerics.

But what is sauce for the goose ought to be sauce, too, for the gander. All of us
whether cleric or lay, would do well to reflect on the prayer that we
blurted out after the first reading: "If today, you hear his voice,
harden not your hearts." We would do well to remember the relative
nature of everything that we have on loan from the gracious generosity
of God. "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of

Indeed, all the parts of us that are earthly, all that we
consider important in this world, all that in our lack of clarity of
mind and heart, we believe to be the ultimate values; indeed everything
that in our shortsightedness, clouds our minds, and makes us lose
perspective and miss the forest for a tree, will all one day disappear,
for "the world and all its pleasures are fast drifting away." Sic
transit gloria mundi! That is simply the way of all earthly glory ...
like grass, they wither and die; they are here today, and gone tomorrow

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