“Vanity of Vanities says Qoheleth”; Is life just a game of Monopoly?
As Vocation Director, I talk to many about how to find your mission in life. Last Sunday’s readings, warn about the danger of the opposite; spending your life on things that do not really matter. They urge us to “Be rich in what matters to God”.
The first reading at the Sunday Mass this last week (18th Week in Ordinary Time) was from the Book of Ecclesiastes (1:2, 2:21-23). “Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth… All things are Vanity!… Here is one who has labored with wisdom and knowledge and skill, and yet to another who has not labored over it, he must leave property. … For what profit comes to a man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun?” The Gospel (Luke 12:13-21) speaks of a rich man who labored to amass great wealth, but then God says to him “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?” The two readings go well together, and teach us what Wisdom is.
In the first reading Qoheleth uses the word “Vanity”. Most of us think of self-love when we hear that word. But it has a second meaning, less commonly used, that is to be futile. Scripture scholars suggest other translations of the original text could be “mere breath” or “vapor”. That is all things are passing. I sum up the “Wisdom” of Qoheleth, and the message of Jesus in today’s Gospel, with the following image. When I was a child, I would often go to my friend’s house and play Monopoly. You may know the game. We through the dice, move our token along the board, buy properties, buy multiple properties and control a whole portion of the board. We can build houses on those properties and then Hotels. We can have lots of money in the bank, and we can either win or lose the game. Hours go by and we are absorbed by the game, and we can even have fun while playing! But in the end, win or lose, we have to just fold up the board, put all the hotels and money back in the box, and go home! Further, often when I went home, my parents would ask me; ‘What did you do today? Did you do your chores? Your homework?’ I could only answer; no I just played a game all day.
Similar to this game of Monopoly, our faith teaches us that one day, Sister Death will come for us, and it will be a time of Judgement. Just like when we fold up the monopoly board, put everything back in the box and go home, so too we will fold up all the things we’ve worked for in this life, and go home to our common parent, God our Father and Jesus his Son, and give an accounting for our life. As the Gospel passage tells us today, God will really want to know; have you been about the things that really matter, or were you just “playing a game” and passing time occupied by things that were just ‘vapor’ or passing?
Two Tools to help you find your Calling:
As Vocation director, I talk to many about how to live a life of purpose, meaning, or how to find your call or your mission in life. In Church talk, we say find your Vocation. This teaching Jesus uses today; “Be rich in what matters to God”, is really a very Good description of how to find your Vocation. All Christians, by virtue of their baptism, have a vocation. That is, we are all called to orient our lives around what really matters to God. It means we should seek to do God’s will, or what matters to God. But you may ask, how do I know what matters to God? The answer really is simple… Ask Him!
All of us share a common vocation; as Jesus taught; Love God and Love Neighbor. But each of us have also has a unique call. God has created us all different, with different gifts and talents, and we live in different families, communities, and places. So God also has a unique mission for each of us. To find that mission, we must ask God in prayer. There is much to learn how to listen to God in prayer, so as to hear from Him what really matters. But it is important to start at the very basics. Before we seek to listen to God direct us in prayer, we must first ask him to direct us! This sounds simple, but I need to elaborate here. Many years ago, when I prayed, I would often pray as follows; “Lord, give me a girlfriend!”, “Lord, help me get this job”, “Lord, help me pass this exam”, “Lord, help me get over this illness”, etc. These are good things, and God because of His Love for us, often answers these prayers. But ultimately, praying this way will never lead to finding our mission in life. Actually, this way of praying is the opposite! This way of praying is effectively saying, “Lord, help me to do what I want to do”! It really is asking God to serve us, and actually reveals the attitude that I am more important that God! To begin to find our Vocation we must “Flip” that prayer, and pray similar to the following: “Lord, I want to do what matters to you. I know you gave me free will, so in my free will I give you permission to show me, and lead me, to what really matters to you. How can I use my time, talent, and treasure to do your will?” I believe that when we pray this way, and then examine each day’s events, bringing them back to prayer asking God explain to me what you are saying in the events of my life, we will soon see the gentle guiding hand of the Shepherd leading us to see and do what really matters to God! (To learn more about prayer, I recommend books by Thomas Green S.J.; “Opening to God”, “When the Well Runs Dry”, and “Drinking from a Dry Well”).
There is also another tool that I like to suggest, to help one find their Vocation. That is to write your autobiography, then take a highlighter and go over it and highlight all the things that bring you joy. Or highlight all the things that you would be proud to share with Jesus on your judgement day, the things that you think would really matter to God! Then, make the effort to restructure your life; choose your career, choose your friends, choose who you marry or if you will marry, choose how you spend your free time and your money, so that you maximize the highlighted items, and minimize the things that are not highlighted. These two things; praying to God to show you what matters, and looking at your life to see how God is trying to show you what matters, will go a long way to help you find your calling!
Working on the One Cause that would Solve all the World’s Problems!
In my discernment process I did employ these two above described methods, and they helped me eventually become a Franciscan Priest. Many years ago I worked as an electrical engineer in Aerospace. I loved the job! I spent many hours at the job! When programs or things got difficult at work, as I was given more responsibility, then I’d spend more hours on the job, and more of my remaining hours away from the job were often spent thinking about the job. For me, I eventually came to realize, my job was my God. (It was as if I was spending all my time like a child playing a game of monopoly.) One day a Franciscan priest invited us to come forward and pray after Mass in front of the Christmas Manger scene they were about to take down. For the first time in my life, I asked God to show me if there was a purpose to my life, a plan for me, instead of just telling God what I wanted Him to do for me. (That is, I “Flipped my Prayer”.) It took many years before I discerned a call to the Franciscans, but immediately after that prayer, I did begin to see the hand of God leaning me to find my Vocation. One of the events that God powerfully spoke to me through was a visit I made to a friend who had been a guitar player in a band in Los Angeles. He, by the Grace of God, admitted he was an alcoholic, and had moved back east to his family and to rebuild his life. When I visited He shared how he overcame his addiction. Recognizing his illness, when he had hit what felt like his lowest point, he called out to God in pain to save him. Just as he made that prayer, a man was driving by on a bicycle with many of his belongings strapped to the back of the bike, and from those belongings fell a bible. My friend picked up the bible, and over the next several weeks prayed with it, until he had a profound encounter with God, that cured him of his addiction, and caused him to decide to reorient his life. I was awed by the story, and we together gave God Praise and Thanks for the miracle! Then in turn, I shared with this friend how I was searching to find my call, and was thinking of leaving work to reorient my life. I shared the things I learned after doing the above exercise of writing my autobiography and highlighting the things that gave me joy. I told him I was thinking of being a teacher, social worker, engineer for clean energy, or working in other ways to make the world a better place. He asked me a question that seemed very simple at that time; “There are many good causes, why not just pick one and jump in and start helping with it?” In the days after our visit, this simple question continued to present itself to me when I prayed on the events of each day. I asked God, is it really that easy? Does it really matter which good cause I choose? Is any path just as good as any other? Then one day in prayer, it hit me, that yes there are many good causes to spend your time on, but what was the one cause that helped your friend? For my friend, it was being led to a life changing encounter with Jesus, that changed his life for the better! In prayer, I realized that this is the one cause, underlying all causes! The world becomes a better place by the conversion of each heart, one at a time, when each comes to know God and re-orient their lives around what really matters to God, that is each living their own vocation!
Since becoming a Franciscan Priest, I have done many good things; I have taught elementary and high school, coached basketball, baseball and golf, I’ve been a social worker, an associate pastor and a pastor. But more than the different “things” I did, the greatest joy and meaning in my life as a Franciscan Priest is seeing hearts converted to God through my ministry, especially in the ministries of counseling, confession, preaching, and witness to the Gospel as a Franciscan. It is a privilege that is “Out of this World” to see the power and presence of God at work, seeing prayers answered, seeing miracles, journeying with people in their lives of faith, and seeing lives change for the better because they have encountered the power of God!
Conclusion: Be Rich in What Matters to God!
In conclusion, the Gospel passage of today is meant to be shocking. That Jesus would choose the words “You Fool”, is shocking! It is I believe meant to shock us, so that we will not be caught by surprise like that rich man, and to motivate us not be foolish, but wise, and choose to spend our lives about what really matters to God! We are meant to realize what that rich man did not; that all we have, our time, our treasure and our talent, is a gift from God, and our gifts are not given to us to hold onto, but to give them to others. And, this is also our Greatest Joy!
Consider becoming a Franciscan! Learn more about us on this website! Join us at an upcoming event! Peace and All Good!