Memento Mori and Striving for Eternal Merriment
User’s Guide to Sunday, Aug. 4
Sunday, Aug. 4, is the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C). Mass readings: Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23; Psalm 90:3-6, 12-14; Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11; Luke 12:13-21.
The first reading recalls the famous words from the beginning of Ecclesiastes. Qoheleth, which is a Hebrew title meaning “assembler” or “collector,” proclaims, “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” The Psalmist in the readings today then expresses a variation on the same theme as he describes the life span of a man to be as short as grass that “springs anew” in the morning “but by evening wilts and fades.” Life is short, and it is filled with passing goods.
It is in this context, then, that St. Paul brings the Good News to the Colossians. Earlier in this letter he teaches them that through baptism we are put to death with Christ so that we might be raised with him (Colossians 2:11-15). So he continues here by saying that baptism ought to have put to death our earthly desires as well as any earthly distinction. “Here there is not Greek and Jew…,” for “Christ is all and in all.” In Christ, all is renewed, and the Christian lives with him in glory.
Thus we come to the Gospel from St. Luke, where Our Lord warns us “to guard against all greed.” The cause of Jesus’ admonition is a man who demands that his brother be told by Jesus to share an inheritance. The Lord refuses to get involved, warns against greed and then tells the parable of a rich man who reaped a large harvest.
In the parable, the wealthy man decided to tear down his current barns to build larger ones in order to store all that he had gained. However, God called him a “fool,” for that night the rich man would die. Woe to the man, then, who stores up riches in this life but none for the next.
This parable from the Lord can seem harsh at first. Certainly, we recognize that money and possessions should not control our lives, but the rich man was seemingly just trying to be a good steward of the great harvest that was gifted to him. Upon closer inspection, however, one ought to note that, with the coming of one bountiful harvest, this wealthy man tore down the barns that had suited him quite well up to that point in order to spend great sums on new barns. He did it all for the hope of being able to “rest; eat; drink; be merry!”
The rich man’s folly is not his wealth, which can be a gift from the Lord even if, as the Fathers of the Church teach, it is a burdensome one. Rather, it is his disregard for that which “matters to God.” He plans out his life for the future, assured of his earthly longevity, as though the Lord’s providential will were of no concern.
So it is that all the readings today point to a central lesson which the monastic tradition expresses with the Latin phrase frater, memento mori, “brother, remember thy death.” We live a short life here on earth. For that reason, we should always “seek what is above,” as St. Paul says today. We ought to detach ourselves from the vanities of this world and work always to build up treasures in the next, where we shall truly rest, feast and be merry.
Omar Gutierrez is a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska.
He is the president and co-founder of the Evangelium Institute.