It’s harder than you might think

Not too long ago my wife retired. For much of the past twenty years her work has kept her away from home, traveling across the country and beyond the border into Canada. While having her home full time has been and is a true blessing, as you may well imagine some adjustments have been necessary on each of our parts.

The Rich Fool

The Rich Fool

For the first time in over forty-eight years we have suddenly and it would appear, quite irrevocably become that proverbial “old married couple.” We no longer have somewhere else to go when we wake up in the morning. After more than twenty years there are no more early morning flights to catch or late night arrivals to meet. No more meetings to attend, no more conference calls to schedule, no more client calls to make, no more reports to write, no more board presentations to create and present, etc., etc., etc. The question she now has to ask herself is “what to do now with all this time on my hands?

While I retired some years ago, my diaconal duties have occupied my days for the most part; add in my writing and I often wonder precisely what retirement is truly meant to be. So, when my wife surprised me with her decision to retire, my first thought was “what will she do to fill the time?

After all this was the woman who had risen every morning at five to begin work for as long as I could remember and who seldom left the office or quit working when at home before eight at night, most often seven days a week.

Any concerns that I had were quickly laid to rest. From the moment that she arrived home with a car stuffed with “stuff”, it has been nonstop busy! What I did not anticipate (but should have after so many years knowing her) was that she already had a well-devised plan and there was no time to waste in implementing it.

As you may recall, when a rich young man approached Jesus and asked him “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus told him that beyond keeping the commandments which the young man admitted he observed, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” “When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”1

It is human nature to need and want those things which sustain us, shelter us, clothe us, and protect us. The problem is very few know when to stop accumulating “stuff” beyond the basic needs. And even fewer are willing to let go of even those things which are either no longer needed, wanted, or useful. When we run out of space to store our “stuff” we simply build yet another barn, purchase a larger house, or rent storage space.  And then we just go on as before, continuing to accumulate more “stuff.”

When we read the second verse in Ecclesiastes we tend to infer to “vanity” the modern notion of excessive belief in one’s own abilities or attractiveness to others, yet the original meaning is what makes the most sense, that is: something that is “empty, valueless, or in vain.” Listen to Qoheleth again with this new understanding: “Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!2 He is saying that all “things” are in vain, empty, and valueless for we cannot take any of it with us. Everything we accumulate or do is, in the end, in vain.

For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun? All his days sorrow and grief are his occupation; even at night his mind is not at rest. This also is vanity.

All the suffering and grief we experience in whatever occupation we engage; all the sleepless nights spent worrying and fretting over what needs or must be done tomorrow — in the end it will all be for nothing, it will all be in vain for we cannot take it with us when we die.  All that you consider so important, all that you care about you will ultimately lose and there is absolutely nothing you can do to prevent it. That is why Qoheleth says all things are vanity. Whatever good there is in them is transient; they will die when you do.

Look around you and consider all that you possess and ask yourself: “Do I possess them or do they possess me?” Whom or what do you love more: yourself and all your possessions or God?  Again, ask yourself precisely how much you will care for all that you now possess when you come before God? The truth is that when you do stand before God neither you nor God will care one whit about them.

Saint Paul places it all in proper perspective when he writes: “seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” 3 As long as we focus on accumulating “stuff” we will never seek what is above, it really is that simple. As Paul goes on to explain:

Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry. Stop lying to one another, since you have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all.4

We must also not ignore those things which we seldom consider to be possessions, those parts that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, greed, anger, fury, malice, slander, and obscene language. We tend to accumulate that kind of “stuff’ as much if not more so than all that material “stuff”.

One thing that must be said is this: Jesus doesn’t demand that we get rid of everything or anything for that matter. What he wants us to understand is that the more “stuff” we accumulate, the more that “stuff” will possess us and consume us and the less we will seek what is above and that is God.

Forty-eight years and eighteen moves have provided more than ample opportunities to accumulate “stuff” and as we have begun to discover much of the accumulated “stuff” has been long lost and forgotten over the years. Clothes that have inexplicably shrunk, children’s boots, shoes, and coats where no child has lived and now never will, old technology that has gathered dust behind boxes filled with broken stuff. The list never shrinks but only grows with each passing hour.

The plan was, has been, and continues to be to “get rid of all that stuff” and it would seem that the more we give away, the more there remains to be found, sorted through, boxed or bagged, and then delivered to those who could make far better use of it.

What has surprised the most has been the insistent resistance, the reluctance to give it all away. The mind disposes what the heart opposes. Certainly not with every item but with enough to cause the mouth to want to utter: “Stop, hold on, let’s keep that!

If you have never tried to give it all away you cannot understand how difficult it can be. Your possessions will in no small way come to possess you; and like Velcro they will sink their hooks in and hold fast to you. And all the while you try to disengage your focus is on the effort to do so. All but forgotten is the one who is most important: God.

Let us hope that we will never hear him say: “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?


Homily # 080
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time — Cycle C
Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23
Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11
Luke 12:13-21

1 Mt 19:16-22.
2 Eccl 1:2.
3 Col 3:2.
4 Col 3:5-11.

Deacon Chuck

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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