Thursday, August 8, 2019

“All Things Are Vanity” (Ecc 1:2)

When that day comes, hopefully my son would also be confident that his dad “is rich in what matters to God” (Luke 12:21).

Soon after my dad’s funeral about 4 years ago, my siblings in New York City and I had to clear out his senior apartment in order to return it to the housing authority. A few weeks ago, I had to do the same for my mother-in-law; her senior apartment had been her residence for more than 15 years. But this time, it was done with my son’s assistance and for a different reason: she had been admitted into a senior home. Although the two experiences and the circumstances were not exactly identical, the emptiness and sinking feelings that captivated my heart as I went through my loved ones’ personal belongings were eerily the same.

It was a painstaking process of examining, reminiscing over, and eventually getting rid of somebody’s very personal possessions: old letters, including some written by me; cassette tapes and CDs that were familiar to me when growing up or younger; tarnished photos with images of people known to me, including images of myself and my family members; personal contacts; exquisite gifts and fine clothes from their loved ones, including me, that were tucked away neatly in special places. It’s a heartbreaking process that ended in the riddance of many things that had once been so dear to the heart of the deceased or the person no longer living there. It was also a very intimate process because what I sifted through were somebody’s personal possessions accumulated over many years. I was privileged to enter the personal chamber of somebody’s life.

“Vanity of vanities…All things are vanity!”, this Sunday’s first reading is ringing out loud in my head as I reflect on the above experiences (Ecc 1:2). In the gospel, Jesus also cautions us not to follow the footsteps of the rich man in his parable, who spends many years of his life storing up earthly “good things” but “is not rich in what matters to God” (Luke 12:19, 21).

Nobody other than God Himself can judge whether somebody is saved (Mt. 7:1). As St. Paul explains, “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees?” (Rm 8:24). But when it comes to my dad and my mother-in-law, I know the heavenly treasures that they have stored for themselves are plentiful; I am convinced, having lived and interacted with them for so many years, that throughout their lives they have followed St. Paul’s teaching in the second reading closely and sought “what is above” (Col 3:1). The realization is of great consolation to me.

As I methodically sifted through my mother-in-law’s belongings together with my son, I couldn’t help but realize that when the time comes for me to check into a senior home or leave this world, he just might be the one doing the same painstaking work for me. When that day comes, hopefully his heart, burdened inevitably by the same emptiness and sinking feelings that had once burdened his dad’s, would also be lifted up in faith and hope, believing that his dad “is rich in what matters to God” (Luke 12:21).