The First Chapter
Imitating Christ and Despising All Vanities on Earth
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"What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God? Vanity of vanities and all is vanity, except to love God and serve Him alone."
Learning clearly has an
important place in our lives. Indeed, God gave us an intellect to use
for His glory. Unfortunately, so much of our learning is both abused
and misused. We look at the world about us and see the evil ends to
which learning has been twisted and manipulated ... and with what tragic
consequences! Such brilliance culminating in such tragedy! Learning
has become a commodity that is sold for profit by our universities to
the few who can afford it... and then by the graduates to the highest
bidder, whatever the product, whatever the service, whatever the end.
Our stores abound with books on religion for "spiritual knowledge" ...
at a price ... and however questionable the knowledge acquired — and
once acquired, how often misused! For many people "knowledge" itself
is an instrument of power and self aggrandizement. They can quote chapter
and verse in the Bible, even teach the Bible (for a price) —
but are totally unwilling to put God's word into practise.
Not everyone can be "learned". God knows this. He apportions His gifts as He wills. But everyone can be humble. And it is the humble who are heard by God. With humility comes the deeper realization of our need of God and His grace. The "learned", the proud, and the arrogant have ever been at odds with God. "I thank you, Father, that you have kept these things from the wise and the learned and revealed them to the little ones." (St. Mat. 11.25). It is not in virtue of our "knowing" but in virtue of our loving that God reveals His secrets.
Does not Scripture say that "Mary kept all these things in her heart" ... not in her head?
Empty your head and open your heart if you would know God.
Your Little Sisters in Christ
"This is the greatest wisdom—to seek the kingdom of Heaven through contempt of the world. It is vanity, therefore, to seek and trust in riches that perish. It is vanity also to court honor and to be puffed up with pride. It is vanity to follow the lusts of the body and to desire things for which severe punishment later must come. It is vanity to wish for long life and to care little about a well-spent life. It is vanity to be concerned with the present only and not to make provision for things to come. It is vanity to love what passes quickly and not to look ahead where eternal joy abides. Often recall the proverb: “The eye is not satisfied with seeing nor the ear filled with hearing.”(11 Eccles. 1:8). Try, moreover, to turn your heart from the love of things visible and bring yourself to things invisible. For they who follow their own evil passions stain their consciences and lose the grace of God."
God has made all things good. All things flow out and from His goodness. The contempt of the world expressed here is to be understood in the spirit of Saint Paul, who tells us that, by comparison to the things of God, everything else is so much rubbish, debris only. The things of God and the things of this world are incomparable. In light of this immense disparity, we must to set the priority of our heart upon God and His kingdom. Everything else is destined to ruin. All things will pass.
We see this so clearly when we begin to grasp how quickly our own lives are passing. Vanity is the state of pointlessness or futility — and so it is vanity to set all our hopes, to invest all our trust upon the things of this present world. It is a sobering reality that we can virtually loose all our worldly goods overnight (as many recently have ...), and even our health ... And how much energy is futilely spent on trying to prolong life or the semblance of youth by the most extraordinary means — as though by sheer will and a sufficient amount of money, we can stave off the inevitable! Our benchmark as Christians cannot, must not, be so vain and so crass. We must come to understand that it is the quality of our love that matters, how we love and serve others. In focusing upon God and others we lose focus on ourselves.
We are told in the citation above that the human senses are never satisfied. Nor can they ever be. Even if we satiate ourselves we inevitably regurgitate. Like pagans at the Roman vomitoriums, we attempt to satisfy all our desires until we are surfeit, disgorge them, and attempt to replenish them anew. We never learn the vanity of it all, the inherent futility ... because we are too busy squandering our lives on ourselves.
For the Christian — then, as now — it is quite otherwise. We come to realize that all that God created is intended as a Sacrament that will lead us to Him ... and not to ourselves.
In the words of Saint Clare, O wondrous exchange to exchange the things of time for those of eternity.
Your Little Sisters in Christ
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Pope Saint Pius X
“I shall spare myself
neither care nor labor nor vigils for the salvation of souls”