What do you live for?  Some live for work.  This is vanity.  For if the meaning of life is found in work, then life becomes drudgery.  Indeed, the author of Ecclesiastes bemoans, “for what does he gain for all the toil and strain that he has undergone under the sun? What of all his laborious days, his cares of office, his restless nights?”  Perhaps you live for power and status.  Well, this is also vanity.  Great leaders, presidents and prime ministers, famous movie stars and singers have come and gone.  One day, we will have to relinquish our office and positions to someone else.  And once out of office, like those once great and famous people, we will languish away quietly and fade from the world.

What if you live for money and wealth?  That too is vanity.  The truth in life is that nothing lasts.  At any rate, money cannot buy you everything in life.  Money cannot buy love and peace.  In fact, the more money you have, the more worries and anxieties there are.  Most of all, you cannot bring your money to your grave.  Hence, once again as the author laments, “a man who has laboured wisely, skillfully and successfully must leave what is his own to someone who has not toiled for it at all.”   Lastly, maybe you live for pleasure.  But can one find fulfillment in sensual pleasure alone?  Are we mere animals that can be satisfied by the physical and material needs alone?  Do we not have spirits that cry out for fulfillment? So pleasure too is vanity!

The stark truth is that even when we have status, power, money and the luxuries of life, we are not much happier.  In fact, surveys have shown that increase in status, power, wealth and luxury do not bring a corresponding increase in happiness.  They might give us some satisfaction but not happiness. There is a limit to the satisfaction that power, money and luxury can bring to a person. Once the limit is reached, greed begins to take control of our life. We become increasingly dissatisfied and this greed will eventually destroy our happiness and peace.

What is most frustrating in life is that after all the hard work accumulating wealth, power and status, we live in fear and anxiety.  Quite often, the people who are beneficiaries of our wealth and inheritance are ungrateful.  Even at our deathbed we can hear our loved ones fighting for their share of our property and wealth.

In the light of all these, the author of the first reading could not but be pessimistic because of the great injustices of life. Life is unfair! Ironically, many of those who commit suicide are seldom poor, but people who are rich, powerful and famous. In spite of their success and fame, they find life meaningless. Having attained all they wanted, they found success a disillusion, as it has not brought them real happiness.  So why invest so much energy to work for something so transient?  Why spend our whole life making a living when we do not know how to live?

For this reason, Jesus warns us, “Watch, and be on your guard against avarice of any kind, for a man’s life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs.”  Security and happiness in life is not determined by our possessions.  Even though what we own can provide some security, it cannot fulfill our emotional, affective and spiritual needs.  Life is surely vanity if we think that it is simply about physical wealth, prestige and power or even pleasure.

Where, then, can we find happiness in life?  We must live for a higher purpose. The truth is that we cannot live only for this world or for ourselves alone.  Such a life is always a life under threat and is meaningless.  What is this higher goal that St Paul is inviting us to aspire to? We are called to live for others by living for God.  We must go beyond ourselves.  We must live in a transcendent manner, living transcendent values.  St Paul says, “since you have been brought back to true life with Christ, you must look for the things that are in heaven, where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand. Let your thoughts be on heavenly things, not on the things that are on the earth, because you have died.”

It is the life of the Spirit, the life of God.  This is what Jesus is inviting us in today’s gospel as well.  He warns us not to store up treasure for ourselves in place of making ourselves rich in the sight of God.  The only treasure that can last is when we are rich in God, which is to share in His life.  The good news is that this treasure is already given to us in Christ.  St Paul reveals to us that the true meaning of life is sharing in the life “hidden with Christ in God. But when Christ is revealed – and he is your life – you too will be revealed in all your glory with him.”

In other words, what is the meaning of life and its happiness if not to become Christ and to share in His life?  Our goal and purpose of life is to be restored in the image and likeness of God.  St Paul says, “you have put on a new self which will progress towards true knowledge the more it is renewed in the image of its creator.”

What is the life of Christ?  It is a life of love and selfless service.  It is a life that is concerned with values and virtues.  Such is the life of the Spirit and being rich in the sight of God.  Indeed, when we look at the life of Christ, it is about relationship, love and service.

Relationship makes life meaningful.  Only a right relationship with God, others and ourselves can give us fulfillment and happiness.  One of the main reasons for our unhappiness in life is disunity in our family, workplace and community.  Quarrels, misunderstandings and broken relationships cause us to be upset and incomplete.  What is the use of bringing so much money home when there is no peace in the house because your spouse is fighting with you; and your siblings are fighting among themselves or even not talking to you?

Indeed, it is for relationship that Christ came into this world, to put us in right relationship with God and with each other.  St Paul tells us “there is no room for distinction between Greek and Jew, between the circumcised or the uncircumcised, or between barbarian and Scythian, slave and free man. There is only Christ: he is everything and he is in everything.”  In Christ, we become one. This is what the reconciling work of Christ is all about.

Besides relationship, what makes us happy is when we are able to go beyond ourselves to care for others through selfless service. St Paul urges us, “you must kill everything in you that belongs only to earthly life: fornication, impurity, guilty passion, evil desires and especially greed, which is the same thing as worshipping a false god; and never tell each other lies. You have stripped off your old behaviour with your old self.”

Hence, Jesus’ advice to us all is that we must store for ourselves the riches of God. We do this by cultivating virtues such as love, forgiveness and compassion.  We must realize that what we do in life will build up our character for better or for worse.  Every time we do something wrong, selfish or evil, we reinforce negative attitudes in us.  Conversely, when we do good works, even if it is a small act of good deed, we increase our capacity to love.  Our whole life is really a pilgrimage, pedagogy, when we learn to grow in love and selflessness through our struggles in relationships and the difficulties of loving.  If we pursue that direction, we will build up our Christian character and restore our image in Christ.

With the invitation to a life in Christ as our goal, there is also a warning not to procrastinate and live in false security.  Whatever time, talents and money we have we should use them for personal sanctification through a life of charity without expecting any return.  In this way, when the time comes for us to leave this world, we can depart in peace without any unfinished agenda or unresolved issues.  If not, we would have to endure the restlessness and the pains of not being able to let go of this life to return to God.  For at the end of our lives, what remains is only the soul, that is, the “I”, our thoughts, feelings, our mind and heart!  If our hearts remain resentful and selfish, we cannot leave this world in peace.  Our attachment, anger and unforgiveness will return to haunt us.

One thing that is certain about life is this: death. The question we must ask ourselves today is:  How do you want to die?  The way we respond to this question will determine how we should live our lives now.  Do you want to end your life in misery, anger, resentment, and bitterness, feeling that life has been unjust to you?  Or do you want to let go of all that you have, be these riches or negative feelings, so that you can be free from selfishness and be free for love and service.   It is better that we die poor and be rich in heaven.  We die poor when we have given our lives in service and love to others.  In emptying ourselves for others, we enrich ourselves with love, generosity, goodness and kindness.  A rich life is one of love, compassion and detachment.  This is the life of God.  So if we want to avoid falling into a state of disillusionment at the end of our lives, we must start living now by loving and serving and sharing until we extinguish ourselves. For when we are not, then Christ lives in us and everything is in Christ.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved

Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
  1. Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
  2. Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
  3. It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.

Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online, nor will they be available via email requests.