Vanity of Vanities

Eccl 1:2, 2:21-23 / Col 3:1-5, 9-11 / Lk 12:13-21

Before any of us goes into the confessional, we usually spend a few minutes making an examination of conscience. There are many great examinations of conscience out there to help guide us, and they’re usually always based upon the Ten Commandments. They give us questions to meditate upon concerning each commandment. When someone comes into the confessional who hasn’t been for a long time, I usually do the same thing with him. I walk him through an examination of conscience using the Ten Commandments as a guide.

What I find, though, is that when we examine our consciences today, we tend to very flippantly pass right through the first commandment: “No, I haven’t worshipped any false gods or committed idolatry.” But I truly believe that this is one of the most pervasive sins of our society; and it’s what all three of today’s readings warn us about, the idolatry that is vanity as Ecclesiastes calls it and the idolatry that is greed as St. Paul and our Lord call it.

Idolatry today very rarely takes the form that it did in the ancient world: making graven images and bowing down before them in worship. Today, idolatry takes a far more subtle, and, hence, more dangerous form. At least with a graven image, the idolatry is obvious, and, therefore, easier to defend against. But today idolatrous acts just kind of creep into our life without us even knowing about it.


Idolatry is when we give divine worship or honor to anyone or anything other than God, when we worship creation rather than the Creator. In other words, when our relationships with people or things becomes more important than our relationship with God. We can easily see how this is Satan’s strategy; for he, too, is a creature. So if he can get us to worship creatures rather than the Creator, then the battle’s half won; for he is the most powerful of all creatures.

One example of the subtlety of modern day idolatry can be seen in a disordered desire for human respect. When we desire human respect, the respect of our peers, more than divine respect, the respect of our God, then we’ve placed the opinions of creatures over the opinion of the Creator. We care more about what other people think of us than we do about what God thinks of us. That’s a disordered desire for human respect.

Have you ever noticed that most sins are committed in private, where we don’t think that people see we’re committing the sin? Now, of course, we can never hide from God, so He always sees, which means that we’re willing to sin when God is watching, but not when others are watching. So what does that say about our opinion of God? Well, it says that we care far less about divine respect than we do about human respect; and that’s idolatry.

The same is true when one chooses to be politically correct rather than stand up for the teachings of the Church, when one judges the Church through the eyes of secular ideologies rather than judging secular ideologies through the eyes of the Church. Why is that idolatry? Because the Church was divinely instituted by Christ: “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church” (Mt 16:18). The Church was promised the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Our Lord promised to be with His Apostles as they taught and baptized in the name of the Trinity until “the close of the age” (Mt 28:19). Well, obviously, the age has not yet closed, so He is still with His Apostles through their successors, the bishops. So when the Church speaks in matters of faith and morals, matters that are essential for our salvation, then she is speaking as the mouthpiece of God. Hence, when one stands in judgment of the Church, one is standing in judgment of God, which places one above God. So one’s faith is no longer in God, in the truths that He has revealed to us, but rather in oneself, in one’s own abilities. Well, if one’s faith is in oneself, then one is worshiping oneself, which is, of course, idolatry.