An old, well known story is told of a chicken farmer who found an eagle’s egg. He placed it with his chickens. As soon as the egg hatched, the young eagle grew up with all the other chickens. Whatever the chickens did, the eagle imitated. He thought that, like them, he was just a chicken. Like the chickens, the eagle learnt to fly only for a short distance. That was what he thought he was supposed to do. That was all what he thought he could do. Consequently, that was all he did. What you do follows what you think you are! Agere sequitur esse (Action follows being).
Watching a majestic bird soaring high one day, the eagle was very impressed and asked the hens: “What is that?” “That’s an eagle, the king of the birds,” the hens replied. “He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth, we are just chickens.” So the eagle lived and died as a chicken, for that’s what he thought he was. Taking a lesson from this story, St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei said, “Don’t fly like a barnyard hen when you can soar like an eagle”.
My brothers and sisters, oftentimes the earthly goods can blind us of our true identity. They can deceive us into thinking that our definitive home is this world. Earthly wealth can deviate us from our ultimate goal, that is, heaven, by directing our attention more on the things of this world rather than on the things that are above. Earthly goods can make us think we are just chickens, when in fact, we are, like eagles, created to soar high, touch the sky, and contemplate the sun. This seems to be the reminder for all of us, that we can get from our three readings today, the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Qohelet, (most probably King Solomon), in the First Reading, helps us notice of the vanity of seeking only the wealth of this world. “For here was a man who toiled in all wisdom, knowledge and skill and he must leave all to someone who has not worked for it”. In our contemporary and quite agitated world, we can express this reality by saying that “We work hard all these years at the expense of losing our health to gain more wealth. Afterwards, we spent all our wealth to regain our health”. “Vanity of vanities, says Qohelet, all is vanity!”
In the Second Reading, St. Paul emphasizes that greed for wealth is idolatry that we must put to death in ourselves. He says, “If you are risen with Christ… set your minds on the things that are above, not on earthly things. For you have died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God”. The Apostle is simply saying: “Look up. Soar high. Be like the eagles, not like the chickens!” Think that the wealth of this world is passing. It is better to store up treasures in heaven.
“Be on your guard and avoid every kind of greed, for even though you have many possessions, it is not that which gives you life”, Jesus explicitly warns us in the Gospel. Then, to emphasize His point, He told the parable of the foolish rich man who, after amassing earthly wealth, said to himself: “You have a lot of good things put by for many years. Rest, eat, drink and enjoy yourself”. But then, that very night, his life was taken. Jesus ended with a stern warning: “This is the lot of the one who stores up riches instead of amassing for God”.
But, my dear friends, this does not mean that to be wealthy is evil. The universal goods of this world – money, possessions, etc. – are meant to be used as instruments in order to store up heavenly treasures. Earthly goods are instruments for accumulating heavenly wealth. If God has given you more than enough wealth, in fact, excessively enough, it is to teach and to invite you to be generous just as God Himself is never outdone in generosity. St. Thomas Aquinas noticed that it is quite difficult for one to be materially generous with others if he could hardly find any food with which to feed himself. Another way of becoming like God, aside from forgiving others, is showing generosity to others. Generosity makes us soar high like the eagles; stinginess makes us stoop down on the ground like barnyard chickens!
Earthly goods like wealth, power and fame can become evil if they are worshiped as end in themselves rather than as means towards a greater and nobler end. These goods enslave us if we seek them for their own sake and not for the sake of serving others and of glorifying God. When a businessman, a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer, seeks money, power and fame for their own sake instead of that of others, they become slaves. But as God’s children, we are called to freedom: we are born free! Jesus has already freed us. Hence, we should be like eagles, not chickens.
Yet what the world considers vanity of vanities, if used properly according to its rightful purpose, can be a means towards doing lots of good to others. Let us continue to seek wealth, but with the aim of helping those in need. Let us redirect our concern from seeking worldly treasure, fame and power to seeking to please God. Making God smile can be the greatest treasure that we could find. Let us avoid every kind of greedy attitude for whatever earthly good. Our greatest longing should be how to love God above all things. We can only do this if we are certain that our purpose is to soar high, not to stoop down, if we are convinced that we are eagles, not chickens! Let us turn to Mary, our Blessed Mother for Her assistance and intercession. Amen.