Homily laments those who live for appearances
During his morning Mass at the Casa Santa Marta Wednesday, Pope Francis warned Christians to beware of vanity, which takes one far from the truth and makes people seem like "soap bubbles."
Taking the first reading as his starting point, the Pope emphasized that when they do good, Christians must avoid the temptation to “make themselves seen.”
If you “do not have something substantial, you too will pass like all things,” Pope Francis said, taking his cue from the Book of Ecclesiastes.
Vanity is a temptation not only for pagans but also for Christians, for “people of faith.” Jesus, he noted, often rebuked those who boasted. He told the teachers of the law that they should not “walk down the streets” with “luxurious outfits,” like “princes.” When you pray, the Lord warned, do not do it to be seen, do not pray so that people will see you; “pray in secret, go to your room.”
You should do the same, the Pope said, when you help the poor: “Don’t sound the trumpet, do it secretly. The Father sees it, and that is enough”
“But the vain man [says]: ‘Look, I’m writing this check for the work of the Church’ and he shows off the check; then he scams the Church from behind. But this is what makes the vain man: he lives for appearances. ‘When you fast,’ the Lord says, ‘please do not be melancholy, sad, so that everyone will notice that you’re fasting. No, fast with joy; do penance with joy, so that no one will notice.’ This is vanity: it is living for appearances, living to be seen.”
“Christians who live that way,” he continued, “for appearances, for vanity, seem like peacocks, they strut about like peacocks.” They are the people who say, “I am a Christian, I am related to that priest, to that sister, to that bishop; my family is a Christian family.” They boast.
But, the Pope asked, “What about your life with the Lord? How do you pray? Your life in the works of mercy, how’s that going? Do you visit the sick?” This, he added, is why “Jesus tells us we must build our house — that is, our Christian life — on the rock, on the truth.” On the other hand, Jesus warned that “the vain build their house on sand, and that house falls, that Christian life falls, slips, because it is not able to resist temptations."
“How many Christians live for appearances? Their life seems like a soap bubble. The soap bubble is beautiful, with all its colors. But it lasts only a second, and then what? Even when we look at some monuments to the dead, we feel it’s vanity, because the truth is returning to the bare earth, as the Servant of God Paul VI said. The bare earth awaits us, this is our final truth. In the meantime, do I boast or do I do something? Do I do good? Do I seek God? Do I pray? Substantial things. And vanity is a liar, a fantasist, it deceives itself, it deceives the vain, because in the beginning he pretends to be [something], but in the end he really believes himself to be that, he believes. He believes it. Poor thing.”
And this, he emphasized, is what happened to the Tetrarch Herod who, as the day’s Gospel relates, asked anxiously about the identity of Jesus. “Vanity,” the Pope said, “sows wicked anxiety, takes away peace. It’s like those who put on too much make-up, and then are afraid the rain” will come “and all that make-up will come streaming down.”
Vanity does not give us peace, he repeated. “Only the truth gives us peace.” Pope Francis said Jesus is the unique rock on which we can build our life. “And we consider that this proposal of the devil, of the demon, also tempted Jesus to vanity in the desert,” saying to Him: “Come with me, let us go up to the temple, let us make a spectacle. Throw yourself down and everyone will believe in you.” The demon presented to Jesus “vanity on a platter.” Vanity, the Pope said, “is a particularly grave spiritual illness."
“The Egyptian Fathers of the desert said that vanity is a temptation against which we must battle our whole life, because it always comes back to take the truth away from us. And in order to understand this they said: It’s like an onion. You take it, and begin to peel it — the onion — and you peel away vanity today, a little bit tomorrow, and your whole life your peeling away vanity in order to overcome it," Pope Francis said, "And at the end you are pleased: I removed the vanity, I peeled the onion, but the odor remains with you on your hand. Let us ask the Lord for the grace to not be vain, to be true, with the truth of reality and of the Gospel.”