Antonio de Pereda – Allegory of vanity

VATICAN CITY, September 25, 2014 ( – Drawing from the first reading’s exclamation, “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” Pope Francis spoke today in his morning homily about Christians’ temptation to “make themselves seen” when doing good.

During his morning Mass at the Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis said to beware of vanity, which takes us far from the truth and makes us seem like “soap bubbles.”

If you “do not have something substantial, you too will pass like all things.”

Pope Francis took his cue from the Book of Ecclesiastes to dwell on vanity. Vanity is a temptation not only for the pagans but also for Christians, for “people of faith,” he said.

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 giving this check for the work of the Church’ and he shows the check; then he scams the Church from the other direction. But this is what makes the vain man: he lives for appearances. ‘When you fast,’ the Lord says to this, ‘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.’”

Vanity, the Pope warned, 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 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? Reality.” 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?” he said. “Their life seems like a soap bubble. The soap bubble is beautiful, with all its colours! But it lasts only a second, and then what? Even when we look at some funeral monuments, 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, Francis emphasised, 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 lives. “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 you’re peeling away vanity in order to overcome it. And at the end you are pleased: I removed the vanity, I peeled the onion, but the odour 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.”

Reading 1: Ecclesiastes 1:2-11

Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth,
vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!
What profit has man from all the labor
which he toils at under the sun?
One generation passes and another comes,
but the world forever stays.
The sun rises and the sun goes down;
then it presses on to the place where it rises.
Blowing now toward the south, then toward the north,
the wind turns again and again, resuming its rounds.
All rivers go to the sea,
yet never does the sea become full.
To the place where they go,
the rivers keep on going.
All speech is labored;
there is nothing one can say.
The eye is not satisfied with seeing
nor is the ear satisfied with hearing.
What has been, that will be;
what has been done, that will be done.
Nothing is new under the sun.
Even the thing of which we say, “See, this is new!”
has already existed in the ages that preceded us.
There is no remembrance of the men of old;
nor of those to come will there be any remembrance
among those who come after them.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 90

R. (1) In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.

You turn man back to dust,
saying, “Return, O children of men.”|
For a thousand years in your sight
are as yesterday, now that it is past,
or as a watch of the night.

R. In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.

You make an end of them in their sleep;
the next morning they are like the changing grass,
Which at dawn springs up anew,
but by evening wilts and fades.

R. In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.

Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain wisdom of heart.
Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!

R. In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.

Fill us at daybreak with your kindness,
that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days.
Prosper the work of our hands for us!
Prosper the work of our hands!

R. In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.

Gospel: Luke 9:7-9

Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening,
and he was greatly perplexed because some were saying,
“John has been raised from the dead”;
others were saying, “Elijah has appeared”;
still others, “One of the ancient prophets has arisen.”
But Herod said, “John I beheaded.
Who then is this about whom I hear such things?”
And he kept trying to see him.


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21 Responses to Vanity

  1. toadspittle says:

    “Christians who live that way,” he continued, “for appearances, for vanity, seem like peacocks, they strut about like peacocks.”
    Surely not Bishop Mark, or Cardinal Raymond Burke? Heavens no!

    “Jesus…. ….told the teachers of the law that they should not “walk down the streets” with “luxurious outfits,” like “princes.”
    All right to wear them in church, though.
    ….Being “Princes of the Church,” and all.


  2. kathleen says:

    No, surely not indeed Toad. So who exactly is Pope Francis referring to I wonder? We just have to try and guess I suppose. (Though such a description [“strutting peacocks”] would fit very well with the chappies walking in those abominable Gay Parades! 😉 )

    It is these very ambiguous statements of our dear Holy Father that continually puzzle and disconcert many Catholics I’m afraid.

    Boasting and vanity is wrong; we can surely all agree on that!
    But the priest’s wearing of the most beautiful vestments available, and using the most precious of chalices, patens etc. to hold and handle the Sacred Body and Blood of Jesus in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, is neither boastful nor vain. It is “right and fitting”.

    The humblest and poorest of priest saints understood this perfectly well.


  3. mkenny114 says:

    I really hope that’s not what he meant. It seemed to me that he was talking about people who boast about how virtuous they are or that identifying themselves as Christians automatically gives them a status of comparatively high righteousness (at least that’s what the preceding and succeeding comments seem to imply). Also, perplexing (and maddening) as Pope Francis’ decision to demote Cardinal Burke was, I don’t think he’d be daft enough to publicly make fun of people (like Burke and Bishop Davies), especially as he’s already hurt and confused many of the very people (including myself) who are very fond of them. So I don’t think we need to worry about that here (or at least I hope not…)

    Having said that though, it does seem increasingly clear, from other statements and actions of the Holy Father, that he does not really care for the Latin Mass, or the beautiful vestments and vessels used to glorify God in the Extraordinary Form, which are right and fitting indeed.


  4. mkenny114 says:

    Oops, completely missed (again) the bit about luxurious outfits, which is mentioned a little earlier! This, I admit, could be referring to vestments worn by people in the Church, but I still hope that the Pope wouldn’t make such allusions in public statements – I think he’s a lot cannier than most people give him credit for, and certainly knows what can be ‘bad PR’! In fact, his emphasis on PR in general is I think one of the things that has caused so many problems 🙂


  5. Brother Burrito says:

    I think his remarks about vanity are an indirect reference to what is not Holiness.

    Holiness is “un-self-consciousness”: It is not “I” who lives, but Christ who lives in me; I AM He who is. You are she who isn’t. Famous quotes by famous Saints.

    Vanity is the complete opposite of Holiness.

    Fine robes and language are completely appropriate for the highest liturgical worship, as long as the wearer and speaker are not pomped up by them.

    This is why we have servers and deacons and the GIRM: to reduce the load of self-consciousness of the celebrant.

    Finery must have as much effect on the celebrant as the shadow of a stick has on the dust of the garden.


  6. Brother Burrito says:

    Of note is the subfusc of clergy outside the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries, a deliberate contrast.


  7. mkenny114 says:

    I agree BB, this (what you wrote about vanity being the complete opposite of holiness) is certainly true. If however (and it very much remains an ‘if’) Pope Francis was making a reference to the sort of vestments used in the TLM as being an example of behaviour that is particularly prone to vanity, then he leaves himself open to the parallel accusation that drawing attention to simplicity of dress and rejection of ceremony is itself not a very humble thing to do, and points to the ‘I’ just as much as someone who became too absorbed in high ceremony. In fact, the latter case is worse as it also involves a great deal of self-righteousness, which is very much oppposed to holiness as well.


  8. Damian says:

    John Chrysostom on all that gold on the altar:
    “Of what use is it to weigh down Christ’s table with golden cups, when he himself is dying of hunger? …. Apply this to Christ when he comes along the roads as a pilgrim, looking for shelter… Do not, therefore, adorn the church and ignore your afflicted brother, for he is the most precious temple of all” (On the Gospel of Matthew, Hom. 50).


  9. toadspittle says:

    Well, very interesting responses.
    Of course, we can only surmise, but I get the strong impression that a great many people enjoy dressing up in splendid finery and marching about. It takes all sorts, etc.
    And Kathleen is correct, in my opinion, to bring up the existence of “Gay Parades.”
    Still, no harm done – as long as the marchers have a nice time, as they are clearly doing in the splendid Dome of Home video. (Not that the parade on there can be construed, in any manner, as a “Gay Parade,” just a very pretty one. Whether or not it constitutes a suitable advertisement for the Church is debatable, I think.

    “But the priest’s wearing of the most beautiful vestments available,”
    Yes, this is, of course, entirely a matter of taste, noting to do with worship – but I find beauty more in austerity, myself.
    I seem to be alone in this. As usual.
    Lace and sky blue nighties, and scarlet trains 25 feet long, don’t appeal all that much to me.
    But then, I’m only a toad.

    This is fascinating:


  10. kathleen says:

    Toad, as usual you have twisted the meaning of the point I was trying to make.

    Dressing up and strutting around to bring attention to ONESELF is vanity.

    Dressing in fine and beautiful vestments to cover one’s unworthy person and to hold OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST in precious vessels is right, fitting and gives due reverence.

    It really annoys me how the most humble and holy of the Church’s priests and bishops are slandered for giving honour and glory to God, and those that dress up as clowns and rainbows (thus making a mockery of Our Blessed Lord) are lauded and admired. The world is going mad!!

    This is what one of the humblest and poorest of saints, St. Francis of Assisi, had to say about how priests should dress and behave when celebrating the Holy Sacrifice:

    “I beg you more than if it were a question of myself that, when it is becoming and you will deem it convenient, you humbly beseech the clerics to venerate above all the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Name and written words which sanctify the body. They ought to hold the chalices, corporals, ornaments of the altar, and all that pertain to the Sacrifice as precious. And if the most holy Body of the Lord is left very poorly in any place, let It be moved by them to a precious place, according to the command of the Church and let It be carried with great veneration and administered to others with discretion. The Names also and written words of the Lord, In whatever unclean place they may be found, let them be collected, and then they must be put in a proper place. And in every time you preach, admonish the people about penance and that no one can be saved except he that receives the most holy Body and Blood of the Lord. And whenever It is being sacrificed by the priest on the altar and It is being carried to any place, let all the people give praise, honour, and glory to the Lord God Living and True on their bended knees. And let His praise be announced and preached to all peoples so that at every hour and when the bells are rung praise and thanks shall always be given to the Almighty God by all the people through the whole earth.”

    P.S. Toad, your link is to a dissident Catholic site, supporter of gay ‘marriage’, that quotes from the totally discredited “Fishwrap” (National Catholic* Reporter), and written by one of those notorious ageing feminists!! You should be ashamed of yourself.

    * How dare it call itself Catholic!


  11. toadspittle says:

    “* How dare it call itself Catholic!”
    No good asking Toad that. What does he know?

    I notice St. Francis doesn’t comment on whether elaborate gold finery and lace should, or should not – be worn by the celebrants.
    He does say: “They ought to hold the chalices, corporals, ornaments of the altar, and all that pertain to the Sacrifice as precious.”
    If you read this carefully, you will realise that Francis is not saying that these things must BE precious – but that they must be treated as if they are. If you has a chalice made of steel, it would still be precious, wouldn’t it, because of its function?
    And I still think Raymond Cardinal Burke looks very silly in the link. Surely I’m not the only one? He looks like a little old woman dressed up as a little old man in drag. But that’s only my opinion.
    We shall just have to differ on this fashion issue.
    Doesn’t happen often, I know. But.

    “The world is going mad!!”
    It’s my belief that world has been mad from the moment human beings evolved consciousness of their predicament – possibly some 150,000 years ago.
    That’s why all the other animals. except for us, are “sane.”


  12. GC says:

    kathleen, you can almost hear toads piteously croaking “no potatos, no popery”, can’t you. And I think the lady is an Anglican.

    I am fairly confident that Catholic worship descends from both synagogue worship and that of the temple with its sacrifice. As much as toads might wish that we also limit ourselves to austere synagogue fashions, much like our protestant acquaintances, I think we have to say “real sorry, but no can do”.

    Exodus 28:6-14

    . . . and they shall make the ephod of gold blue purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, artistically worked. It shall have two shoulder straps joined at its two edges, and so it shall be joined together. And the intricately woven band of the ephod, which is on it, shall be of the same workmanship, made of gold, blue, purple and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen. Then you shall take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel: six of their names on one stone, and six names on the other stone, in order of their birth. With the work of an engraver in stone, like the engravings of a signet, you shall engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel. You shall set them in settings of gold. And you shall put the two stones on the shoulders of the ephod as memorial stones for the sons of Israel. So Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD on his two shoulders as a memorial. You shall also make settings of gold, and you shall make two chains of pure gold like braided cords, and fasten the braided chains to the settings.


  13. toadspittle says:

    “….And I think the lady is an Anglican.”
    Yes, that would explain Toad’s Agnosticism, wouldn’t it?
    Why did you feel the need to say that, GC? A bit snitty for you, maybe? Still, we both had a laugh.

    Sounds like a really snazzy outfit from The House of Exodus, Carnaby Street, GC.
    Does (or, in fact, did) Raymond Cardinal Burke have one just like it?
    No doubt Bishop Mark does, in The Dome Dressing Up Box.
    I think you can get the Epods on Ebay.

    My point is this: The outfits in the excellent Dome of Home movie will inevitably strike some people as effeminate. In view of the rather jaundiced view of the Church and unfortunate connotations of pederasty these days – cheered on by the Loony and irresponsible Media – do we really need this sort of image broadcast?
    I really don’t care, one way or the other, myself.
    I’m tolerant of manly fellows who like to clad themselves, and small boys, in swathes of lacy finery – and then go flouncing about the streets. As long as they lawfully get their kicks, and don’t scare my dogs.
    Does me no harm at all …Just not my cup of tea. Looks bad, I think.

    “No Popery?” Can’t get enough of it, these days! (What with him in his big, black, boots. So butch!)

    Too much to hope it’s Damian the leprechaun, I suppose.

    “…simplicity of dress and rejection of ceremony is itself not a very humble thing to do, and points to the ‘I’ just as much as someone who became too absorbed in high ceremony.”
    …There goes the entire monastic tradition. deep-sixed by Michael – who dresses neither too grandly nor too humbly – but just right, thank God.


  14. toadspittle says:

    “On his head the High Priest wore a turban or mitre of fine linen which was bound around the head in coils like a turban or tiara.”

    Cardinal Raymond and Bishop Mark would both look utterly ducky in turbans. Perhaps they already do. Not a bit “show-offy.” And “coils” are very modish this year, according to the Fashion Editors of The Tablet and The Jewish Chronicle.
    …And how pleased Kathleen would be to see the lads in turbans.


  15. Nicholas Hinde says:

    Ostentation in “humility” seems to characterise this Pope himself


  16. mkenny114 says:

    That was a very dishonest piece of editing Toad! What I wrote was:

    ‘…drawing attention to simplicity of dress and rejection of ceremony is itself not a very humble thing to do’

    The first two words are the key ones. There is certainly nothing wrong with simplicity of dress, it is the lauding of one’s simplicity (and by extension the lauding of one’s humility) – something which is often found in those amongst the clergy who reject ceremony – which is prideful. Also, as I mentioned before, becoming pride of how oh-so simple and humble one is can be a lot more dangerous for the soul than enjoying ceremony and ceremonial dress, as the former attitude is much more likely to lead to self-righteousness.

    The monastic tradition, in contrast, is not setting itself up against anything, nor revelling in its simplicity – the simple garb that monks wear is representative of their rejection of the trappings of the world, not a rejection of the legitimate use of beautiful things in the worship of God (something the Three Wise Men understood very well). As for my own dress sense, I think the only thing way in which it relates to either monastic or clerical dress is that I pretty much wear the same thing(s) all the time 🙂


  17. toadspittle says:

    It wasn’t dishonest, Michael – just my honest interpretation of what you said.
    Maybe I misunderstood you. “It is impossible to speak in such a way that one cannot be misunderstood,” says Popper.
    Rather like Kathleen, who appears to believe that anyone who expresses a different opinion to hers must be lying, or at least distorting the facts.
    Viz: “Toad, as usual you have twisted the meaning of the point I was trying to make.”

    Not so, I think.
    (Paltry handfuls of “thumbs down” for Toad, on here. Got him a bit concerned.)


  18. kathleen says:

    “kathleen, you can almost hear toads piteously croaking “no potatos, no popery”, can’t you.”

    Ah yes dear GC, we certainly can, (big sigh). But you see we have to be tolerant (this is, after all, the post-VII era) and indulge old toads, who have nothing else better to do on a Sunday afternoon than to get up to shenanigans. That could include: to quote people out of context to annoy tham, twist their words, tell a few lies, poke fun at good and holy priests, and be as repetitively offensive and absurd as only toads know how. And for toads to be ignored like this after so much hard work is just appalling! Come on folks, where are all those ‘thumbs down’ that make toads gloat and grin?

    Yes GC, it is all rather tedious (yawn) and booooring, I agree, but let’s look on the bright side of things. Putting up with toads i.e., not returning the ‘spittle’, just might knock off a bit of ‘time’ from our Purgatory. 🙂
    And one day even toads will have to meet their Creator to give an account of how they lived their toady lives. For toads have been exceedingly VAIN and lacking in humility and charity.


  19. mkenny114 says:


    Whilst I (sort of) agree with your quote Popper, it is only in the sense that there is almost always someone who will misunderstand what you are saying, not that it is impossible to make clear statements that are easy to understand. In this case, I thought what I wrote was fairly clear, and the reason I thought you had deliberately misrepresented it was because of the lack of the three words you failed to include in the quote (‘drawing attention to’). Given that they were right there in front of the rest of the passage you quoted, I found it very hard to see how you could have innocently misunderstood my meaning.

    Similarly, I can perfectly understand Kathleen’s saying that you had deliberately twisted her meaning, as what you wrote in rejoinder to her point was so different in emphasis from what she had indeed written that it is hard to believe you had simply misunderstood her. Furthermore, I think that to say that Kathleen ‘appears to believe that anyone who expresses a different opinion to hers must be lying, or at least distorting the facts’ is patently untrue and more than a little unfair, especially given the many patient responses she has given to those with whom she disagrees in the past. I suggest, perhaps after reflection on what you’re actually suggesting here, that maybe an apology might be in order?


  20. kathleen says:

    @ Michael

    Many thanks to you, my gallant chivalrous ‘defender’, on this feast day of your holy namesake! 🙂


  21. toadspittle says:

    Always happy to apologise, Michael – and so I will.
    To you both.
    Although I do not lie, as you know. (Unless of course it is clearly in my interests to do so, same as anybody.)


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