Most popular tourist spots in different countries are actually burial sites of great people. For example, the Pharaohs are buried in the pyramids of Egypt. In the province of Xian in northern China, there is a huge burial plot where hundreds of terra cotta soldiers are buried along with the emperor. In our very own country, one of our most popular tourist landmarks is the Luneta, where our national hero Jose Rizal is buried. And at the Quezon Memorial Circle in Quezon City lies buried the late President Manuel Luis Quezon.

These are beautiful burial places. What do we have to say about such burial sites? “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.

What is vanity? Let me present it to you by way of a parable.

Once upon a time, there was a big black bird that stole a large piece of meat that it wanted to eat all by itself. But there was a fox who wanted a piece of the meat, too, but it did not know how it could get the bird to let go of the meat from its beak. So the fox said to the bird, “You are so beautiful. Your feathers are so fine, like those of a fine dove. You are so beautiful, you must be the queen of all birds. You must have a very sweet voice, which is as beautiful as your feathers.” The blackbird was naturally tickled pink by the compliments and attempted to belt out a good song. This made it open its beak, the meat dropped, and the fox ran away.

That is vanity, the vanity of the blackbird who allowed itself to be flattered by the wily fox.

Picture a 16-year-old pretty girl who looks at herself for an hour each day in the mirror. One day her father notices that she spends so much time looking at her beautiful face in the mirror and tells her, “My dear, dear beloved daughter. If you are beautiful at 16, that is not your own effort; that is not your achievement. But if you are beautiful at 60, with a beauty that comes from within, then that is your achievement; you can be proud of that.”

You have all seen the face of Mother Teresa. It was wrinkled and old. She would hardly pass for a commercial model. But you and I agree that in this wrinkled, plain woman was a holy and beautiful heart. Vanity is for the 16-year-old, but when you are 60 years old, you exude the beauty that does not lie on the skin but comes from the heart, the opposite of vanity, that is holiness.

I once read a poem that said: “When I was a student, I was dying to finish college. And when I finished college, I was dying to get a job. And when I got a job, I was dying to get married. And when I got married, I was dying to have children. And when I had children, I was dying to have them grown. And when I saw them grown, I was dying to retire. Now that I am retired and my life on earth is numbered, I just realized that I forgot to live.”

We spend so much of our time dying, that we have lost the meaning of our life. The Gospel speaks to us along the same line; that is, making wrong priorities. The first mistake of the man in the Gospel is that he failed to look beyond himself. He thought that the only pronouns in the world were “I” and “me.”

But what are the five most beautiful words? They are, “I admit I was mistaken.” And the four most beautiful words are “What is your opinion?” And the three are “If you please.” The two most beautiful words are “Thank you.” But the most beautiful word is “you.”

If that is the case, then “I” is not only an ugly word but also an aggressive word that destroys relationships.

The second fault of the man in the Gospel is not only that he failed to look beyond himself but that he also failed to look beyond this world. He wanted to put his happiness on money. He was caught up by the principle in life that says that if you want to enjoy life, you must have money. When I was in high school, our P.E. teacher taught us how to play basketball. He gave me a good mark, but I did not learn how to play basketball. On our graduation day, he approached me and said, “Soc, in order to be happy in life, it is not necessary that you have the final winning score because the secret of happiness is not in winning. The secret of happiness is teamwork. When you play basketball and play as a team, whether you win or lose in the score, you are actually a winner. Your teamwork and your participation define you. Your score does not define you. Do not peg your happiness on the final score.”

Can you be happy without spending? Can you remain poor and yet remain at peace? Can we remain unknown, and yet It main tranquil within? The opposite of vanity is beauty of the heart. Let us be beautiful that way.

Mt 19:16-23
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