Pope Francis speaks as he leads his weekly audience Sept. 21 in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters

Vanity is osteoporosis of the soul

By  Vatican Radio
  • September 22, 2016

Pope Francis contrasted the anxiety that comes from the Holy Spirit and the anxiety that comes from a dirty conscience. During his homily during the daily Mass at the Casa Santa Marta, he also spoke about vanity, which “masks” life, making it look like something it is not.

Two forms of anxiety

The Gospel of the day describes King Herod (Antipas) as being perplexed or anxious because, having had John the Baptist killed, he now felt threatened by Jesus. He was worried just as his father, Herod the Great, was troubled after the visit of the Magi. There can be two different kinds of anxiety in the soul, Pope Francis said, a “good” anxiety, which “the Holy Spirit gives us” and which “makes the soul restless to do good things”; and a “bad” anxiety, “that which is born from a dirty conscience.” The two Herods tried to resolve their anxiety by killing, going forward over “the bodies of the people:”

These people who had done such evil, who does evil and has a dirty conscience and cannot live in peace, because they live with a continual itch, with a continual rash that does not leave them in peace… These people have done evil, but evil always has the same root, any evil: greed, vanity, and pride. And all three do not leave the conscience in peace; all three do not allow the healthy restlessness of the Holy Spirit to enter, but bring you to live like this: anxiously, with fear. Greed, vanity, and pride are the roots of all evils.

Vanity, the osteoporosis of the soul

The day’s first Reading, taken from Ecclesiastes, speaks about vanity:

The vanity that makes us swell up. The vanity that does not have long life, because it is like a soap bubble. The vanity that does not give us true gain. What profit comes to the person for all the effort he puts into worrying? He is anxious to appear, to pretend, to seem. This is vanity. If we want to speak simply: vanity is covering up real life. And this makes the soul sick. Because in the end, if they cover up their real life in order to appear or to seem a certain way, all the things they do to pretend… What is gained? Vanity is like an osteoporosis of the soul: the bones seem good on the outside, but within they are totally ruined. Vanity makes us a fraud.

A face like an image in a picture, but the truth is otherwise

It’s like con men who “mark the cards” in order to win, the Pope continued. But “this victory is a fiction, it’s not true. This is vanity: living to pretend, living to seem, living to appear. And this makes the soul restless.” Pope Francis recalled the strong words Saint Bernard had for the vain: “Think of what you will be: food for worms.” Following on the saint’s thought, the Pope said, “All this ‘putting make-up’ on life is a lie, because the worms will eat you and you will be nothing.” What power does vanity have? he asked. Driven by pride to wickedness, it does not allow you to see your mistakes, “it covers everything, everything is covered”:

How many people do we know that appear one way: ‘What a good person! He goes to Mass every Sunday. He makes great donations to the Church.’ This is how they appear, but the osteoporosis is the corruption they have within. There are people like this – but there are also holy people! – who do this. This is vanity: You try to appear with a face like a pretty picture, and yet your truth is otherwise. And where is our strength and security, our refuge? We read it in the psalm between the readings: ‘Lord, you have been our refuge from generation to generation.’ And before the Gospel we recalled the words of Jesus: ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.’ This is the truth, not the cosmetics of vanity. May the Lord free us from these three roots of all evil: greed, vanity, and pride. But especially from vanity, that makes us so bad.

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