Pastor's Desk: 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted 31st July 2010 in Pastor's Desk

This week’s article comes from Fr. Tom Cahill, writing for Intercom magazine.

Vanity of Vanities

Brain scans are revealing. Take the ones done on teenagers listening to music. These show that insecurity and not personal preference dictates what songs they call ‘cool’. In one study they listened to tracks and rated how much they liked them. After a break, they listened to them again, some having been shown a popularity rating based on how many times a track had been downloaded. While 12 per cent of those who didn’t know whether others liked a track or not changed their ratings, 22 per cent of those who knew that a tune was a hit changed theirs. Of those, three quarters moved in tune with the song’s popularity rating.

Now for the interesting bit: the first time they heard a track their reward and pleasure zones lit up; but on listening again their anxiety and pain centres glowed. This suggested that fear made them change their views.

Today’s first reading (Eccles. 1:2, 2:21-23) is tailor-made for that sort of thing. ‘Vanity of vanities!’ it proclaims. ‘All is vanity.’ Human toil it sees as an annoyance, and notes that even at night our minds don’t rest. Worry persists. We don’t like truth packaged in pessimism. Yet, truth made one researcher remark that many people who think they’re individuals with free choice actually are slaves to what others think.

Those words on vanity from the third century BC could just as easily be from today, so accurately do they hit the spot. If we have to be slaves to what another thinks, then let that other be the Other.

Fr. Tom Cahill SVD, Divine Word Missionaries

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