Not in Shoes but in God
Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Preached on July 31, 2010 at Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY and August 1, 2010 at Saint Mary Catholic Church, Perryville KY
Readings: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2:21-23; Psalm 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14, 17; Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11; Luke 12:13-21
Mention “vanity of vanities” (Ecc. 1:2), and three words come to my mind: Imelda Marcos’ shoes. The shoes of the Iron Butterfly herself: 3,000 pairs, all size 8 ½, and of every imaginable design and brand—pumps, heels, slingbacks, mules, espadrilles, go-go boots, sandals, formalwear, casual wear, Ferragamos, Givenchys, Christian Diors, Chanels—you get the picture. But, as Imelda famously ‘defended’ herself in 1987, she did not really have 3,000 pairs. She had 1,060; the rest she never got to wear or she wore only once.
What drove this woman into amassing thousands of shoes? The answer, as Dr. Freud would remind us, goes back to her childhood.
Although she comes from a prominent family from the South of the Philippines—the Romualdezes of Leyte—Imelda grew up poor, so poor that she only owned a single pair of shoes. To preserve the soles of this pair, she would walk barefoot on the dirt road from her home to her school, all the while carrying in her hand her precious pair. She only wore her shoes from the gate of the school to her classroom. Rain or shine, she did this, until that one fateful day when she swore to herself that she would never walk barefoot again.
Three thousand pairs of shoes later, she remains that poor little barefoot girl from Tacloban. She had hoped that gowns and jewels, power and prestige, “vanity of vanities” (Ecc. 1:2) could make her feel less insecure. And probably, for a while it did. During those twenty six years when her husband Ferdinand was President, she had everything at her beck and call. As an American congressman visiting the Philippines then observed, “Compared to Imelda, Marie Antoinette was a bag lady.” But power and prestige do not last forever, and she found out that 3,000 pairs of shoes were way too many to carry along when fleeing into exile.
Imelda had put her faith in shoes, on earthly vanities to cope with her insecurities. Not so for Lorenzo Ruiz, the first Filipino saint. He put his faith in Christ, in Christ’s promise of grace, to cope with his insecurities.
Lorenzo Ruiz too had fled the Philippines, having been accused of a crime. He never got to have his day in court nor would he have expected any justice; there was no such thing as an innocent Filipino during the Spanish regime. In the end, he found himself an exile in Japan, a man without a home, without a family, without anything to call his own—save for his faith in Christ. He clung to this faith even in the face of gruesome tortures, so much so that he said: “Had I a thousand lives I would gladly offer all of them to God.” Before his persecutors and before death, Saint Lorenzo Ruiz could not be moved from his faith in Christ because he found security in Him who is the Rock of Ages.
This is our call: to follow the footsteps, not of Imelda’s vanity but rather, of Saint Lorenzo Ruiz’ faith, to “think of what is above, not what is on earth” (Col. 3:2). There is always the temptation to store up so many good things for many years, to “rest, eat, drink, be merry” like that rich man with the bountiful harvest (cf. Lk. 12:19). But, in the end, we would still be restless and insecure, knowing that we could never bring along any of those treasures that we had stored up for ourselves. It is only those things that matter to God that make us truly rich (cf. Lk. 12:21). It is here at this altar that we realize, like Saint Lorenzo Ruiz before us did, that there is but only one possession in the world worth keeping: our faith in Christ. There is but one feast worth partaking: the Eucharist. There is but one family worth belonging to: the Church. There is but one life worth living: the life in the Spirit.
In the end, for us exiled children of Eve, no number of shoes can take the place of Christ’s Way. No amount of flattery can take the place of Christ’s Truth. No earthly vanity can take the place of Christ’s Life. For in God alone is our soul at rest (Ps. 62:1). In Him alone is our refuge. In Him alone is our hope. In Him alone our security (cf. Ps. 62:6-8).