There is a line in the first reading for Wednesday of the seventh week of the year that reminds us to be humble and to realize that things—including us—are passing:
You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears (James 4:14).
This is an antidote of sorts to the modern tendencies of excessive self-esteem and lack of concern for our death. Despite the advances of modern science and technology, we cannot even be sure of the next beat of our heart. A man can be robust and confident, at the height of his career, and then suddenly gone.
To be sure, there is a glory to the human person, a glory that comes from God, but our sense of it must be received with deep humility. Whatever we have, we have received from God. St. Paul says, What have you that you have not received; and if you have received it why do you glory as though you had not? (1 Cor 4:7) Whatever glory we have is from God. We are small, contingent beings; each of us is but a puff of smoke, a vapor, a mist. The slightest wind will scatter us.
In the frontispiece of a family history, my father transcribed the following verse from Psalms:
As for man, his days are like grass; he flowers like the flower of the field;
the wind blows and he is gone and his place never sees him again (Psalms 103:15-16).
It is similar to what James says in today’s reading. We are like a puff of smoke or a vapor just before the wind blows or the sun rises.
Our years are seventy, or eighty for those who are strong. They pass swiftly, and we are gone (Ps 90:10).
As Christians, we should not be depressed by such thoughts, but we should be sobered. This life and its worldly glories are not the point. What a cruel joke it would be if that were so! Nothing but a puff of smoke, scattered by the merest breeze—it would be cruelty to say the least.
We Christians know that our life here is like the time we spent in the womb. Our tenure here is temporary while we await a greater glory to come. The child in the womb enjoys its warmth and seclusion, but as it grows, the womb comes to seem confining and limiting. Then birth pangs usher in the news: “You were made for something larger, something greater.” Many things of this world give joy, warmth, and pleasure, but if we are faithful we outgrow them. Our heart expands and this world can no longer contain us.
Read more at Archdiocese of Washington.