What’s Handicapping Our Walk?

(For the audio version of this blog, please visit: http://brothersinchristcmf.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Mass-Blog-for-the-18th-Sunday-in-Ordinary-Time-2022.mp3)

For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart
with which he has labored under the sun?
All his days sorrow and grief are his occupation;
even at night his mind is not at rest.
This also is vanity.
(Ecc 1:2; 2:21-23)

If you didn’t know this passage came from Ecclesiastes, this Sunday’s first Mass reading, you might think it was the observation of a golfer. Of all sports, golf probably best appeals to our vanity. A wise man once described it as “a good walk spoiled,” but an online golf website more aptly characterizes it by characterizing us and our attraction to scoring ourselves by a “vanity handicap.”  This applies to golfers whose “handicap index is lower than it should be because the golfer is finagling the numbers.

That golfer is too vain, in other words, to admit to having a handicap that is slightly higher than what he claims.”

John Horry, a recently retired healthcare worker in the U.K.—turned author, Baptist ministry leader, and aspiring golfer—published his first book: “The Gospel in Golf.” He sums up its theme by quoting author P.G. Wodehouse: “Few things draw men together more than mutual inability to play golf.”

Our inabilities, combined with our all-consuming fear of failure and subsequent humiliation, contribute to the vain sorrow and grief to which we submit ourselves in our daily lives. Sunday’s second reading from Paul to the Colossians (Col 3:1-5, 9-11) could have been addressed to golfers too, considering the greed that seems to have entered the sport:

Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.

A dramatic modern example of pro-golfers bringing these ancient vices back to life’s main fairway might be seen in the “LIV Golf Invitational Series,” underwritten by $600 billion from the “Saudi Arabia Investment Fund” (part of the Saudi Crown Prince’s plan to modernize his oil kingdom). This funding can’t launder the blood from this tournament’s purse, however. It’s enticing leading golfers to imbibe from a money stream potentially tainted by the killing of a critic of the Crown Prince. This new event joins the general trend of global despots attempting to “sports-wash” their commitment to keeping alive the deadly sins Paul lists above.

One of the millionaire PGA players lured to the LIV tournament justified his participation saying he was doing it “for my family.” But the soul of the rich man Jesus quotes in Sunday’s gospel reading from Luke (Lk 12:13-21) sounds like this paragon of sports-washed 21st century vanity. After the rich man explains his strategy to tear down his barns so he can store up even more earthly assets for his family, God shows him how his game went wrong:

“You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?”

Luke summarizes, “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”

Our best strategy for mastering this game of life is revealed in the psalmist’s prayer we read this Sunday (Ps 90:17). Our repetition of it as we practice the humility at its heart could even end up lowering our vanity handicap:

“Prosper the work of our hands for us! Prosper the work of our hands!”

–Tom Andel

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