Psalm 24: Vanity, Vanity

Memorial of Saint Gregory the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church

Thursday, September 3, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 24 which encourages us to be sinless, pure of heart, and humble. And that’s hard!

Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?
or who may stand in his holy place?
He whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean,
who desires not what is vain.


Do you remember the song “You’re So Vain”? Here is a reminder.

The song expresses a common understanding of the word “vanity”:

excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own appearance or achievement


We all know people who seem to think they’re hot stuff. Maybe we’re even one of them! But I think that often a person behaving vainly really is quite unsure of himself.

The apparent vanity is a veneer to hide the emptiness inside. It is a veiled fear that, rather than being “all that”, one is really “not enough”.

The word vanity comes from the Latin root vanus which means empty – not “empty” with a readiness to be filled. Instead it connotes an emptiness that rattles with accumulated pretenses and falsehoods. It is a place of loud but lonely echoes.


Paul addresses this kind of emptiness when he writes to the Corinthians. He tells them not to get caught up in the contest of human vanity because we already are sufficient in God’s love and grace. Everything important is already ours in Christ, in God.

So let no one boast about human beings, for everything belongs to you,
Paul or Apollos or Cephas,
or the world or life or death,
or the present or the future:
all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God.


Psalm 24 assures us that to participate in this blessing, to be embraced by God’s favor only this is sufficient:

Who can stand in God’s holy place?
The clean of hand and pure of heart,
who have not given their soul to useless things,
to what is vain.
They will receive blessings from the LORD,
and justice from their saving God.


Poetry: Vanity by George Herbert

The fleet astronomer can bore 
And thread the spheres with his quick-piercing mind: 
He views their stations, walks from door to door, 
         Surveys, as if he had designed 
To make a purchase there; he sees their dances, 
                   And knoweth long before 
Both their full-eyes aspècts, and secret glances. 
         
         The nimble diver with his side 
Cuts through the working waves, that he may fetch 
His dearly-earnèd pearl, which God did hide 
         On purpose from the venturous wretch; 
That he might save his life, and also hers 
                   Who with excessive pride 
Her own destruction and his danger wears. 
         
         The subtle chymic can divest 
And strip the creature naked, till he find 
The callow principles within their nest: 
         There he imparts to them his mind, 
Admitted to their bed-chamber, before 
                   They appear trim and dressed 
To ordinary suitors at the door. 
         
       What hath not man sought out and found, 
But his dear God? who yet his glorious law 
Embosoms in us, mellowing the ground 
         With showers and frosts, with love and awe, 
So that we need not say, “Where’s this command?” 
                   Poor man, thou searchest round 
To find out death, but missest life at hand.

Song: As We Seek Your Face – Divine Hymns

One thought on “Psalm 24: Vanity, Vanity

  1. “Humility is considered in all Christian tradition as the foundation of the spiritual life, since it removes pride, which is, says Holy Scripture, the beginning of every sin because it separates us from God. Thus humility has often been compared to the excavation which must be dug for the erection of a building, an excavation which should be so much the deeper in proportion as the building is to be higher.” – Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange

    Liked by 1 person

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