My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
A Mickey Mantle baseball card from 1952 sold for $12,600,000 a few weeks ago, setting a new record for sports collectibles. Then last month a jersey worn by the Chicago Bulls Hall of Fame basketball player Michael Jordan was sold for $10.1 million — becoming the most expensive piece of game-worn sports memorabilia ever bought at an auction.
As you may know, I love sports, both as a participant and as a fan. I used to collect baseball cards in my youth, but I never paid more for one than the cost of a pack of bubble gum! I also have an assortment of hockey jerseys (or sweaters, as hockey purists would say). Most, if not all, of them were purchased off the rack at a sporting goods store or were given to me as a gift.
So the news of someone paying over $12 million for a baseball card and over $10 million for a basketball jersey strikes me as not only astounding, but even obscene. The $22 million from just these two items alone could feed a lot of hungry people, provide housing for the homeless, and pay tuition for needy low-income families.
The fact that such ludicrous amounts of money are spent on sports and sports-related activities shows how upside down our world’s values have become. Professional athletes and coaches receive millions of dollars in salary. Even college athletes are now being paid millions of dollars for their name, image, and likeness. Meanwhile, nurses, teachers, police officers, and firefighters are paid paltry sums in comparison, despite their much greater value to the health and wellbeing of our society. It is no wonder that there is a shortage of workers in these essential positions, since they are paid so much less than people who do far less for the good of society.
The source of this imbalance in values is rooted in vanity and greed. The remedy for this sad situation is a matter of justice, that is, giving to others what is properly due to them.
Someone who pays millions of dollars for a rare baseball card is saying, “Look at me and see what I’ve got that you don’t have.” That is vanity.
Someone who is paid millions of dollars but does not share that wealth with those in need is greedy.
The Book of Ecclesiastes concludes with the words, “Vanity of vanities, all things are vanity!” Father John Hardon wrote in his Modern Catholic Dictionary that vanity is “an inordinate desire to manifest one’s own excellence. It differs from pride, which is the uncontrolled desire for self-esteem, in that vanity primarily seeks to show others what a person has or has achieved. A vain person looks for praise from others and may go to great lengths to obtain it. More commonly, vanity is associated with an exaggerated importance attached to multiple details, especially external appearances, which in no way contain the value attributed to them. It is ostentation in fashion, wealth, or power regarded as an occasion of empty pride.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 2536) says, “The tenth commandment forbids greed and the desire to amass earthly goods without limit. It forbids avarice arising from a passion for riches and their attendant power. It also forbids the desire to commit injustice by harming our neighbor in his temporal goods.”
Vanity is related to pride, but is different in that pride is concerned with praising oneself, while vanity seeks the praise of others. Thus, the antidote to pride is humility, while the antidote to vanity is modesty. Ken Blanchard (author of One Minute Manager) wrote, “People with humility don’t think less of themselves. They think of themselves less.” Similarly, modesty does not involve demeaning ourselves in the eyes of others, but striving for success without going out of our way to draw attention to ourselves or our accomplishments in an inordinate way. In other words, there is nothing wrong in wanting to do things well and even in seeking to have a good reputation, but our desire for recognition from others should not become excessive. While modesty is often considered in relation to dressing in a way that is not sexually provocative, modesty also extends to behaving in a way that is not unduly preoccupied with receiving praise.
Another virtue that counteracts vanity is magnanimity. The classical definition of magnanimity is expressed in the Latin phrase extensio animi ad magna — the striving of the spirit toward great things. The French philosopher Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange says, “Vanity loves the honor and prestige that comes from great things, while magnanimity loves the work and effort that has to be done to achieve them.”
The antidote to greed is generosity. Generous people are willing to share with others not only from their abundance, but even when it requires sacrifice, whether material or spiritual. Thus, generosity means not only sharing material wealth unselfishly, but also being kind, loving, friendly, and cheerful with others.
We can overcome the vices of vanity and greed while growing in the virtues of modesty, magnanimity, and generosity with the help of God’s grace, which He makes available in abundance through the sacraments, especially when we confess our sins in the sacrament of penance and receive Our Lord in holy Communion.
May God give us this grace. Amen.