Dying is not a popular topic for discussion. But considering that everyone who dies leaves some kind of legacy behind, maybe we should at least all think about death a little bit more.
Have you ever stopped to consider that one day you will die? That you’ll no longer be in the land of the living? Have you contemplated on how short life can be?
Scientists believe that the Earth has been around close to 5 billion years. In that span of time, according to scientists, humans have only been in existence for the last 200,000 years. When you look at the average life expectancy for 2017, which is 71 years, it really starts to put things into perspective. In the blink of an eye, life can end.
In his book Be A Man! Fr. Larry Richards recalls when he seriously began to think about dying.
When I sat there and realized for the first time at seventeen that I was going to die, my next thought was, “God, I don’t believe in anything.” I suddenly realized that fifty years before, I didn’t exist. Some of you may have already realized this but I didn’t. It was hard for me to imagine that the world existed before I existed! Not only that, but it went on quite well without me. It will go on quite fine one hundred years from now without me also. Without believing in anything, I figured that I was in oblivion before I was born and that when I die I was going to go back into nothingness. That’s all. The world existed a million years before me, and it will exist after me.
Earlier in the same chapter, Fr. Richards encourages the reader to reflect upon his or her own life, to stay focused on the final goal. He poses a series of questions.
If we keep our end in mind then we can begin to reflect on what is most important: What will I accomplish with my short time on earth? What do I want people to say about me once I’ve taken my last breath? Was my life worth living? Will I be a person who changed the world? Will I be a person who gave more than I took? Or will I be a person who took more than I gave? Will people say of me, “I loved to be around that man because he was a true man and he gave his life away for others”? Or will they say, “That person was one of the most miserable human beings you would ever want to meet”? What will others say about you?
Recently, in my own life, a couple events occurred that got me to start thinking, “What kind of a legacy will I leave behind?”
Several weeks ago, I attended the funeral for one of my uncles. His passing had been a devastating and tragic shock to us; most of all to his wife (my aunt) and the four kids he left behind. The funeral was in Georgia, close to 700 miles away. I knew that it was not going to be an easy trip. But I also knew I had to be there, both for moral support and to grieve with my family members.
At the funeral service, I was asked to read the Sacred Scripture verses and the Responsorial Psalm. Afterwards, I listened to my aunt give a tearful eulogy about my uncle. As we were leaving the funeral home, the legacy that my uncle had left behind occurred to me: the love that he had given to his wife and children, his dedication to their well-being, and his willingness to make them the focal point of his own life.
The second event was on the evening of Saturday, October 14. Every year during October, the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton hosts its Back from the Dead Cemetery Walk. Unlike many modern Halloween-style cemetery walks, the one held at the shrine isn’t meant to frighten people for the sake of cheap thrills. Instead, it is meant to help us reflect upon the lives of the many different saints and martyrs (portrayed by actors) and see how we ourselves are called to live lives of holiness.
This year I took members of my youth group, Fusion, to the Walk to experience this one-of-a-kind event. Throughout the course of the evening, I could tell that both the teens and youth ministers were affected deeply by what they were learning about the different saints. You could see that they were beginning to seriously think about how they were living their lives and how they could live more in a way so that the love of Christ could shine through them.
After the cemetery walk, we were allowed to go into the Basilica in order to pray, reflect upon the events of the night, go to Confession, and so forth. Although we were running behind schedule, I knew that it would be a disservice to simply corral everyone back to the cars so soon after the walk. So, we stayed for an additional forty-five minutes. And during that time, a priest came over and talked briefly with our group. He asked them to think about what they had learned during the evening, to live more fully for Christ, to pray to the saints, to pray the Rosary, and make use of Confession whenever possible. His simple message was that it’s not too late to turn your life around and allow God into your life.
The priest’s words struck me that night and have stayed with me. Maybe I need to allow God to come more deeply into my life. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so concerned about the things in my life that are out of my control. Maybe I need to open myself up more to His will, and not be so concerned about what I want.
With my wedding day fast approaching (November 4), I’ve been thinking more and more about the legacy I’ll be creating and leaving behind. I’ve been asking myself: “What will life be like for those who follow after me? Given how I live my life today, will my legacy be one of sacrifice, compassion, and love? Or will it be one marked by fear, doubt, selfishness, and malice?”
As the priest said that night, “It’s not too late.”