What Legacy Do We Leave Behind?
What legacy will each of us leave behind when we leave this earth? It’s an interesting question, and maybe one that we may feel a little uncomfortable reflecting on, because it forces us to think about our death. And yet, I think it is something extremely important that all of us should think about from time to time (more often than not!). If we would die today, what would people say about us? How would they eulogize us? What would they look at in our lives, and lift up as something inspiring, as something which blessed others, as something faithful, as something eternal? Will we even have an eternal legacy?
Think about that. Do you and I have a legacy that will last into eternity?
St. John Chrysostom has a beautiful saying, “A rich man is not one who has much, but one who gives much. For what he gives away remains his forever.”
What we give for others lasts forever. How we serve others lasts forever. What we do in love for others lasts forever. This is the eternal legacy of Christians. It’s NOT what we did for ourselves. Or how we enriched ourselves. Or how we were all about our own family and our own loved ones. A legacy that lasts into eternity is one that is about giving to others, loving others, and especially serving those in need. Remember Christ’s words at the Last Judgment - “Whatever you did to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did to me.”
This past week I attended two funerals. From an outside perspective the one funeral would be considered a terrible tragedy, and the other simply a deep loss. First, I attended the funeral of Emily Dabrowski, an almost 18 year old senior from Shepherd Hill who died unexpectedly from complications with mono. A week prior she had been snowboarding and living the life of a vibrant high school senior getting ready to graduate and go on to college. The next week she suddenly died, leaving her family, friends and everyone in shock. The second funeral was of the mother of a dear friend who was in her mid-80s. Mary Barbas’ death might not be considered a terrible tragedy because of her age, but it was still the loss of a dear and faithful woman.
As I attended these two funerals, I was struck by the legacy that each of these women left behind. The funeral for Emily was at St Joseph’s Church in Charlton with 500 people attending, including 100 or more teenagers who were probably experiencing death for the first time. I was praying so much that the funeral itself would serve as a great witness to all those who attended, but especially to the teenagers, helping them understand this tragedy. And what a beautiful service it was! There were two eulogies about the life and faith of this dear 18 year old girl, and then two homily responding to the questions of “WHY” God would allow this to happen and how death is not the end for those who believe. I appreciated so much the pamphlet they handed out to everyone which said, Emily Dabrowski “Born to Earthly Life January 21, 1999” and “Born to Eternal Life Friday, January 6, 2017.” Death is not the end, but for those who walk with the Lord here and now, death is but the beginning of a new life in eternity!
So the legacy that Emily left behind was one of eternity. She was eulogized for being, on one hand, a typical teenager but on another hand, having a faith and passion to serve the poorest of the poor. For three summers in a row, Emily went to Haiti on a mission trip to serve at an orphanage there. And during her time in Haiti, she wrote in her journal how she felt God calling her to serve the orphans, and to maybe even one day open up a new orphanage for those in need. She found her greatest fulfillment in life serving others in the “greatest place on earth” - Haiti. She was a young woman seeking out the will of God, struggling to discern what God was calling her to do, and preparing to go and serve Him.
She was also a typical teenager who liked to have fun, who enjoyed snowboarding and playing volleyball and just sitting with her phone surfing the net and engaging in social media. But what was highlighted at her funeral was not her hobbies and typical teenage adventures, but it was her faith and actions. This is what will last into eternity - her passion and desire to help others, especially the poorest of the poor – the orphans in Haiti.
As I listened to these eulogies and words offered about her life, it really made me think about the legacy of all of us. What will each of us leave behind one day when we leave this earth? And no one knows when that time will come! I have done a number of funerals over the past 22 years as a priest, and I can honestly and bluntly say that some people leave behind a beautiful legacy of loving others, helping others, serving others, and reaching out to others. Others leave behind an egocentric legacy – doing things for themselves and maybe for their family. But being known for playing golf, or loving the Patriots, or being a financial success in business, or having a passion for some other hobby – these do not mean much in eternity. These are not a legacy to praise and lift up at the end of our lives.
So, what legacy will we leave behind?
The second funeral I attended was of Mary Barbas, a faithful member of the Annunciation Church in Woburn her entire life, a servant who was always ready to help people in her town, in the Metropolis and throughout the world. I remember as a seminarian how she would welcome students in her home, offer hospitality and kindness to all. She reached out especially to the foreign students from Africa as well as to the locals. She was a faithful servant. My koumbaro, Fr. Ted Barbas, told me that the last two weeks of her life were the most beautiful experience he has ever had. His mother was dying, and yet she was surrounded by the love of her six children and 16 grandchildren. She took the time to speak with each child or grandchild, and say goodbye, offering them her words of wisdom and love. She was the sister of one priest, the sister-in-law of another priest, the mother of a third priest, and the adopted mother of numerous other priests. She lived a life of love for others, and died in utter peace, leaving behind her legacy of divine love.
Death can appear fearful to some. We live in a society that tries to deny death, ignore death, hide death, and never discuss death. And yet it is something we all will face numerous times in our own lives, and one day we will confront it at the end of our life. Death will come, and even though it appears to be the end, it is NOT the end!
Death is overcome by Jesus Christ and His victorious resurrection. So we never have to fear death, and death is not a tragedy – whether it comes as an 18 year old teenager or as an 85 year old elderly person. As the priest said to us at Emily’s funeral, “When Emily opens up her eyes, she will not be in darkness but will see the light of God. And when she reaches out, she will feel the loving embrace of Christ hugging her and saying, ‘Emily, you did make a difference in this world.. Well done, good and faithful servant.’”
We can also look at death and say, “My life may end, but my legacy will continue.” My legacy of love, of service, of kindness and giving, of faithful and goodness. My legacy will inspire others to continue the good work of love!
So today I want each of us to sincerely reflect on what legacy we are leaving behind in our own lives. Maybe as you go home from church today, talk about your legacy with your spouse, with your kids or parents, with someone else. Ask them what legacy they see in you, and what you see in them. And whatever that legacy may be up till now, it is never too late to change it and to improve it.
Leave a legacy that will touch the lives of others, a legacy that will inspire others, and a legacy that will last into eternity!