May 26, 2006

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Life is the greatest legacy of all

As people grow older and become more aware of their own mortality, many start to think of the legacy that they will leave behind. How will those who survive remember them?

Sometimes we might think about these memorials in concrete terms. Perhaps the deceased wrote a book, designed a great building or memorial, was a leader in government, or earned awards in sports, artistry or in dozens of other fields.

Other ways that we remember those who have died are less tangible. We might recall the words of love and support that they might have said to us or others at crucial times in our lives. Strong and noble convictions firmly held in the face of unpopularity might also come quickly to mind.

But life itself might be the greatest testament of all that those who have died might leave for us who remember them. This has been in my mind over the past several days for a good reason.

My wife’s maternal grandmother passed away recently in her rural Franklin County home. In her mid-80s at the time of her death, she didn’t leave behind any great tangible monument that bears her name. She wasn’t an author, poet or great public servant.

And although she was loving and kind and held quite dear her strong Catholic faith, she wasn’t an apostle in the mold of Peter and Paul. She wasn’t a traveling evangelist, proclaiming the faith from town to town.

The legacy that Rita has left for us is life itself. She was the mother of 10 children, grandmother of 47 and great-grandmother of 27.

As I thought of that fact at church the Sunday after she died, tears welled up in my eyes. I thought about the many good people, filled with down-to-earth goodness and a living faith in Jesus Christ, that are now alive on this earth because of her.

Who knows how many lives will be brought closer to God because of them and, through them, because of her?

Perhaps if Rita and her husband had had fewer children, they could have had more resources to expand their small family farm, which her youngest son still runs today.

Perhaps if she and her husband had had fewer children, they would have had more time to volunteer in their parish or in the broader community.

Any of these would have been great legacies for her to have left behind upon her death. But I can think of no greater memorial than the scores of human souls filled with truth and goodness that were created ultimately through her openness to God’s gift of life.

Now, in holding up the hidden greatness of my wife’s grandmother, I am not saying that it would be good for everyone to have as many children as is physically possible. What I am saying is that Rita was docile to God’s will for her.

And it makes no difference whether one is called to a life of public greatness or the anonymity of the life of caring for a large family on a farm in the gently rolling hills of southeastern Indiana. If one follows the will of God for one’s life, it will be beautiful and holy in his eyes.

Rita’s openness to the gift of life and the will of God bore fruit in the lives of many beautiful people alive today, including my loving wife. My own life would have been so much less filled with love and the glory of God had Rita not walked this earth and been open to life and God’s will.

Thank you, God, for Rita. †


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