What will your legacy be? How will you be remembered? When we are young we marvel at the school wall proclaiming the legacy of athletic excellence with its championship banners and trophy cases. We watch programs about individuals who rise from the bottom to the top of their field, whether it be musicians, movie stars or even entrepreneurs; the ascent to greatness is worthy of remembrance. As we grow older these questions about our contribution become more dominant in our thinking. We often strive to provide for our families financially, and are careful to give them many possibilities for success. At the end of life, often a eulogy is given in which we remember the legacy of those who have finished their journey. The tombstone succinctly declares that the departed loved much, lived well, and changed peoples’ lives. We see these things and realize it is important to be remembered.
The readings during this Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time speak to me about the most important legacy of all – love. From the first reading we see the call to reach out to those around us in a way that will better others. Food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, clothing for the naked cause a true difference in another’s life, and in fact heal our own wounded lives: “and your wound shall quickly be healed.” The Lord is drawn to this type of selfless generosity and we see that He answers our call, vindicating and shining light upon us. These qualities will be reiterated by Jesus when He speaks of these corporal works of mercy as having been acts which were extended to Him, in that He identifies Himself so completely with the weak and hurting. The generosity extended to the downtrodden is the deciding moment in the parable of the sheep and the goats, and also articulated by St. Paul when he speaks of true religion as that which cares for widows and orphans and those in need. When it is said and done, what really matters is how we love those we see with great need.
The Psalm defines this person of greatness as one who is a light in darkness. He is merciful and just, lending to those in need and conducting their affairs with justice. This person of light “shall be in everlasting remembrance.” We create by this generous self-donation a legacy that is remembered. In the second reading St. Paul tells the Corinthians that he didn’t come to them trying to convince them with sublime words; rather, he was vulnerable about his own brokenness, which enabled the Spirit of God to work so mightily among them. What we see here is an unfolding of what was mentioned in Isaiah, that by coming to others and loving them in their area of need, we in turn find the healing that we so readily need.
The Gospel approaches this topic of legacy with a unique image. We are likened to salt. Salt enhances the taste of that which is bland; it is a valued ingredient in cooking and preserving foods, and in a similar way we bring a heightened taste to the blandness of life caused by sin. If we lose this impact, we are without value. We are likened to a light, but if we do not shine, or are hidden, then of what use is the gift we have been given? In both cases, the salt and the light, the impact of their value and worth is appreciated by another.
What does this mean? St. Paul says he “resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and He crucified.” If we allow the cross of Christ and His salvific work to impact us, we have a message for others that will enable them to see clearer. We are broken and hurting people, yet in Christ we find the meaning of our life, the potential for our legacy. Jesus invites us to share the work that He has done for us through His cross, and this sharing of a deep spiritual need met is demonstrated by meeting the physical needs of those around us. If you care for a person’s hunger, their thirst or nakedness, they will be more inclined to hear about the healing of our spiritual starvation and parched life. If we earn the right to speak about spiritual things by meeting their physical needs, then we will be a light that others are able to see clearer by.
I will likely not be a man of great wealth, but I can be a man who loves greatly. This is a value of inestimable worth by society which often fixes its accolades upon the temporal self achievements of avaricious people. The legacy of love is a life that leaves an illumined path that shows what happens when you allow love to be the catalyst for healing. The acts motivated by love are worthy of imitation and necessarily become an agent for our own healing and an impact that will resonate throughout eternity. This life of love will be remembered by untold people, but especially by God who found your efforts worthy of His name. This is the legacy we were made to participate in and leave to those within our sphere of influence.