As part of programs designed to help people discern their vocation in life, I’ve sometimes asked people to do a version of an obituary exercise. There are many versions of the exercise, but the thrust is to get people to focus on how they want to be remembered.
I thought about the exercise in connection with today’s first Mass reading. In the Second Letter to Timothy, Paul, knowing that the time of his death is approaching, says: “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” Not a bad thing to be able to say at the end of the day.
When asked at the time he retired from the Supreme Court what he thought was his greatest accomplishment, Thurgood Marshall replied: “I did the best I could with what I had.” I’d like to be able to say that also.
And then there is the humorist Erma Bombeck, whose version of Marshall’s sentiment was, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.” I can’t think of a better way of expressing gratitude to God for all of our gifts.
What will you say to God as the end of your human life? What do you want to be able to say?
As someone who’s edited hundreds of obituaries, let me add that there’s a big difference between an obituary and the eulogy. One focuses on the outward events and activities of one’s life; the other, on the more essential character of the person. I suppose that reflecting on both has value as an exercise: where do we hope to go with our lives and what do we need to do to get there.
Still, as I’ve read the details — “she was an avid Red Sox fan” or “he was a lifelong member of the NRA,” for instance — I’ve wondered what they did to advance the Kingdom.
On the other hand, I recall one saint who had a dream of Heaven and awoke crying out, “Unworthy! Unworthy! Unworthy!”
On my part, I suppose I’d want to be able to say, “I kept trying to be more faithful,” while honestly acknowledging how often I keep failing short.
How true Jnana, need more be said?
Honest acknowledgement is welcomed and preceeds His whispered responses – not reminders of “…falling short,” – of His continual affirmation, encouragement and offer of a new tomorrow.
In architecture, and life, learnig to keeps one’s “clay wet” is a blessing – an open heart and mind is continually receptive to gifts of listening, discernment and sharing discoveries and encounters unexpected that reward effort and enhance experience.
To embrace a reflection earlier in the week –
“…In another sense, the open empty hands signify that I come before God with everything. It signifies what I express when I recite the Suscipe prayer – that all I am, all I have, I return freely to be used in accordance with God’s will. I grasp onto nothing for myself, but offer it all in service of God.”
I end each day with a very simple prayer: Lord, if I may contribute to furthering your Kindom, please watch over me and give me tomorrow. During this life, is there anything more to desire? The dawn of a new day and the Lord’s hand to grasp as we journey forth – keeping our “clay wet”…