Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Legacy
This week the Downton Abbey movie is being released!! I loved that PBS series and can’t wait to see the movie. I’m sure many of you feel the same way. Along with the caustic and hilarious comments of the Dowager Countess played by Maggie Smith and the intriguing soap opera plot-lines, many of us were fascinated by the portrayal of the noble Crawly family and the people in service to them. What did those rich people do all day? All they seemed to do was dress for dinner and attend various lunches. Their staff worked their land. They even had nannies to take care of their children, seeing the children just once a day in the afternoon.
The Crawleys seemed to be like the idle rich of Amos, laying on their beds of ivory, drinking wine and oblivious to all around them. But as the series progressed, the members of the Crawly family became more and more involved in other people’s lives. They turned their mansion into a hospital during World War I. They cared for the people who cared for them, and even, gasp, they got real jobs. The most important aspect of the series was the character development, the change in the Crawlys as they recognized their responsibility to those around them.
Downton Abbey was just fiction, but in real life there are many people, and sometimes some of us, who become so wrapped up in our own worlds that we miss our responsibilities to those around us. It is easy for us to miss the Lazaruses begging at our doors.
Elissa Ely wrote a story in the Boston Globe back in 2010 about an elderly lady I’ll call Aunt Harriet. Aunt Harriet and her husband, Uncle Phil, never had children, but Phil’s large extended family provided them with many nieces and nephews to watch grow up. They would go to all the family gatherings. Harriet was painfully shy. She was always at Phil’s side, saying little more than, “Hi, how are you?” or “Good to see you.” She did her part, baking tarts and cookies, but the others barely noticed her. After dinner, she would just sit somewhere and watch the children playing.
Harriet and Phil lived only a few neighborhoods away from most of the family. They would send Birthday presents and Christmas presents to their nieces and nephews, but they would only receive thank you notes back, even though the recipients could have easily paid them a visit, particularly after the nephews and nieces grew up. Harriet and Phil gave generously to their family. Their family responded minimally. The nieces and nephews weren’t inconsiderate. They were just busy.
Phil died first. Harriet continued to live in their house, but without Phil to lean on, she saw his family less and less. As time went on, though, one of her nieces, Claire, decided to look in on Aunt Harriet. She started visiting her regularly. They became a close friends.
Harriet died rather suddenly. Claire took it upon herself to pack up Harriet’s belongings. She brought many of these to the next family gathering--photos, paintings, knickknacks. Then as everyone was sitting around the table, Claire took out a large stuffed envelope. She emptied it on to the table. It was all their thank you notes. Harriet had saved them. The rest of the family looked at each other. It was only too late when they realized what they meant to Harriet.
There are many Lazaruses at our own gates, in our own families, and in our neighborhoods. They are the people that we easily overlook, dismiss, or ignore. Today’s gospel challenges us to remove the blinders of self-centeredness from our eyes and see God right here among the poor, the isolated, the marginalized, and, particularly, those we are inclined to ignore. Every human being is created in the image and likeness of God. Every person has dignity. We need that humility that enables us to embrace one other as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of God.
One more story, this one is about an elderly widow named Mattie Dixon. This is taken from a book of stories by Fred Craddock. Mattie died at age eighty-nine. She didn’t have children. There were some distant great grand nieces and nephews, but they didn’t know her well. They didn’t even attend the funeral. Mattie didn’t have a will. She had not taken care of anything before she passed away. Taxes and other bills had to be paid. The state took over. An auctioneer came and strangers sifted through all of Mattie’s personal effects. One of these was her wedding ring. It was a heavy old ring that Mattie often turned around her finger. Now before Mattie died someone said to her, “Mattie, I love that ring. I’ll give you a thousand dollars for it.”
Mattie responded, “This ring represents fifty-six years of marriage. You want to buy it? I wouldn’t sell it for a million dollars.”
The time came for the auction. The auctioneer held up the ring. Then, down came the gavel. “Sold for ten dollars.”
Today’s Gospel confronts us with the question of wealth: what is of true value and what have we deceived ourselves into assigning a far greater value than its worth. Like Mattie Dixon’s wedding ring, true and lasting value is determined not by scales and tables, but by the heart. A tendollar band of metal became an invaluable sign of a lifetime shared together in the spirit of God’s love.
Yes, we must prepare for our future and our family’s future. However, we cannot fool ourselves into thinking that our legacy will be found in the size of our portfolio or the number of rooms in our house. We will be remembered not for what we take but for what we give. Our legacy will be what we do to make the world a happier, healthier place for all God’s sons and daughters.
And, finally, our legacy will be our children. When we appear before the Lord at the end of our time, the greatest of His gifts which we can return to Him will be our children reflecting His Love in the world.
So we have Aunt Harriet, whose legacy was her love for her nephews and nieces, a love was overlooked by those who were loved, and old Mattie, whose legacy was the lasting value found in committed love. Oh yes, and then there is that story that the Lord told. A story of a rich man who had ignored Lazarus and who valued his possessions over love for his fellow man. It was the story of a rich man who had no legacy.
May we have the courage to withstand the temptation of the world to be swept up in materialism. May we never be too busy to reach out to those who need our love. May we have the determination to embrace love for others, and through others, love for our God.