Some time ago, I was visiting my congregation’s convent for our aged and infirmed Sisters. One of the Sisters asked me to drive her to our cemetery so that she could visit her blood sister’s grave, who was also a religious Sister. After we prayed at her grave, we began to walk among the others who were buried there with her. As we passed each tombstone, we shared memories or stories that we heard or knew about each Sister. As we reflected, I was deeply impressed by this nonagenarian who clung to my arm. Her memories of the Sisters that I knew and the Sisters who journeyed to God before I entered the congregation were tender and sweet. She shared with me the legacy that each Sister gave to my congregation and to the Church, and the love she had for all of them. What impressed me was how much this woman’s heart was full of love. This was the legacy that she shared with me that day, something which I hope to pass on to others as well.
You might be wondering, “So, what is legacy and why is it important?” According to Susan Borsak, “Legacy is fundamental to what it is to be human.” She goes on to say, “The world isn’t connected by molecules. It’s connected by stories, traditions, memories, hopes, and dreams. We are connected by the legacies passed down from those who came before us and the legacies we pass down to those who come after us.” (http://www.legacyproject.org/guides/whatislegacy.html)
For me, a legacy means hoping for a future that learns from the past. It is developing and passing on a heritage that represents the timeless part of an individual, the part that contains the fingerprint of God.
I could not help thinking of this as I read the apostolic letter by Pope Francis in which he explained the Year of Consecrated Life. He calls the entire Church to “look to the past with gratitude.” For within the history of the Church, the past points to individuals who translated the Gospel into a particular way of life, and read the signs of the times with eyes of faith as they responded creatively to the needs of the Church. (1) The past points to how God was present and is calling us to deepen our faith.
We can find examples of this in Scripture. In the Book of Jeremiah, the prophet looks back to blessings his people received by the hand of God. “You [Lord] performed signs and wonders in Egypt and have continued them to this day, in Israel and among all mankind, and have gained the renown that is still yours. You brought your people Israel out of Egypt with signs and wonders, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with great terror. You gave them this land you had sworn to give their ancestors, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Jeremiah 32:20-22).
Similarly, the author of Psalm 77 writes, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds. Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples. With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph” (vs.10-15).
In the apostolic letter, Pope Francis teaches “recounting our history is essential for preserving our identity, for strengthening our unity as a family and our common sense of belonging. … It calls for following the footsteps of past generations in order to grasp the high ideals, and the vision and values that inspired them. … To tell our story is to praise God and to thank him for all his gifts.” (1)
As I pondered on these words, I was brought back to a memory of viewing a scene in the movie The Lion King. Rafiki, the baboon, reminds Simba that the deceased Mufasa, the king, lives within him. “Remember who you are!” The ghost of Mufasa proclaims, “You have forgotten me! Remember who you are! You are my son and the true King!” With these words, Simba “wakes up” and then journeys back to the pride to claim his rightful place within his family.
The words found within the apostolic letter from Pope Francis are a call for those in consecrated life to “wake up the world” by giving “joyful witness … to the holiness and vitality present in so many of those called to follow Jesus in the consecrated life.”
Joy is contagious! During this Year of Consecrated Life, reach out to those of us who have answered His call, and allow us to share the joy of our past and the awesomeness of the present with you! Share your stories and your joy with us as well!
(Sister of Christian Charity, Geralyn Schmidt, is the Wide Area Network Coordinator at the Diocese of Harrisburg and a member of the IT Department. An educator for 28 years, she is responsible for Professional Development Programs for every age learner. Through her presentations, she challenges her audiences to be the individual God has called them to be.)
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By Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, Special to The Witness