If you are looking for my blog titled, The Contemplative Catholic Convert, you are at the right spot.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Graveyards and Eternal Life

From my book, Lessons Along the Journey:
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Once the game is over, the king and the pawn go back into the same box. – Italian proverb

Cemeteries are not my favorite recreation spots. I’d rather be elsewhere, like the beach or at a campsite nestled among wild flowers. And so, when I visit the final resting place of friends or family, I usually stay no longer than it takes to lose myself in a few memories.

I don’t know why on one visit I altered my typical practice and wandered through rows of graves, stopping every now and again to read the words etched in stone that summarize someone’s lifetime: Joseph Kurtin - Born May 15, 1850, Died July 2, 1923. Four words and a few numbers. What had he done in life? How many mourned his death? Does anyone still remember him?

A few rows to the left, two stones stood side by side: Everett Stuart and Hannah Mae Stuart. They died the same day – October 12, 1961. Probably an accident. I wondered about their lives, but the faded marble sentinels remained silent.

Before I returned to my car, several more caught my eye. Maria was 17. Staci,  22. Antonio was 78. Thomas, 12. Marcus, 41. Rachel McCarty died the same day she was born – September 4, 1985

As I slid behind the wheel, I remembered the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes. King Solomon had it all – money, power, prestige – things I think so important. And he used them all to satisfy every whim that tantalized his flesh. “I denied myself nothing,” he wrote in chapter two. “I refused my heart no pleasure.” For years, possibly decades, Solomon fed his lust for bigger-better-more. It was not until he neared the end of his life that he recognized the true worth of money, power, and prestige. 

"Vanity of vanities," he called them.

How will my tombstone read? Born 1950. Died . . . . There’s not much room between two dates to etch accomplishments – or service. Such things must be written on human hearts, and I can’t help but wonder what my epitaph on those hearts will say. Whom will I have touched for good – or bad?
  
When I stand before the King of Glory, only what I’ve done for Christ will remain. I like to think the gold, silver and precious stones will illustrate how I demonstrated Christ’s life to others (1 Corinthians 3:11-15). The wood, hay, and stubble – my wealth, position and power – all of it will burn up.

"What is your life?” St. James asked. “It is a vapor which appears for a little while, and afterwards shall vanish away” (James 4:15).

To his credit, Solomon woke up to the truth about his treasures before it was too late. Before his body returned to dust, he discovered the bankruptcy of bigger and better. He understood what gives life eternal meaning and value. “Here is the conclusion of the matter,” he wrote. “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment . . . whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes. 12:13-14).  

For me, graveyards are not the most enjoyable places to visit, but nothing speaks so eloquently in their silence about life’s priorities as row after row of headstones. And nothing speaks about life beyond the grave more powerfully than the words of Jesus Christ: "Do not be amazed at this, because the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28-29).
 
What epitaph are we writing?

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