One of my “vacation books” this year was David Brooks’ The Road to Character. Mr. Brooks recognizes that we all need to spend time, energy and effort on the development of what he calls our “resume virtues,” but it is also his conviction that each of us ought to devote ourselves to developing our “eulogy virtues,” as well. Various chapters of his book reflect on the lives of a number of people and the “roads” they took “to character.”
David Brooks has accumulated an impressive roster of “resume virtues.” He’s currently a columnist for The New York Times and a commentator on the PBS NewsHour. He’s authored four books and taught courses at Duke University and Yale University. He didn’t say as much; but if I could put words in his mouth, I believe that he would tell us that he’s used his lifetime in that regard very well. I don’t have to wonder what he might say about his need to focus more on the development of his “eulogy virtues.” He unashamedly said it himself. “I wrote [this book], to be honest, to save my own soul.”
As much as we might wish it were otherwise, someone’s “eulogy virtues” don’t always allow us to praise God in the goodness of their life. I regret to acknowledge that I’ve had family members and friends tell me at a Wake Service that “the best thing the deceased did in life was die.” I can’t remember a more awkward or uncomfortable funeral in my forty one years of priesthood. We reflected on the mercy of God, encouraged ourselves and everyone else to live better lives so that we wouldn’t find ourselves in a similar situation at the end of our lives, and then we mourned that person’s life rather than their death.
Fonte Columbo in Italy is the site of an important Franciscan shrine. Tradition believes that it is where St. Francis of Assisi was inspired to write the “Rule” which expressed his expectations for our “way of life.” There’s a niche in one wall there with three skulls in it. The inscription above the niche is both startling and unsettling in what it says, “Remember, we once were as you are; and you will be as we are.” In this month of November when our Catholic community has traditionally called us to make a special place for our beloved dead in our prayers, each of us would do well to give some thought to what our “eulogy virtues” will allow someone to say about us when that time comes for us. Our efforts in that regard won’t just be a favor we do the homilist at our funeral, but be a blessing for all those who know and love us.
A wise person apparently named “Anonymous” has observed, “Nobody will say on their deathbed: I wish I had spent more time at the office.” My Franciscan brothers and I are certainly grateful for the “time you spend at the office” and for the “resume virtues” that got you there; but we appreciate even more the “eulogy virtues” which make you generous in all sorts of ways to family members, friends and Franciscans alike. God is praised, and we’re blessed in the goodness of your life.
Eternal rest grant unto our beloved dead, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
God bless us all with the grace and good sense to live our lives well, and with...
Peace and everything good,
Fr. William Spencer, O.F.M.