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Cristobal SpielmannJune 02, 2023
Photo by NEOM, courtesy of Unsplash.

A Reflection for the Friday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

Find today’s readings here.

And for all time their progeny will endure,
their glory will never be blotted out. (Sir 44:13)

One of my favorite poems is Percy Shelley’s ever-popular “Ozymandias.” I was aware of it in high school but grew to love it in a first-year college course about learning the best life.

The 14-line work sees a traveler approach what was once the colossal stone statue of Ozymandias, the self-proclaimed “King of Kings.” The traveler remarks on the lifelessness of what remains, commenting on the decay and what little is left of what was intended long ago.

At first glance, it is difficult to argue against Shelley’s thesis. After all, all buildings crumble; all bodies corrupt. It is nothing short of miraculous that anything we have made has lasted thousands of years, but harder still to find anything which has made it unscathed and intelligible from when it was first made.

Perhaps the best life is not confined to the one individual lifespan we are given.

But accepting said thesis can be disquieting rather than affirming. It means accepting a darker finality of death beyond just the end of your life. What you made of your life will not only die, but become unrecognizable ruins.

That is where today’s first reading offers a different perspective, and a more optimistic view of what lasts.

In this first reading, we encounter men of great importance to their time, described as “godly” in a similar vein to Ozymandias. But unlike Ozymandias, the death of these men is acknowledged upfront, and their cessation is treated with dignity rather than sorrow.

More importantly, the readings highlight what does remain from their life experiences: their covenant with God as represented by their familial descendants. That is what endures; that is what survives of their glory.

This is distinct from the sculptures of Ozymandias built out of temporal matter, which can just as easily return to stone. This is life multiplying upon life in the greater glory of God. What is being done in the readings is done in the name of someone separate from time, and can thus continue living beyond the memory of just one person.

So perhaps the best life is not confined to the one individual lifespan we are given. What we make of and expand upon that life for our descendants and current family, done in the glory of God, is a better use of our limited time.

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