Reflecting on Muhammad Ali and the legacies we leave behind

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Pope John Paul II meets with Muhammad Ali in 1982 at the Vatican. Little did each know that they would later both suffer from Parkinson's. Photo: CNS/Catholic Press Photo
Pope John Paul II meets with Muhammad Ali in 1982 at the Vatican. Little did each know that they would later both suffer from Parkinson’s. Photo: CNS/Catholic Press Photo

Death involving one of our family or friends gives us cause to grieve and also presents us with strong reminders of the fragility of our human existence.

The passing of those who have become prominent can provoke similar feelings with many people able to remember where they were and how they heard about the unexpected and sudden demise of people like US president John Fitzgerald Kennedy or Princess Diana.

Numerous other deaths of prominent political leaders, entertainers or sporting stars also can stir special memories for those who have followed their careers and so it has been over the past couple of weeks regarding former boxing champion Muhammad Ali.

Outpourings of grief came immediately from sports stars and politicians, despite some controversial aspects of his life including his embrace of the Nation of Islam which saw his name change from Cassius Clay which, as a strong supporter of African-Americans, the man named as a “black superman” in a 1970s pop music hit regarded as his “slave name”.

His role as a conscientious objector which put his boxing career on hold through most of the years 1967-70 pending the outcome of court cases saw him gain more than sporting fame as he spoke against the Vietnam war and in support of racial justice on college campuses across America.

“I am the greatest” became the line most often associated with Ali – even during his long battle with Parkinson’s disease – after he used it following his world heavyweight boxing championship win against Sonny Liston in 1964.

A couple of days before Muhammad Ali’s death, I had been reading a magazine profile mentioning Barbara Cox Anthony, who died about nine years ago but was honoured by one of her long-time friends who said: “She was rich in different ways. She was rich in heart.”

Those words may not remain in my mind as long as claims by the boxing champion who declared his “greatness” at the success he achieved when aged just 22, but they set me thinking about what may be attributed to us after the end of our earthly lives.

Barbara Cox Anthony had been a wealthy woman but the reflection repeated so long after her death was not a measure of that wealth, but rather a reflection on what she had sought to do with it. And, according to that friend who spoke out in her memory, she had not sought to take any credit for her generosity to others.

Those of us who can enjoy the fruits of a comfortable life in Australia are presented with similar opportunities to open both our pockets and our hearts to offer support to any number of worthwhile causes.

It’s worth considering opportunities to take such actions at this time because of the approach of the end of the financial year.

Tax deductible donations which can deliver obvious benefits to the cause which is being supported and also some to the donor can be made to a number of operations which will assist the provision of good works by our Church.

Services supported by the social welfare agency, Catholic Care can be assisted by tax deductible donations to the Charitable Works Fund which also separately assists the provision of chaplaincies, the training of priests, the work of catechists, assistance to the deaf and hearing-impaired through the work of the Ephpheta Centre, and the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry.

Assistance for priests who have moved to lesser duties through their retirement is available by donating to the Priests’ Retirement Foundation.

The Sydney archdiocese demonstrates its continuing respect for these men who have given their lives to the Church and its people by giving $2 for every $1 that is donated by the faithful.

The St Mary’s Cathedral Conservation Appeal is also worthy of consideration, ahead of sesquicentenary celebrations in 2018 for this historic building which needs regular and costly work to maintain its neo-Gothic beauty.

Outreach to communities overseas through the work of Caritas Australia and Catholic Mission may also be embraced.

Responding to these calls may not advertise that you are “the greatest” but it will demonstrate a certain richness of heart.