29 November 2007 Thursday of the 34th Week in Ordinary Time
Daniel 6, 12-28; Daniel 3; Luke 21, 20-28
When I attended the funeral mass of Fr. Albert Ricard SJ at Loyola House of Studies last Tuesday, November 27, 2007, I thought about death. Frs. Jun Viray SJ and Julian Hernando SJ who presided in his masses, all remembered Fr. Ricard as a happy Jesuit, until he had Alzheimer’s. I didn’t know Fr. Ricard personally since he was assigned to Sta. Maria Parish in Iloilo, Xavier School in Manila, and Sacred Heart School – Jesuits in Cebu City. I was never assigned to these areas; but one felt the affiliation instantaneously by the fact that we were both Jesuits. And what others said about Fr. Ricard, I also wanted others to remember me by.
At the final lap of the liturgical year, we are constantly reminded of our destination: either our individual deaths or the final end. In all these, the message is clear: those who lived life glorifying and praising him are rewarded with eternal bliss. The Gospel assures those who followed Christ, not to be frightened when Jesus comes again at the final hour, “but to stand erect and raise one’s head because one’s redemption is at hand.” The same way with Daniel in the first reading: nothing frightens him — even a den of lions — if he has the ‘living God’ whom he worships unceasingly.
The experience of death gives us a life perspective. To evaluate whether we are in the right path, we could look back at our lives from its end. What do you want people to say about you when you die? Would they say that to you at present? Who do you wish to be at your bedside when you breathe your last? Do you spend time with them now?
Death constantly reminds us of our limitations, our finite life. Our bodies are constantly at risk. We can die immediately or in a slow process. And we do not have control when or where or in what manner we are to die. In other words, death tells us that we are constantly at the mercy of God.
But death itself is a manifestation of the divine. In the inevitability of death, our spirits are not limited by our finitude. There are those who suffer from a terminal illness, yet refuse to yield and wallow in their helplessness. Their energy is boundless and their heart is unstoppable. They find ways to be useful and then discover a new world after treatment or retirement. We simply refuse to die before our physical death. We want to live forever. Some write a book. Some make a historic and heroic act. Some put their names on buildings. Some erect a monument. Our desire to be even at our passing away is a testimony that our souls proceed to a destiny not bound by our bodies.
The belief on eternal life, where life is changed not ended by death, gives meaning to our lives. Why be good when everyone is bad? Why suffer while others can get away with it? Without the perspective of eternal life, a lot of our altruistic acts become senseless; and a lot of our sufferings become useless.