Monday, December 21, 2009

Life's border situations

One of the great privileges of being a priest is that we get involved in peoples’ lives at a level and in a way that most people in any other vocation or profession usually do not. I call these ‘border situations’, where we stand almost at life’s borders.

I prayed at the death bed (literally) of one of my parishioners yesterday. This lady had been suffering from cancer and had reached her final stages, and I went to her home to anoint her and give her Holy Communion just last week. Then yesterday, I received a call from her husband, asking me to go to their home as his wife was dying. I obliged immediately. I prayed this wonderful prayer that very few Christians get to hear at the deathbed of their beloved. It goes like this

“Go forth, Christian soul, from this world in the name of God the almighty Father, who created you, in the name of Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who suffered for you, in the name of the Holy Spirit, who was poured out upon you, go forth, faithful Christian. May you live in peace this day, may your home be with God in Zion, with Mary, the virgin Mother of God, with Joseph, and all the angels and saints.”

In my 8 years as a priest, this was only the second time I had the opportunity to pray this prayer. It is meant to be prayed when the moment of death seems near. Most of the times, we priests are asked to pray at wakes, long after the event of death. But it struck me yesterday, that the words of this prayer are really beautiful and powerful. It almost seems like a sending off or commissioning of the person for a journey. It doesn’t seem at all like a death prayer. In fact, death is not at even mentioned in the prayer.

Perhaps this is where most of us get it wrong about death and life. About death, that it is the end, and that it signals a terminal point. Our faith constantly reminds us that this life is but a preparation and a readying for entering into eternal life. The words of this prayer remind us that we are meant to continue on this journey. It’s as if this life ‘commissions’ us, and ‘missions us’ to move on from this life into the next. There is interestingly no mention of rest as well. Instead, we are reminded that we are entering into life. It throws out of whack our preconceived ideas that we are not going to work anymore in the next life. What is far closer to the truth, I strongly suspect, is that we will most likely be finding such joy in living and working in the next life that we will not even crave for rest.
Another of life’s border situations is when life begins. A couple I have come to know are awaiting the arrival of a child anytime now, and the season of Advent seems to put a new perspective towards the whole waiting and anticipating for the baby’s birth. The couple has courageously decided to not induce the birth, but rather, choose consciously to let God’s time be their time.

I applaud people who dare to live in a way that allows them to surrender control to the one who is in charge of life. The world seems to forestall God’s acting when he deems fit, and the widespread use of contraceptives, birth-inducing procedures (for non-medical reasons), to euthanasia attest to inability and unwillingness to give up control. Terminally ill patients who refuse euthanasia and parents who don’t choose dates for a baby’s arrival into this world become for me, great and courageous defenders for God to lead in life’s journey. They become Adams and Eves who choose not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Is this a somber reflection for the Monday before Christmas? To many, I guess it is. But isn’t Christmas - the real meaning of Christmas-, the celebration that even the life of God in Jesus was something that had a long waiting, that couldn’t be hurried, that didn’t allow for the people involved to live in a certitude, and that involved inconvenience aplenty? Realising this, Christmas must give us all a new hope – yes, in all of life’s border situations.

Blessed Christmas to all, and God love you.


  1. I find the title 'life's border..'intriguing, a strange juxtaposition of words esp. in the context of our faith."Borders" bespoke of geographic demarcations, carefully delineated boundaries with clearly established when you used it with "life's " , it would seem that we are thinking of the defining boundary line between death and life. However,your prayer, esp. the line ' May you LIVE in peace this day ...' is not only beautiful but very liberating and comforting for "borders" now appear to be the limits we put on our understanding of LIFE ...for in our faith's teaching.. there is life ( here on earth) and more life ( with the Divine) - so death is not a terminal, not the end ( as you pointed out ) but rather death is an OPEN-DOOR - a continuation of life.Wondering - is that why St Paul mocked at death having lost it's sting ??

  2. What you notice makes you not only observant, but also able to live in a new freedom and space. When we live in a continuum of life, and not life-death-uncertainty, we live in great hope. All prayers at funerals are meant to do just that - give great hope. I much prefer to pray "Eternal LIFE" grant unto so-and-so, rather than "Eternal REST". The latter gives us a rather dispassionate role after this life, whilst the former has a much more vivid dimension of future participation in life. Yes, I do think that's why St Paul 'mocked' death. Thank you Tessa again!

  3. Death is hope for new life. This Christmas reflection is in tune with our present situation,no matter what.It could be a Goliath situation, but if we put our hope in Christ and with Christ Jesus,we can conquer all.As Jesus is Love,Love begets all."A Blessed Christmas to you Fr Luke and all the members of this blog".

  4. While we live our lives in uncertainty, death ensures certainty ~ it is definitely going to be beautiful in Heaven. Perhaps the only ‘sting’ is in the hearts and minds of those left behind as death leaves a hole in our hearts and an empty space in our lives.
    The only struggle I have at times is where do the non-believers go? In whose bosom do they rest? Where did my non-Christian friends and relatives go, where are they now?

    If you have not already seen Rachel Barkey’s video, it’s definitely worth listening to.

    God bless

  5. Thank you Cecilia, for your sharing and comments. Your question about non-believers and where they go after they die is not an unusual one, and neither is it an easy one to answer. That's probably because we hardly have any 'proof' backed by empirical evidence. But here is what I would say.

    If the fundament of our belief is that we are held in existence by the love of God who doesn't need to, but out of love, wants to, why would this loving God stop loving us when we cross life's border situations? Is there a 'zone' or a place where God stops loving us? Is our God that puny or his love so limited that it cannot go beyond a certain point? Didn't he show the extent to which he will go to love us when he displayed it so vividly on Calvary 2000 years ago? I suspect that for many people, there is. And for them, it is hell.

    My God and my belief in God is that his love goes EVERYWHERE, yes, including the depths of hell (or course, depth is metaphorical here). What remains though, is that there will be places where his love is not wanted, rejected, and even despised. And those places are hells. And they could be in hearts, in minds, and in homes. Most of these places are temporary (when we choose sin), and some want to shut him out permanently (and that would be eternal hell, I guess).

    So does this answer your question? Not quite. Are there souls who once they know how much God loves them, will continue to reject him, whether in this 'zone', or the next 'zone'? While again, we have no proof, I am a proponent of the theory that once we see something in a much broader scope, with a much clearer vision, we cannot but appreciate it with a larger heart. And that goes for God's love.

    Yes, there will be people who stubbornly choose to reject his love even when they see it in full glory after they die, but I suspect that those will be the truly stupid ones. Not ignorant, but stupid. Hell is not a place where God sends people. Hell is a choice that people decidedly make. And purgatory? Oh, the mercy that is shown there is just 'out of this world'. And that's for another blog entry.

    Fr Luke

  6. I reckon that we will be able to "see" the bigger picture of God's immense love for mankind after death. God is too merciful to put even the most sinful man in hell but our awareness of His holiness and love will put us to shame and prevent us from a complete union and harmony with Him until we are purify in love. Heaven and hell are both here on earth. The choice is ours. God bless