Monday, September 19, 2011

Mercy, death and dying – time to “up” the heat.

Death and dying are things that many people don’t like to talk about or think about very much. The saying that there are two things that are certain in life – taxes and death – is probably very true, but still, the topics of death and dying seem to be taboo. Yes, this holds true even for Catholics who believe in the promise of the resurrection of the dead.

As a priest who had been in the parish and active in ministry for the ten years before coming over to the States, I was constantly reminded of how fragile life really is, especially if I was the presider at a funeral liturgy, and even much more so if I had journeyed with the person before his death. If there is one thing that I miss in active ministry it is funeral masses. To be sure, weddings are lovely and beautiful, but I am still quite unconvinced that many couples really are deeply aware of the true vocation that marriage really is, and what God is really calling them to as a sacrament. It’s a common lament among priests – that much as we can talk and instruct and guide couples about marriage and its deep meaning, many of them are just too polite to ask further, or too caught up in the ‘romance’ to be awed by God’s part in this relationship. Most of the time, the deeper significance of how God is present to a couple in marriage comes much later in their married life. I guess this is where marriage enrichment programmes like Marriage Encounter come in. Apart from marriages, there are baptism liturgies and first communion liturgies, which are part and parcel of parish life that I do miss as well. But I must say that it is the funeral masses that I find most meaningful and also most challenging to ‘celebrate’ well, and yes, something that I do miss.

Why this is felt strongly by me is because I have come to see that very often (of course there are exceptions) it is when we are at these ‘life border’ situations that we come face to face with death, especially with the death of a close relative, a spouse, a child, a parent or a dear friend, that something opens up. At these liminal-space moments, one can hardly turn one’s gaze away from just how fragile life really is. Many a time, I have found that these are moments where a person becomes receptive to life, to love, and to reality. Life as it is lived now at this breakneck speed provides too many ways to escape from the depth and meaning of life. I am not a party pooper, but if our life is just one big party after another, one high after another, one thrill after another, one titillation after another, it is when these are brought to a halt that one begins to see another side of life that asks one to search for meaning and depth. These times are the tender entry points for God to enter through a portal of one’s life which hitherto may have been stubbornly closed shut, and where the words “mercy” and “forgiveness” had hardly been on the list of one’s everyday vocabulary.

I have found that when I spend some time at funeral wakes to speak to family members, that they begin to “loosen up” their view that the Church is ‘stuffy’ and ‘officious’, much more so when the death was a result of an apparent suicide. In a multi-cultural and multi-religious society like Singapore, particularly in some races, there will be a very mixed crowd that gathers at the funeral liturgy, and this becomes a most excellent time to broach the topic of the gift of Divine Mercy that Jesus is for all of us. There is bad form and good form at these liturgies, and bad form would include saying that the deceased is now an angel; or that God needs Grandma more than we do now; or that Aunt Sally is now a saint in heaven (because we are not the Congregation for the Cause of Saints), among other things. Good form is preaching about the promise of the resurrection, the need to continue to pray and offer up penance and petition for the soul of the deceased, the hope that our Christian faith gives us, and the meaning of the many liturgical symbols that one sees surrounding the casket and in the sanctuary. They all give great hope for us at the time of separation and grief.

Ultimately, it is mercy that we have been given by God to have enjoyed life (because God could very easily choose not to create us, but he did), and it is mercy that makes it all possible for us to be united with him after we have lived our lives on this earth.

Some of us are not as blessed as others. Most of us have been surrounded by friends who love and support us in life. But some of us may have people who are just bent on making our lives miserable and full of suffering. What does the Christian do when one is plagued with these “itches that cannot be scratched”? I think one of the greatest things we could ever do to those who do harm to us, those who hate us, those who curse us, those who wish evil on us, those who misjudge us, is to pray for these people that they will receive God’s mercy. Cursing them would be to lower ourselves to their level, and certainly not something worthy of Christian action. Jesus told us to bless those who curse us, and forgive those who curse us. This is perfection in God’s eyes, and we should all aim for perfection. Anything less would be an insult to the One whose image and likeness we are made in.

How should we best prepare for death? By being merciful, because this hones our ability to be appropriate receivers of Divine Mercy when it is shown to us. We can’t get ready overnight. We need a whole lifetime of priming so that when it comes our time to receive God’s Mercy, we will recognize it for the amazing grace that it is.

It’s a bit like getting the centralized heating working when the cold winter approaches. Now I know that this is something Singaporeans would never associate themselves with but bear with me. Here in DC, the warm summer days are over, and temperature is dropping each day. Mike, the Maintenance Manager of our “castle” shared with me how the central heat gets working in winter. There are miles of radiator pipes that send the steam generated from the boiler in the basement throughout each room, each hallway and each bathroom of this immense place. Apparently, this needs to be done slowly, in increments of half hour segments for about three weeks before it can be fully operated, because a sudden surge of super-hot steam through pipes that were not used for the past nine months would surely cause them to burst.

As Mike shared this with me, I immediately saw its link with mercy. We need to keep opening our pipes of mercy regularly, offering them to others, so that when God’s mercy comes full at the end of our lives, we are ready to receive all that God wants to give us.


  1. Dear Fr Luke

    I love your association of the central heating and its pipes and how gradual priming needs to be carried out, with mercy. It's spot on.

    God bless

  2. Hi Fr Luke,
    Thanks for the meaning-filled blog.Life is fragile and it is so important to acknowledge it in our daily living.And that in itself is a grace from God which makes us compassionate beings following Christ Jesus to bless those who hurt us.
    May God Bless you Fr Luke and enjoy learning.

  3. Charles de Foucauld "Remember that your death must inevitably flow out of your life - and on that account, realise the insignificance of a great many things. Think often of death, so as to prepare for it and appraise things at their true value"


  4. Dear Father

    There is always a little truth behind every ‘just kidding’, a little knowledge behind every ‘I don’t know’, a little emotion behind every ‘I don’t care’ and a little pain behind every ‘it’s ok’. To people to sometimes appear hell bent on making our lives miserable, I feel that such vindictive and violent behaviour may just unfortunately stem from a huge misunderstanding. Perhaps they have misread the situation, gotten the wrong impression or simply not realized that we have limitations. It is really hoped that some decency and reasonableness can prevail. I agree that I at least am entirely guilty of only seeing God when there are tender entry points and it is a timely reminder that the words ‘mercy’ and ‘forgiveness’ should be higher up on my vocabulary list.

    The only thing I remember of the day my dad passed away suddenly of a heart attack, was sitting beside his lifeless form in astonishment and disbelief. Until that point, naively to me, my dad was invincible. The realization that there were so many things left unsaid and undone did put the brakes on somewhat on the breakneck speed at which I live my life. However, the ending of one story is always the beginning of another tale where we get a fresh chance, with the choice to author of our actions, hopefully for the better with the benefit of hindsight.

    It is sheer providence that when God takes away, God also gives. Every person enters our life for a reason, just like everything happens to us for a reason even if we can’t immediately figure it out. I found myself reading this Blog fairly recently after a rather statistically unlikely series of coincidences and have found many of your sharings like today extremely good pablum for the catholic mind on Mondays. Hopefully my faith pipes get gradually unblocked. And happy 102nd blog entry! Will resolve to try and read the some 90 plus earlier posts at some point ....


  5. Hello Fr. Luke,

    Greetings from Singapore!

    Today's gospel reading from Luke 8:16-18 states, "for anyone who has, will be given more..." Thank you for giving so generously and being a light in cyberspace for all of us. It normally takes me about a week to ruminate on what you share; it is prayer really, quiet pondering and meditating on HIS word and HIS person so that when the time comes for us to meet HIM face-to-face, we will be ready to embrace HIM fully - perhaps this is what it means to die a "holy death". Keep warm!


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  7. Your opening lines on death and dying makes me reflect that actually death and dying is uniquely at the centre of Christianity’s salvation story and whether we accept it or not it has also become a profound reality as - somehow by becoming human Christ is with us in this experience.

    But whereas death seems to come from without ( we cannot know the time it comes ) , dying is a process from within and one can actively participate in it. Living one’s dying can be liberating even if it is only achieved through passivity......for in the final crunch it is a total surrendering.....body and spirit to - our loved ones and to the One who loves us first.

    Perhaps Jesus was showing us how to gift away our dying – bit by bit.......starting from the Garden and ending at the Cross.......but then of course, not all can or would accept it. Even his disciples were appalled and frightened by it , so much so that they denied him and ran away.

    But (as you mentioned ) “Mercy’’ is restorative, loving and forgiving .........and so in dying, is death overcame ?

  8. Dear Fr Luke
    Thanks for a beautiful sharing on death and suffering. It is timely reminder that we are all not invincible. Life is indeed fragile and we should appreciate the people around us more.
    To AP, I do not know your story but please take heart that you will find strength to overcome whatever adversity you are facing. I enjoyed your first line and hope you do not mind if I steal it for a Facebook post. Well, I hope you don't mind if I also plagarise other parts ... quite nice nuggets.

    God Bless!


  9. Dear Fr Luke,

    The lights went out today at morning mass - lector was cool...she's new and with perfect eyesight, carried on to read without flinching. Great, right? Mass carried on ...(without lights but was ok with candles and the faith in our hearts...)

    It is nice when the main congregation did not get affected by those around who tried to rectify the issue at hand as discreetly as possible.

    I suppose we have to move along in life as to what comes along with our mind always focused on meeting our Lord and Saviour.

    I remembered there were 2 homilies at daily mass that you mentioned no one deserves the Eucharist - I suppose you meant we must not feel special but it is only our duty; our purpose in life to do God's will...and the graces we receive along the way are blessings that we should treasure and cherish.

    As our lives get mingled with those around us and events that come along, it is only mercy that can see us through our ultimate aim.

    Thank you Father for gentle reminders...mat.

  10. Thank you Mat, for updating me on the scene in my beloved former parish. I am glad that you have picked up some of the things that I was trying to bring the parish to understand. This blog is public domain, so Edwin, do feel free to take what anyone posts if it is positive in life. Your kind wishes to AP are most appreciated I am sure.

    And to any one else (actually, to one particular person who is a potential troublemaker on this blog), I hope that you refrain from impersonating anyone else becoming a nuisance on this blog because this is certainly not the intention of this blog. Your odious intentions are all too contemptible, and if you think that I am unable to see through your ruse, you are sadly mistaken and insulting my intelligence. Please do not pressure me to start criminal proceedings for which by now, you have provided plenty of evidence to start one. You will be wasting my time and yours. If you so desperately need to see your words in cyberspace, start your own blog by all means. But please do not attempt to sully the positive, encouraging and catechetical purpose of this blog.

    Here's my advise, unsolicited though it may be to you - use your time in a more positive and constructive way. Instead of cursing others violently and childishly and satanically, try to learn to bless and to love instead, difficult though it may be. Instead of forming biased opinions and jumping to conclusions, try to open your mind and your heart to what you have been hitherto closed to. Remember - an eye for an eye makes the world go blind. We will see others clearly after we see ourselves.

    With prayers and much hope
    Fr Luke

    Please let this be the last time I need to address this.

  11. Hi Fr Luke

    Sorry to see your last post. Hope I don't get it wrong but it appears that you or Ap are being cursed? Do such people really exist? Just want to encourage you to stay strong and pat you on the back for a stellar blog ministry.

    God Bless!

  12. Dear Fr Luke
    Appreciated that you replied to my post and for diligently ensuring that posts are made by the person they are from. I don't find AP nuggets positive but they are deep and reflect-worthy.. It is a shame to think that there is a potential trouble maker. Keep the sharings coming and keep warm in DC..... Edwin.