Monday, November 14, 2011

When leaving this life is seen as an invitation to be wowed

One of the most painful things that one should ever undergo has got to be the loss of a parent, especially if one had been close to one’s mother or father in life. I am blessed to have both of my parents still around. Skype is a wonderful blessing indeed to somehow shorten the distance of being half a world away from them and from the comforts of home.

Why am I re-visiting the much written-about topic of death? Someone I had come to know in the past years, a genial, astute, elderly lady, passed away very recently after a having suffered a debilitating, massive stroke some eight months ago. The mother of a dear friend, I had been praying for her incessantly since her illness. On Friday, I was informed that she had died of a heart attack. It is most unfortunate that I cannot be there at the funeral liturgy, but I am hoping that this open reflection will make up for my absence in some small way.

It does seem strange that in many of my blogs, there seems to be a preponderance of death and dying, and some of my regular readers have asked why is it that I don’t write about happier things. It’s not that I am overly morose and maudlin. I can only respond that I am a realist, and death is the most real thing that can ever happen to us in life. The unfortunate thing about death is that though it is very real, we find ourselves hesitating to face its reality until it comes a-knocking on our doors. And when that happens, it’s often a tad too late to do some last-minute revision or recaps on letting go and release, because like an exam, we cannot be too prepared for the visit of what St Francis of Assisi calls Sister Death.

It does take a whole lot of preparation to have that kind of affinity and familiarity with death to give her a familial nomenclature like Sister. It surely doesn’t come overnight. But when well trained, what will happen is that we no longer see death as alien, foreign or even something to be silenced. We don’t do that with family. We embrace family (at least most of us do), we welcome family, and mostly, we enjoy the company of family. In order to see death with such welcome and amity, it necessarily means that we are confident that death brings us not just away from, but also somewhere toward. In Latin, “death” or “mors” is a feminine noun, and perhaps that is why St Francis gave her the title of “sister”, and not “brother”.

In order to prepare well for death, I believe that we must learn how to live well. Much as Catholics seem to have won the laurel wreath hands down when it comes to being guilt-laden in life, we are also not foreign to enjoying life. Catholic guilt has a quality all of its own, and some of us handle this better than others. I’m quite OCD when it comes to the art of delayed gratification, so that makes me an exception rather than the norm. But generally, God’s purpose is to have us enjoy the life that he has given us, and to enjoy this in a way that respects life, respects others, and gives deference to God. It’s when we mess this order up that problems crop up in life.

Mary (that’s her name) never got to receive the Lord in Holy Communion as she was baptized whilst in a comatose state from which she never recovered. She was later confirmed, and had received the Sacrament of Holy Anointing on a couple of occasions as well. In an ironic, poignant, and bittersweet strange way, Mary’s first Mass where she will be present as a baptized Catholic will also be her last. But it’s not the end. Each Mass that we as a community celebrate becomes then our conscious efforts at joining not just Mary, but with all the others who have gone before us with the great hope of that eternal banquet that is prepared by God.

Our faith gives us that great hope that we will share a meal again, a meal that transcends all meals in the meal that does not end.

In my current place of residence here called ‘the Castle’, there is an old Redemptorist missionary priest who is ‘getting on in years’. He is slowing down in his movements. Fr Tom said that he is getting ‘sluggish’ as of late. He moves slowly, needs a walking cane, and is hard of hearing at times, but he lights up when he is asked about his thoughts of death. Not afraid of dying, he has said time and again that anything we can ever say about heaven now will pale in comparison to its reality when we behold it. He said the other day “I am sure that there will only be one word that we will be able to say when we get there. It’s ‘wow’!”

I’m practicing my ability to be wowed each day. This must be one of the paths toward sainthood. Care to join me?


  1. Hi Fr Luke,
    Yes,of course,it will be 'wow' indeed!:)

  2. A reflection from Henri Nouwen In Memory of Jesus and the Saints

    "Belonging to the communion of saints means being connected with all people transformed
    by the Spirit of Jesus. This connection is deep and intimate. Those who have lived
    as brothers and sisters of Jesus continue to live within us, even though they have
    died, just as Jesus continues to live within us, even though he has died.
    We live our lives in memory of Jesus and the saints, and this memory is a real presence.
    Jesus and his saints are part of our most intimate and spiritual knowledge of God.
    They inspire us, guide us, encourage us, and give us hope. They are the source
    of our constant transformation. Yes, we carry them in our bodies and thus keep
    them alive for all with whom we live and work."


  3. Hi Fr Luke

    I would love to join you Father in this path. Until March this year, I was in preparation of being wowed daily by our Loving God, rather desperately....

    Then, I realized in very tangible circumstances, He has other plans for me.....another great gift of His coming my way ;p To be honest, I was devastated initially because this means I will have to wait longer for that day to come. However, I've come to accept what He asks of me and in obedience and humility, I shall finish the work He wants me to complete.

    So, meanwhile, I'll have to stretch my neck out long to await, only He knows how long more, for me to be wowed into His Kingdom.

    Thank you Father for the regular blog on this topic. Actually, it's my favourite topic too.

    God Bless
    Nicole, CTK

  4. Dear Fr Luke

    Death is such a morbid topic. Words associated with it are 'pantang', taboo and suay. And actually, while life is bad, death might be worse. The problem with death is that it is stll a one way ticket, and in Hamlet's words, the 'undiscover'd country from which no traveller returns'. I guess although I try to live with integrity and be good, I am no saint and thus am seriously worried about the fires of hell, where 'wowed' is going to be roughly going to be reversed into an encounter with 'demons'.

    Well, 'to be or not be, that is the question' isn't it? There is reason, but the concept of a Holy City with wonders all so long ago foretold lies in the realm of faith. However, I guess while we are in the land of the living, we should be true to ourselves and to the faith that gives us hope that someday, somewhere, we will be called to that eternal meal where God and Man at Table are Sat Down.


  5. Reminds me what Steve Jobs said before he passed on - "Wow."

  6. Fr. Barron's line couldn't be more appropriate: the best way to prepare ourselves for life in the world to come is to is to cultivate our capacity for surprise.

  7. Is it wrong to be curious about the reality of the after-death? Given that death occurs as a moment, a turning point.

    It was about 3 days after my mum was cremated... I experienced her concretely with me. I didn't see her face again, but her body was right next to me - illuminated in the same way that the movie "afterwards" depicts. She beckoned me to lie on her lap for a while...

    In fact I was wowed after her death. But I do miss her dearly.

  8. If I am a saint, could I let my spirit lingers around all the churches and chapels?
    If I am a saint, could I whisper gentle loving and consoling words to the heartbroken?
    If I am a saint, could I lovingly embrace the unloved?
    If I am a saint, could I blow away all tears that filled with pain, anguish and hurt?
    If only I am a saint,
    If only when I died,
    If only I could enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

    Bless U, Father Luke for a saintly heart!
    Kelly :)

  9. Dear Fr Luke,

    Enjoyed your blog as usual. Intrigued.

    Read "The Four Last Things" by Fr Martin von Cochem a few times. It is not to attain heaven alone but to love because the ever-loving God has loved us...

    In "the Dance of life", Nouwen concluded that he used to ponder on eternal life as "life after death"; a false preoccupation...a distraction. As the clear goal of a Christian is eternal life and that is life in and with God. It is the active presence of God at the center of my living - the movement of God's Spirit within us - that gives us eternal life...

    At today's homily, we were told of the 7 works of mercy that a Christian must inculcate in their daily living before the sheep gets separated from the goats...It is only through Mother Mary's eyes and with God's immense love is all these possible.

    Father, we look for guidance for the WOW in life..Thank you for your sharing, Mat.

  10. Hi Fr thanks for sharing.

    I remembered when i was studying theolgoy,
    the joke which went around was that when talkative theology students (the kind who can spend literally hours talking about the Heaven and life with the Blessed Trinity for instance) pass on to the life to come, there would be two doors waiting them. One would be labeled “God”. The other would be labeled “seminar about God”. Guess which one would the theology student chose?

    Personally I began to panic as I realized that I might choose the second door.... =)

  11. Nick, I don't particularly enjoy theologumenon, so I think it would be a no-brainer about which door I'd choose. You an go into the second door by all means. I'd rather meet the one I have been praying to, loving and literally, been dying to meet all my life. :-)