Wednesday, April 24, 2024


Without a doubt, the majority of the human population fears death.  And we are not just talking about that moment when our hearts stop beating and all our human biological connections are no longer working.  That would be death with a capital D.  The death that I am referring to concerns all the little deaths that all of us are called to die to while our biological systems are still well connected and working to keep the body physically alive. 


It can be easily summed up by calling it the death to the self.  And this is experienced when we make that conscious effort to die to the sinful or temporary pleasures that we often take delight in in life.  It consists primarily of the death of the ego and the false self which so many of us partake in and don’t often think about seriously in our daily life.  That never-ending and relentless lust for something as material as a branded luxury item, like a pair of shoes, or a sparkling gem in the shape of a ring or a bracelet, or a sportscar with an unpronounceable name like a Buggati Veyron or a Ferrari Spider.  It could even be a meal at some Michelin rated eatery that gives one a smile of unending delight, perhaps costing as astronomical as a thousand dollars per diner.  And it doesn’t even have to be something that costs an arm and a leg.  Even lust for a juicy beef burger in a fast food outlet can give a person that same kind of ecstatic delight.  Saying a conscious ‘no’ to these treats is itself an experience of the death that I am referring to.  Of course, right after saying ‘no’ to these temptations doesn’t spare one the nagging and constant thoughts of ‘what if’, wondering how it would feel if one actually made the commitment to splurge that gigantic amount of hard-earned money and made the purchase to obtain the rights to own that merchandise or experience the delights of that exorbitant meal. 


In the New Testament, there are about 33 bible verses that have Jesus mention the need to take up our cross and to follow him.  In Mark 8:34, Jesus even goes on to mention the need to deny oneself in life.  Of course, on the Via Dolorosa, Jesus literally takes up his cross all the way up to Gethsemane where the Romans used it crucify him, between two others who were crucified with him on that fateful day. 


As God, Jesus knows that it is against the grain of our sinful human spirit to deny ourselves in life.  Little children from the moment of their infancy, simply delight in having things their way.  And if they are denied what they want, tantrums and tears will somehow automatically appear on their innocent faces.  When these moments of ‘innocent’ demands are met, the down side is that the child will grow up thinking that it is just their God-given right to have their way in life.  Of course, when the child starts on their journey of catechesis, hearing of his/her catechists teach about the need to learn how to die to the self would be something completely alien to their minds and ears. 


Why does Jesus emphasize the need to die to the self and the need to carry our crosses in life?  Is there something so special in dying to the self that Jesus makes it a point to stress this in his teachings?  But if we take a close look at the apogee of his sacred life, it is at his crucifixion on Calvary that just before he breathed his last, he said the words “it is finished”.  What was finished was the purpose of his earthly life.  In his death on the cross, he accomplished what he was sent on earth to do – which was to overcome the power of death by his own death.  All the miracles and demonstrations of his sacred life were nothing compared to what his death on the cross did.  Through his death and resurrection from the dead three days after his crucifixion, he triumphed over the last bastion of life.  And not only for himself, but for all who are his followers and members of the Church that he founded. 


So as we make efforts in life to renounce ourselves and willingly take up our crosses in life, we too become living members of his sacred life and finally, when we breathe our last on this earth, we too can imitate Jesus on the cross, and say with great gratitude and relief, the three words that Jesus himself uttered on the cross of Calvary, “it is finished”.


Each time we strive to die to self and become unafraid of the throes of death and suffering, we ready ourselves for that great death of our lives.  I had a very memorable moment of this when I underwent the whole procedure of getting my needed bone marrow transplant to help me to attain remission from my encounter with Leukemia, which was very life threatening back in the year 2013.  I had to undergo several surgeries and each time as I entered the operating theatre, I had to be administered with a combination of Propofol and Fentanyl to be sedated and numbed from experiencing any pain. 


Those moments prior to the activation of the drugs are always a delight to me, as I know that I will be in a state of comatose and would not experience the passing of time.  In fact, each time I was awakened by the nurses post-surgery, I asked the nurse how long the surgery took.  Sometimes it was a two-hour long process, but to me, it felt like I happened to just dose off when the surgeon performed a complex operation like removing my hip joint and replaced it with an implant.  I love the fact that so much can happen if I only willingly allow the anesthesiologist to administer those sleep-inducing drugs into my veins.  From a certain angle, it would seem like an experience of death of some form, and I look at it as a literal death to the self.  There is no point in fighting this whole act of being put to sleep, and I know that there are many people who actually are very against the effect of such anesthesia in life.  I like to joking ask my anesthesiologist before the surgery “so, am I getting the Michael Jackson one or the Prince one?” and he smilingly tells me “you’re getting both of them!”  Nothing beats the joy of seeing your anesthesiologist chortle with laughter.


All of us need these kinds of mini-Gethsemanes in our lives.  In our Catholic culture, all of us are encouraged to practice the abstinence from meat every Friday, respecting and remembering that on Good Friday Jesus himself went through his agony on the Cross as he made his way up the Via Dolorosa on the streets of Jerusalem.  This once-a-week penance readies us for the other forms of little deaths as we encounter our small Gethsemanes in life.  Ignoring the calls to practice weekly abstinence from meat inoculates us from willingly die to ourselves in other ways in life.  If we ignore this call to penance so habitually, we will end up like those little children whose parents hardly discipline them when they are denied their petty demands and whims and fancies in life. 


May the reading of this blog reflection encourage and give purpose to everyone who has taken precious time to read this writing.  And I pray that your efforts in willingly taking up your own crosses in life with a positive act of your will become your necessary practice so that when it comes to that last moment of your physical life on earth, you too, will be ready to say like Jesus, with eyes looking up towards your heavenly goal, those precious three words of final accomplishment – It Is Finished!