– REV. JOSÉ MARIO O. MANDÍA
“What difference is there between having faith and not having one?” asked a university student who professed no religious belief.
“If one has faith, in particular the Catholic faith,” I told him, “he knows what happens after he dies (through the Creed). He knows that there are two possible outcomes: limitless and endless satisfaction, or endless disappointment and frustration. Moreover, if he has faith, he knows that he has power to choose between the two outcomes, and he will be taught what he needs to do to achieve limitless and endless satisfaction (through the Commandments). But that’s not all. He will be supplied the resources he needs to achieve that goal (the Sacraments and Prayer).”
Death is a puzzle for many, but all of us, you and I, have to face it sooner or later. Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes (no. 10) remarked that despite the rapid progress we find around us, we are still bothered by the same questions: “What is man? What is this sense of sorrow, of evil, of death, which continues to exist despite so much progress? What purpose have these victories purchased at so high a cost? … What follows this earthly life?”
It continues, “Not only is man tormented by pain and by the advancing deterioration of his body, but even more so by a dread of perpetual extinction … the utter ruin and total disappearance of his own person. He rebels against death because he bears in himself an eternal seed which cannot be reduced to sheer matter.” (Gaudium et Spes 18)
But the great thing about having Faith is that death ceases to be a problem. For a non-believer, death is a full stop but for those with Faith, it is a comma. Jesus Christ has transformed it from a curse to a blessing. “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?’” (I Corinthians 15:54-55)
There are at least three lessons we can draw from a prayerful consideration of death. The first is that time has to be used well because life on earth passes away swiftly. Psalm 90 (verses 5-6, 10, 12) says that man is like grass which sprouts in the morning but by evening “it fades and withers.” Further it says that the lifespan is seventy years for most, and for the healthy, eighty years, “yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” So it concludes in verse 12: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Teach us to number our days, teach us to know the value of each moment. We become wise when we learn not to waste the precious time that God has entrusted to us. As Gandalf said in The Lord of the Rings, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
The second lesson is that even if God has made us masters of the material world, we ought to remember that he is the overall Master, he is the Lord of all. We may plan, we must plan, but all plans are subject to his approval. “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and get gain;’ whereas you do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.’” (James 4:13-15)
The third lesson is that we should not overburden ourselves with so many superficial concerns and attachments in this world. When Saint John Paul II was elected Pope, he started writing his spiritual testament (his last will), where he stated, “I leave no possessions of which it will be necessary to dispose. As for the things I use every day, I ask that they be distributed as seems appropriate. Let my personal notes be burned.” That explains why he was able to love God and why he was able to love men. When we learn to divest ourselves of superfluous things, we are liberated, and we are free to love God and to love others with a self-sacrificing love. And we get much more in return.
To illustrate what I mean, let me end with this story whose author is unknown (should you know who the real author is, please send me an e-mail right away!).
“Jenny was a bright-eyed, pretty five-year-old girl. One day when she and her mother weThe Lord of the Ringsre checking out at the grocery store, Jenny saw a plastic pearl necklace priced at $2.50. She liked it right away. So she convinced her mom to let her do some chores so that she could earn money to buy it. So after some days of hard work, Jenny got her necklace.
“She wore her necklace everywhere — to kindergarten, bed and when she went out with her mother to run errands. The only time she didn’t wear them was in the shower; her mother had told her that they would turn her neck green.
“Now Jenny had a very loving daddy. When Jenny went to bed, he would get up from his favorite chair every night and read Jenny her favorite story. One night when he finished the story, he said, ‘Jenny, do you love me?’
“‘Oh yes, Daddy, you know I love you,’ the little girl said.
“‘Well, then, give me your pearls.’
“‘Oh! Daddy, not my pearls!’ Jenny said. ‘But you can have Rosie, my favorite doll. Is that okay?’
“‘Oh no, darling, that’s okay.’ Her father brushed her cheek with a kiss. ‘Good night, little one.’
“The same thing happened the next week, and the week after, and each time Jenny was giving something else instead of her pearls.
“Several days later, when Jenny’s father came in to read her a story, Jenny was sitting on her bed, teary-eyed. She had run out of things to give her dad. So when he asked her, ‘Do you love me?’, she hesitatingly surrendered her false pearl necklace into her father’s hand. But as he took the plastic pearls, her dad pulled out of his pocket a blue velvet box. Inside the box were real, genuine, beautiful pearls.
“‘I had them all along,’ he said. ‘I was waiting for you to give up the cheap stuff so I could give you the real thing!’”
(First published in O Clarim on 14 Nov 2014.)