A few years ago, I complained of body aches to my doctor who suggested that I undergo a thorough medical check-up. As I lay inside the MRI tube, feeling nervous and claustrophobic, it suddenly dawned on me that my body was slowly dying.
When I shared the experience to some of our priests in Kabankalan, they were alarmed, and one asked me with deep concern, “Really, Bishop?” To which I responded, “Yes, my body is dying, and so is yours.” Indeed, I feel that everyday my body is dying because not only are my bones aching. My eyesight too is starting to dim, my teeth are diminishing, my mobility is declining and my memory is failing.
Today the gospel speaks of the end of the world. Jesus gives signs of its coming: calamities, wars and persecutions. When will it happen? Will we ever live to see the day? Nobody knows. Jesus himself admits that only the Father knows. Chances are we may not. The signs have been with us throughout the centuries, and we’re still around. Besides Jesus tells us today, “Do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end.”
While we may not see the end of the world, we will surely see the end of our world, our life. No day is more certain than our own death. Are we ready for it? How do we prepare? In the same way that Jesus teaches us how to prepare for the last day. He tells us three things: not to be deceived, not to terrified and to persevere.
“See that you not be deceived for many will come in my name saying, ‘I am he.’” Death is a homecoming. It is going back to the Father’s house, and no less than Jesus himself welcomes us to say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Mt 25:34)
Will we recognize him at our death? We will, if we recognize him in our life. If we recognize his face in the poor and the needy, if we recognize his voice in the Word and his presence in the sacraments, if we recognize his will in our daily duties…
“Do not be terrified; for such things must happen first.” If in death Jesus comes to fetch us home, then death is not something to fear but to rejoice about. The revelation of the end times is primarily meant to be a proclamation of great joy, an announcement of the final coming of Jesus who will establish God’s kingdom definitively. During our seminary days, our monthly recollection used to be known as an Exercise for a Happy Death.
The apocalyptic image of destruction and upheaval preceding the coming of Jesus is symbolical. It means that the new order which Jesus comes to establish requires the old order to be broken down. The seed must first die if it is to live and bear much fruit. Hence the daily dying of my body must not only be a biological process, but a moral one as well. I must also be willing to die daily to my pride, lust, attachments and all that hinder the coming of Jesus.
“By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” One of my realizations from my MRI experience was that all I really have is what is left of my life. Then I remembered a poster in one jeepney saying, “Today is the beginning of the rest of your life.”
How many more days do I have to live? I’ll never know. Yesterday, I received the sad news on the death of a young Marian Missionary priest who was ordained just two months ago. Every day is precious. We cannot afford to waste it. Let us spend it on things that really matter, like our relationships with God, our family, our community and with everyone for they are all our brothers and sisters.