November 3, 2015 (for All Souls Day)

by Fr. Cristino Robles Pine, OFM


            Whenever we celebrate this Day (All Souls Day), we reflectively come closer, or I would say, actually closer (at least another year closer), to the reality of death.  The images that come into our minds are normally morbid, generating reactions like repulsion, denial, or perhaps bargaining.  Maybe these were also the same initial reactions that confronted our brothers whose remains now lie in this place, in this same place where ours, sooner or later, are to be interred as well.


            Let me share to you a chain of images in this regard, ones that might not necessarily be too morbid.  Death after all, like life, is also beautiful (as Fr. Deng, OP told us once in one of our retreats).


            Let me share my thought. 


            First, the process of dying is like learning a new language.  It could be a painful process for some while others can embrace it with grace.  I am wondering why children can easily learn languages.  One of the commonly given reasons is that their brains are, accordingly, like sponges that absorb everything even without trying to memorize vocabularies or without the need to preoccupy themselves with grammar and syntax.  They can easily learn languages perhaps because their minds are more spacious to accept things than those of the adults.  For a child, and for a childlike person, accepting the reality of death is easier because of the less baggage their carry.  They are more trustful of realities bigger than themselves perhaps because they are free of their own expectations of themselves.


            The first reading from the Book of Wisdom is clear: the souls of the just are in the hand of God.  Moments like this, when we reflect on our life and death and pray for our beloved departed, bring this basic reality back into awareness: we celebrate our life, in trust and humility, because life after all is given to us simply as a gift.  Then we can be freer from our self-securing activities, from our tendency to control in order to meet our own expectations.  We can be freer from our own expectations of ourselves.  We might no longer see life only as a tedious and painful process towards the acceptance of the reality of death.  We can simply live life, seizing each moment, because before we come to know it, like a new language learned, humility and trust might have already become part of our system.


            Secondly, the reality of death is like a self-expression, like painting perhaps.  We can simply play with colors and make strokes, fine or broad, the way our hearts tell us to do.  There are no mistakes in painting, as wise artists would normally say.  One may begin with wild concepts or unclear images but may end up with a beautiful piece of art.  Engaging ourselves in the art of self-expressions could not only be therapeutic.  They can lead us to discover the deepest part of ourselves, which is normally left unexplored because we do not normally look into it.  Our energy is consumed by looking into what others would say and tell us.  The art of self-expression frees us from other people’s expectations.  Once in our life, we might come to discover something that we want to do, that would put others’ reactions in the end of the list, or might exclude them even.  Why are people afraid to die?  There are yet dreams to be fulfilled and missions in life to be accomplished -- are the common given answers.  These answers are okay but these are also reflective of the fact that we do things because they are dictated from the outside pressures, rather than being motivated by the good and beautiful things that our heats tell us to do.


            The most beautiful and best actions are normally demanded from within and not because they are dictated by the external forces.  This is part of what Paul is trying tot tell us in his Letter to the Romans.  Jesus Christ is in solidarity with us, in life and in death, a solidarity that is not merely necessitated by our condition but by the overflowing beauty and goodness of God.  For somebody whose beautiful and good actions are already flowing out from within, Paul is saying that death has no more power over him or her.


            Thirdly, death could be likened to our very own context, in the context of our community.  We might experience little deaths everyday, but we cannot also dismiss the fact that we also experience little resurrections.  Death becomes secondary.  These little deaths we might experience can always become opportunities to make better, better than yesterday, to forgive each other from the hurts we have many times consciously or unconsciously inflicted against each other.


            The Gospel passage we have just heard form the Gospel according to Matthew, at the surface, might make us think of the final judgment at the end of time.  However, looking at the text within its context, we may reflect that God at the end will not judge us.  The final judgment may only refer to the judgment we make to each other everyday, every time we fail to do good things and even simple act of kindness to each other and every time we refuse to forgive one another.  Often, the fact remains, that the least of such brethren (heni toutōn tōn elachistōn), is the one we have in our community.


            May the commemoration of our beloved departed be truly an occasion of grace and a period of renewal!