PARADOXICAL

The faith chronicles

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

 

Laughing at death


It's funny how death reunites the living. Note how wakes and funerals become impromptu family reunions, when relatives from all over the world come together. We know that no amount of words or money can ever console the bereaved; only our presence would convey our condoling wishes best or more effectively. "Get here if you can," like the song goes.

My case was even more comic, bordering on the hilarious. During the wake for someone I haven't even met alive, I found myself, together with the new group I have identified with, attending an intimate Mass with people we've had a most bitter falling-out with. The cause of our split with the latter was so bitter that at the moment, it's best for everyone not to see each other face to face for a long while.

But someone's death intervened, thus the ensuing comedy of errors. T., the deceased, was sister to the two parties that happened to belong to the warring groups. Everyone was apparently having a hard time trying to keep a civil conversation lest a deafening silence stepped in and blurted out the more realistic line or exchange for all of us: "Don't you dare talk to me".

Mercifully, the priest, Fr. J.L., who was about an hour late, finally came before everybody got to be in stitches at the sheer hilarity of it all. Fortunately for him and for all of us, he was an extraordinarily brilliant speaker. The wake easily became a crash course on death, a crash course so biting as to remind us that, in the face of death, nothing matters, not even the bitterest of quarrels. Listen.

1. At the start of the Mass, we sang a short song of joy. In his homily, the priest commented, "It was ironic but it was right," implying that if we really believed in what we we've been professing to believe, it's but proper to rejoice, instead of grieve, at a loved one's death (because he or she is finally home, to put it straightforwardly).

2. "We always say 'Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.' Oftentimes, we see death as the end of it all. True, death is an inescapable part of life. As the joke goes, 'When a child is born, there are only two things sure - taxes and death.' But the thing is, God is with us. God Emmanuel. When we receive holy communion, what do priests say before you get to say 'Amen'?"

"The body of Christ," we answered.

"Can you imagine one's reaction if the priest says, "The corpse of Christ"?

3. "Death is like a take-home exam. At the end of life, we all have to submit to the Father our answers of faith and good works to the test of earthly life."

4. "Death is like an airplane. We all need to take off in order for us to be able to fly towards the loving embrace of the Father."

5. "Death is certain, but when it comes, it always comes as a surprise because we don't want it, we deny it, we don't like thinking about it. It's a beautiful thing, then, that God made sure we don't know the time we're going to die. If we do, we would all be neurotic," constantly worrying about that red-letter day on the calendar.

"Anybody here who wants to go to heaven, raise your hand." (Everyone raises his hand.) "Who wants to do that now? Who wants to die now?" (You get the picture.)

6. "T. speaks to us loud and clear today: In death, nothing else matters, not titles, degrees, or awards. Death is a great equalizer. Like St. Augustine said, 'It only takes a coffin and a body to point out the whole meaning of life.'"

When the "Our Father" and "Peace be with you" parts came, the crowd's anger for each other hopefully melted a little. I think mine did, if only for just a little. Ms. T., the deceased, must have had set us all up. I could hear her laughing at all of us.

7.7.2000


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