In our Catholic Church, the month of November is usually associated with the end. The theme of reflection dwells on the end of life and the afterlife. It begins with November 1, All Saints Day, the desired end of our spiritual journey- to end in the presence of God, to become saints. Then on November 2, All Souls Day. This is popularly referred to in our country as Araw ng mga Yumao, the end of our earthly journey. Also, in this month we celebrate Christ the King. This signals the end of the calendar of the Catholic Church (Advent is the new year in the liturgical calendar). It proclaims that at the end of time, Jesus will reign; goodness will eventually triumph. Endings are very much part of human life.
Recently, during semestral break, I have a bliss to have encountered five wonderful people who could already be facing their end. They have retired for several years now. Though they may now be in their twilight years (well, in the “pre-departure area”) my time-spent with these five people was both inspiring and a wishful thinking of sort. Inspiring because one could sense that they had lived (and continues to live) their past with so much fruits amidst life’s challenges and difficulties. Hence, any sane individual could not help but be envious that someday in old life one could well be like them – old and grace-filled.
1. The Spiritual Sister: During our college days in St. Vincent Ferrer Seminary in Jaro, Iloilo City, each seminarian was given a spiritual sister from the Carmelite Monastery. The sister is duty-bound to pray for her “chosen” seminarian. To be chosen was by way of drawing lots. My name was raffled to Sister C. Since then, and up until now, she had been praying for me… for 26 years already!
After decades, I was delightfully surprised to see Sister C again. She is now 79 years old. She has spent life in the cloister for 48 years already. Before her entrance to the monastery, Sister worked as a nurse in the US. Her parents and the whole family were against her foolish desire and the outrageous plan of becoming a contemplative nun. She assured her parents though, “Balikbayan box will even become more plentiful because it would be God himself who would send them to you… in different sizes, shapes and forms at that.”
Since then there was no turning back for Sister C. She had found what she was missing before in her previous life. She had filled up what she considered as lacking yet in her former career. She had satisfied the restless emptiness she had when she was just wandering in the outside world. “I am living a wonderful life here,” she happily told me. “The Lord has been extremely nice to me. I don’t feel old because I am following Jesus…. Remember that Jesus was only 33 years old… So, I will always be 33 years old too!”
2. The Big Momma: Big Momma has 10 children, numerous grandchildren and increasing great-grandchildren. She has been widowed for several years now. A month ago, Big Momma was found to have a cancer, at stage 4 at that. Immediately, one of her children alerted me. He confided to me the predicament with a request for to visit Big Momma and if need be for confession and counselling. Then and there, I was also saddened at the news. On the other hand, I also had to prepare how I would make my visit to Big Momma meaningful and fruitful on account of her condition. I was worried what would I say. I was lost for right disposition to face her. I could not grapple with proper approach to counsel her. Not to mention that I projected Big Momma as already frail, worried and all.
When I finally made a visit. To my big surprise, it was Big Momma herself who “broke the ice”! She was even in more positive spirits than anyone else in the house. I had suspected even that she was in no need of counselling with her upbeat countenance. “Am very okay, Father!” she exclaimed to me. “If this is God’s will for me then I am accepting it. No worries. Life is just like that.”
3. The Old Good Shepherd: Before Mass, a lady told me, “Father, the Bishop is looking for you.” Quickly, off I went because it would be my first personal encounter with him. There, the bishop was seated. Frail and his body bent (no thanks to scoliosis which hounded him for years), the bishop accorded me with warm recognition: “I have already been hearing your name through our common family friends. Kumusta?” With that, I have already felt a sense of belonging and ease with the bishop. Then, he started to ask me questions about who and how I am. Afterwards, he was already sharing with me some personal experiences about his life and ministry. Towards the end, the old good bishop came to a point where he was sort of confiding to me cum counselling me. “I was given big tasks at a very young age. It was not fun. Then, I was assigned to even more challenging responsibilities. It was a no-nonsense mission. It was very difficult on my part…. But in everything, it as a purification for me. It was purification on the people as well…. We are being refined with struggles.”
4. The Unlikely Counsellor: I have not met her personally this semestral break. But days ago, she sent me a very timely email. She is happily married to her husband for more than 50 years now. She has children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She lost her only son, at a tender age. Life’s battles made her a very qualified guidance counsellor. She wrote me: “… God’s will is not immediate nor tangible. It too needs to go thru a process. Because His will has its perfect timing… We insist to understand what is going on. We have to learn to consent not to understand. We need to allow God to be God… And all will be well.”
5. You… Your Self: We may have already encountered countless people. But the most terrific encounter is within – to encounter our self. Otherwise, we would feel empty when we are remiss of this chance. Hence, we will be lost and regretful. This kind of encounter is only possible through prayer and in prayer. Profoundly, the most important encounter in life could only happen in the intimacy of one’s heart with God.
We usually think that we have to experience death in order to go to heaven. Life has to end first before we get to see heaven. Seemingly, our encounter with these five people convey to us another reality in a quite distinctive manner. A glimpse of heaven could already live through while one is still on earth. This is evidential when the person’s disposition is like that of the selflessness of the Spiritual Sister, the acquiescence of the Big Momma, the humility of the Old Good Shepherd, the resolve of the Unlikely Counsellor and the audacity of Your Self. With all these and more, heaven could be right here and right now. Everything must end in heaven. And heaven could only just a new beginning.