“We act and love despite the fear.”
All Saints’ Day is the feast day to recall the heroic virtues and piety of all the saints in heaven. Thus, this is the day to call for the living to imitate the holy lives of the saints — men and women who offered everything in order to follow and live the will of the Father.
All Souls’ Day is the day for Christians to commemorate the memory of their dearly departed brethren, asking God’s mercy, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints in heaven, to grant them the consolation of eternal repose in the company of their Creator, the saints and His angels.
The spiritual and religious significance of these feast days is the reason why we offer masses for our departed brothers and sisters, visit the cemetery to offer prayers for them and for most, another occasion to celebrate. But with the COVID-19 pandemic still underway and with restrictions on gatherings still in place, cemeteries being off-limits to gatherings, we are not able to celebrate these holidays like we used to.
In his homily last year, Pope Francis said – “These are days of hope . . . On the day of the saints and on the day of the dead, it is necessary to think a little about the hope that accompanies us in life . . . The early Christians depicted hope with an anchor, as if life were the anchor thrown onto the shore of heaven and all of us walked toward the shore, clinging to the anchor’s rope . . . This is a beautiful image of hope: to have the heart anchored where our ancestors are, where the saints are, where Jesus is, where God is.”
For the Holy Father, the two significant days are united, making up “hope that does not disappoint.”
It has been a difficult last three months; seeing so many sicknesses and deaths (not all from COVID) – of colleagues, friends, relatives, young and old, has been debilitating and paralyzing. Like many, Myrna La Viña Alonso, Dinky Soliman, Chito Gascon, Tito Remy, Tita Inday, Bien Lumbera, Kerima Tariman, Bobing Venida, Bobby Lucila, Ed Go, Ghaye Alegrio, Paolo Ansaldo, Nina Canoy, Mercedita Aboniawan, Emma San Andres, Cora Jayme, Ruben Balane, Baging Arguelles, Carmen Valero, the earlier deaths of Gemma Narisma, Fr Sergio Su, and Fr Roque Ferriols, Mom’s death last year – have filled me with grief, sorrow, and yes fear.
With every death of a person close to me I was reminded of these familiar words from the Book of Job: “I left my mother’s womb naked, and I will return to God naked. The Lord has given, and the Lord has taken. May the name of the Lord be blessed.”
To be honest, I struggle to accept this truth. To be clear, it is difficult to utter the last line. But we can accept that and still proclaim Yahweh’s faithfulness. As Job did.
Job was the righteous, suffering servant. He rightly rejected his friends’ arguments that he was being punished by God for misdeeds. Surely, they said, Job must have sinned big to have all his children killed, his properties destroyed, and his skin disfigured. Before his friends said this, Job actually accepted his misfortune. But when he heard them, knowing that in fact he did not sin, he finally rebelled and protested.
The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, introduced to me by the late Padre Roque, describes what happened — “Job endured everything — until his friends came to comfort him, then he grew impatient.” And then it became clear to Jobmas it is clear to me now: The Lord does not have to explain to me His ways, the reasons for all of these. Once we truly understood this, there will be a creative repetition, a correction as we see in the final chapter of Job:
“After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before . . . The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. And he also had seven sons and three daughters. . . After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. And so Job died, an old man and full of years.”
I am consoled by the words of Saint Augustine. He says that, when you realize God’s presence in your life, love becomes more evident than fear. Indeed, quoting from the letters of Saint John, Augustine calls us to grow in charity – because perfect love drives out fear. Certainly this is what I see in Hec Soliman and Dinky’s family as well as in how Melissa Gascon and her daughter with Chito, Ciara, have shown in their mourning. Maybe we do not conquer all fear, as a friend I am close to has told me, but act and love we must despite the fear. And in the foxholes that we find ourselves through the many struggles of life, let us love each other and share our courage with each other.
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