Nothing shakes up our day-to-day ritual like a sudden serious illness in the family or confronting the idea of our own death. In such times of intense grief, we are forced to confront the brevity of life. Have we loved well? Did we choose being in our comfort zone over practicing acts of love? Have we done our best in trying to convert our phileo-friendship love to an agapeo-unconditional love?
“Life is a misery, death an uncertainty,” St Augustine of Hippo lamented in his Confessions.
There are endless uncertainties in life. Our health, financial security in old age, emotional wellbeing, relationships, health of our loved ones, future of Singapore’s economy… These are just some of the many worries we carry in our hearts and lift up in prayers. Often, it is our not knowing the future and overactive imagination that is worse than what eventually happens.
We wish to have God’s assurance and foresight, as well as total faith that He is in control and allows certain events to occur for His reasons. Similarly, as St Augustine grappled with his fear of death, he felt that the meaning of life was derived from the miraculous and enduring Christian faith. He wrote that God would not have gone through such lengths to procure our salvation from death and the eternal fires of hell if the life of the soul were to end in death of the body. He then hastened to abandon his worldly desires and devote himself entirely to the search for God and the happy life.
Then-Pope Benedict the XVI also gave an address on facing the uncertainty of dying, seeking to fill one with hope instead: “Jesus revolutionized the meaning of death. He did so with His teaching, above all by facing death himself.… The Son of God wished to share our human condition to the end in this manner, to open humanity to hope”. Death then becomes no longer the same, the ‘venom’ of death removed by the love of God in Jesus, for in Christ we die “to pass from this world to the Father” (John 13:1).
If we live life with an eternal perspective, we can speak truths to our fears of how we will depart from this earth, pray for the intercession of St Joseph for a good death and welcome it like St Francis who wrote in the Canticle of Creatures, “Praise be you, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death from whom no living being can escape”.
If death, the final uncertainty we will face at the end of our lives, has been conquered by Jesus, we can surely entrust our daily life’s worries to Him. He who has fed five thousand in this Sunday’s gospel, raised the dead to life, and healed countless people during His earthly ministry and through the Saints.
In the past week, we read about 22-year-old Boo Kai Ni who battled a severe congenital heart condition for 20 years before obtaining a critical operation that made her better. Today, she has grown more confident and wants to raise awareness of heart conditions through her art pieces.
Desmond Lim has a similar story of battling against uncertainty and fear that he would never walk again after getting into a severe biking accident in Thailand in 2013. Today he runs the largest social enterprise selling prosthetics, orthotic equipment and related services.
It is never easy to have the kind of faith that trusts in what we do not see. Each day is a lesson in holding the tension of three opposing things: our uncertainty, the need for control of our lives, and trusting that God wants the best for us. May we continue to learn to let go each day of our need to direct the events in our life and do our utmost to stay faithful to God. When we reach the end of our life, we would have hopefully perfected this surrender of all we have to behold our eternal joy.
- Generation Grit: A failing heart could not break her spirit (The Straits Times, 11 Jun 2019)
- It Changed My Life: Told he could never walk again, Desmond Lim now helps others find their feet (The Straits Times, 16 Jun 2019)
- Good attitude helps him cope with mental, physical illness (The New Paper, 13 Jun 2019)
Tiffany Tham is part of the Advocacy and Research Committee at Caritas Singapore. She hopes to spread the fragrance of the Eucharist wherever she goes and aspires to be as counter-cultural and compassionate as Jesus. If you need cheering up, join her one day in hugging trees, people, and animals.