No one is happy about dying, because no one wants to die. Most people try to fight it. Others attempt to defy it. This is a fact. I am sure we have come across many cases of terminally ill patients and their relatives who just could not accept the reality of death. Yes, today our culture places emphasis on youth, vitality, and health. That is why many of us are conscious, or should I say obsessed, with our looks, our diet and weight. Some take supplements; others dye their hair – because we all want to look young and feel young. But no matter what we do, we know that life is fragile. It is subjected to illness and must succumb to death, the inevitable limit.
So, the question that confronts us in today’s readings is this: Can we still believe in life in the face of death? The answer is a resounding “Yes.” From the outset, the first reading makes it clear that in the plan of God, He did not include death. In fact, the author states that God is unhappy that humankind must die. Death is not God’s doing. Rather, He created all things good. God wants us to live. And this is underscored by the healing and resuscitation miracles in today’s gospel.
How, then, do we live in such a way that we will never die? And even when death really comes, are we able to embrace it with open arms, without fear? We can if we really understand the meaning of death. Unless we know what death is, how can we know how to live? Isn’t it true that we value good health only when we have fallen sick? If not we take our health for granted. It is also similarly true with life. In order to live, we must know what death is. So what is death? Very often, death is seen as the cessation of biological life. If that were the case, then we need not worry about death – because it will be the end of all miseries and pain. For good reason, we say, ‘call no man happy until he is dead’.
But what is to be feared is actually not biological death but a living death. The fact is that physical health alone cannot bring us happiness. Indeed, why ask for a long life at all if our present life is full of emptiness and misery? To live a life of misery is to prolong our martyrdom. Unless you hope to be a martyr for the Church! So death is the loss of spiritual life, a life that is lived in the spirit – a spirited life – a dynamic life – life in the fullest sense of the term. The tragedy is that many of us are contented with this kind of lifeless life – existing and kicking but really we have died.
But that is what even us Catholics seem to want. Take the Sacrament of the Sick for example. People would rather turn to prayer groups and even mediums for help in time of serious sickness than to avail themselves of the Sacrament. Why? Because the Sacrament of the Sick does not seem to offer spectacular cures. In fact, it has always been seen as the Sacrament for the dying. But this is a wrong understanding of what the Sacrament is all about. In this Sacrament, the Church is not concerned with merely restoring the physical health of the person. Indeed, what good is it if the person who has been living a wicked and sinful life is restored to health, only to continue that kind of life? No, in the Sacrament of the Sick, the Church attacks the root cause of all illnesses. It prays for healing not just on the physical dimension but also on the emotional, psychological and most of all, the spiritual level.
In the final analysis, the reason why we are so unhappy in life is because we all have heart disease. And what is the cause? It is not high cholesterol but a selfish heart. The first reading speaks of the death that is brought about by the envy of the devil. An envy that is the product of selfishness. Millions die this kind of death. It is selfishness that alienates us from others. The real suffering of the woman in the gospel was because she was alienated as she was considered unclean; so too, death was painful for the little girl and her parents because they have been alienated.
How then do we cure our selfish hearts? The Gospel tells us that we must have faith – faith in Jesus who is our Resurrection and Life. In healing the Woman who was bleeding, and in raising Jairus’ daughter, Jesus shows that He has the power to bestow life. But this life is ours only when we live the life of Jesus, which is a life of death. A paradox. But that is the way. Why? Because the real antidote to death is death itself. In Chinese medicine, it is said that the best way to overcome poison is to destroy it with a stronger poison. Similarly, to overcome death we must fight death with death, but a higher form of death.
And what is this death? It is the death to ourselves. A person cannot live when he lives only for himself. The paradox of life is that life is ours only when it is given away. It is in sharing our life with others that we truly live. The richest people are those who know how to share and the poorest are those who think only of themselves. Yes, the rich, in the sense of this world, can have real riches only when the poor gives them the joy of giving and sharing. This is the way Jesus lived. For this reason, St Paul in the second reading urges us to follow the example of Jesus. Christ became poor for our sake so that we might become rich. Christ was as rich as God, but became poor in the incarnation and redemption.
But where can we find the strength to die to ourselves? That strength can only come from our own experience of the love of God in our lives. The good things that happen to us and the blessings that we receive are signs of God’s fidelity to us. The healing miracles in the Gospel and in our lives are meant to be just that: to remind us that God loves us. That is why it would be naive to think that so long as we have faith and pray, God will always heal us. Nay, we cannot be healed and live forever. Even Jairus’ daughter would have to die one day. But that is not the point. The point of healing miracles is to reaffirm us that God loves us. It is this assurance of His love for us that helps us to profess our faith in the love of God even in illnesses and physical death.
Only with this faith in His overwhelming love for us will we be enabled to overcome the illnesses and death that comes from our selfishness. For in experiencing His healing, we are empowered to do the same things that He did, to heal and to bring life to others, to lead them from exclusion to inclusion, from their hurts and sins to healing and wholeness. We can see this so often in our lives. Some who have been healed by God suddenly become His witnesses. They are now able to go beyond their hatred to forgiveness, beyond their lack of concern to compassion and caring, beyond their dishonesty and deceit to openness and truth. Yes, in healing others, we ourselves become truly wholesome, for we are no more alienated. We become one with others in love and joy.
And then when biological death comes, we will no longer be frightened. A man who has lived fully in this life will not cling on to this life anymore. In fact, if many of us are so frightened of death, it is simply because we have never lived. We ask for an extension of life because we hope that one day we will find life. If we have lived a full life here on earth, we will not cling to life here because we would be too happy to go, to seek a higher form of life in the life hereafter – with God and Jesus forever – the resurrected life. We will be too willing to move on instead of clinging to this life.
I think the worst thing that can happen to us is to come to the end of our lives and realize that we have never lived. The saddest tragedy for many of us is that we all know how to make a living, but we do not know how to live!