Lately, darkness has filled me. The grappling reality of death overturns my little amount of positive and sunny disposition. With the death of Monsignor Antonio Ferreron left my mind contemplating on the existence of death. The macabre account of the cyclone that hit Myanmar early this month and the devastating 7.8-Richter-scale earthquake that leveled the Chinese province of Sichuan have all borne their mark in my mind.
There could be no question that the pending and hovering reality of death always awaits us anytime and anyplace. It is being said often that the moment we are born, we are also dying. In the last analysis then, what becomes stable in what we called "life" is death - the nothingness. However, should it be that we are engulfed in this total absence of being one after one ceases? Is it then the case that the transitory reality of human being means that we would truly pass only in this existence and no more? But in this scheme of things, one could not limited to the asking of our existential reality per se, as if the reality of existing is all that there is. Is it not valid also to ask that behind this existing is an existence of a greater kind? Is it not that the existence we have experienced is an existence to an existence before any existing exists? By this I mean that the meaninglessness of existing because it just comes about to be that way seems to me a grave concern lying flat before our eyes. It is saying in one sense that what we have in reality is only governed by the forces controlling the universe and no more. The sole fact that there is this existence is something that somehow we are not singularly bound to the laws of nature; but that, as you and me in this world are, we participate in the reality of an existence before the universe is. I could find no better answer before the Big Bang theory happened than the theoretical and philosophical basis of a reality before time and space began.
In this regard, the darkness of the night that is always leaving me patches of void and emptiness, which I think did not exempt anyone in this matter, since Mother Teresa, too, experienced a dark night of her soul that was even seen as more protracted than usual, does not lay me in the space of hopelessness but ushers me into the hope that, as Christians are, is tended to a goal - a goal that we all want to achieve in the end. What could be a better end than in the totality of what we have always longed for. Even the oriental idea of one with the being is a concept akin to our search of something that could pacify our restless hearts.
The encyclical of Benedict XVI is indeed a food for thought if one seeks the penultimate questions of life confronting our coming ends. This ugliness of death haunts everyone from the great to the least. Even our redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, suffered greatly in the garden of Gethsemane, as if to say that in that moment, he was not God, he greatly embraced His nature of being a man. Needless to say, His words of supplication to the Father, as if to ward the cup from Him, is saying to us today that we, too, avoid the cup of death - that is to say, we want to stay in this world that is always alien to us. We want to enjoy the transient happiness that this life could bring. It is funny to think that man does not cease to complain of his suffering of being in this world but seeks always to remain! What could be a worse place than being besieged with fear of imminent death, with diseases of all sorts, with catastrophes of every kind, with deluge and havoc of nature, with shame and failures, with responsibilies and deadlines, with increasing prices and uncertain future, with the waning of US primacy in the world stage and economy, with the rise of Islam and the east, and with all things that could ever happen in this world. And we still cling to our hopes in this world?
Do we then flee and seek refuge to the future because we are confronted with a barely habitable world? Or, have we found an "opium" to which we could idenfy our sighs, as Karl Marx would say about religion? Is our present living just barely living in itself because each one of us is escaping reality in our own little worlds? Is our attitude of indifference of what would be, like we could not care less if the world tomorrow ends? Some have escaped into an eschatological existence, be it in politics and religion: we put our trust into the future, which has been idealized, and rework ourselves backward by making changes in the present. This eschatological escapism is evident though subtle. This is not entirely negative in itself; since in the pattern of things, it is a given fact that reality has orientation in itself toward consequential ends. Cause and effect is a realism one could not avoid. However, this has been dramatically advanced and given priority in the way we follow and believe things. For example, we enroll in insurance policies by viewing things in practical terms on the moment of death. This may not sound bad; however, when this becomes our first priority over any spontaneous goodness that the present life could bring, then we hamper the good that is in itself possible in this present moment over and against that hoped-for goodness to come in the future. It is as if to align every thing to conform to that goal that lies beyond. It takes the slack off from therein to point it toward an orientation in the future.
Death, then, is no exeption. The overbearing reality of death orients our goals of making most of life: "let us eat and be merry for tomorrow we will die". This is a kind of passive eschatologial escape. We do not actively draft life to suit the future. We acknowledge the future existence of death, but taking it from our consciousness by saturating ourselves in the better things of the now and here, enrapturing ourselves in the pleasure of this precise moment.
In the realm of religion, there is no clearer fact than the mushrooming of the "feel-good" denominations. To render Jesus our Lord and Savior today and to verbalize it as accepting Him as a sole redeemer and savior does not render it invalid and valueless. However, the theological undercurrent of this kind of faith is troubling: setting out our faith through acknowledging Him in our lives is a one-time event, which has ramification of our salvation. It reads "once saved always be saved". The consequence of a voice acceding of Him as your personal Lord and Savior renders you saved and in now way unsaveable. The viewpoint here: the future salvation of a human being is re-orienting life today by structuring it through a precise-moment formula to make it saveable. There is no problem here anway, but what is untenable is the fact that from here and on it is a journey of constant and unwavering faith! The Will that you used in accepting Christ on that certain moment is the same Will that you will use in the coming days and months before death. What lies therein, in the view of Born-Again Christianity, does not matter because damnation has been salvaged by that one-time event in the past. This is an active eschatological escapism. The security of salvation is given more prominence than the virtual reality of life of persevering and enduring in faith and practice.
In all this, the effect is confusion in a world that knows no anchorage to clear truth. The looming fact of death is now given different shades of acceptance. We have come to accept it in different ways in which we situate ourselves by the belief that we hold. Then, a question then seeks to be answered bears out: what, then, to hold? what, then, to believe? and what, then, to follow?
When Pope Benedict XVI went to the United States in April, he met with some representatives of other religious faiths and other Christian denominations in New York. He was clear as he was referring to the reason why the apostles were successful in convincing the world to the yoke of Christ: "The ultimate effectiveness of their preaching did not depend on "lofty words" or "human wisdom" (1 Cor 2:13), but rather on the work of the Spirit (Eph 3:5) who confirmed the authoritative witness of the Apostles (cf. 1 Cor 15:1-11)." And in the later years of the growth of the nascent Chruch: "this proclamation had to be guaranteed by the purity of normative doctrine expressed in creedal formulae — symbola — which articulated the essence of the Christian faith and constituted the foundation for the unity of the baptized (cf. 1 Cor 15:3-5; Gal 1:6-9; Unitatis Redintegratio, 2)".
Then the Pope focused the problem of the world of today: "My dear friends, the power of the kerygma has lost none of its internal dynamism. Yet we must ask ourselves whether its full force has not been attenuated by a relativistic approach to Christian doctrine similar to that found in secular ideologies, which, in alleging that science alone is "objective", relegate religion entirely to the subjective sphere of individual feeling. Scientific discoveries, and their application through human ingenuity, undoubtedly offer new possibilities for the betterment of humankind. This does not mean, however, that the "knowable" is limited to the empirically verifiable, nor religion restricted to the shifting realm of "personal experience. For Christians to accept this faulty line of reasoning would lead to the notion that there is little need to emphasize objective truth in the presentation of the Christian faith, for one need but follow his or her own conscience and choose a community that best suits his or her individual tastes. The result is seen in the continual proliferation of communities which often eschew institutional structures and minimize the importance of doctrinal content for Christian living."
To which way we view the greater reality in our own little realities, and insomuch as we hold dear the Christian tenets that we have come to believe, then we do not have any other recourse than to believe in the historical unfolding of truth subsisting in the Church in which the ancient faith endures and to which Christ has given the power to teach. We could not cast aside the historicity of our faith without throwing away the Christian belief altogether. If only in the difficulty of our believing in an institutional Church we have come to terms of the gravity of not believing in Christ, then it follows then that so prized a treasure has been had in the long run. Accepting death as natural and inescapable is difficult, which is as difficult as accepting the truth in a Church marred by weakness and controversies. Death and Church run parallel to each other and each has a great relationship to follow through. Death does not become nihilistic in a person informed of his faith that the Church guards carefully. Only in the certainty of the truth taught laboriously by the Church could guarantee an eternal salvation beyond the grave.