I am on the first day of a three-day annual retreat at Makiling Conference Center (Calamba City, Laguna). I’ve been to probably around at least 10 similar retreats all my life and the topics are always the same, and the first day being dedicated to death. Allow me to share my reflections and insights on this topic and hopefully be able to give you a virtual retreat.
Death is an absolute certainty.
First off, one must accept that death is an absolute certainty. If we do not accept this reality, then we are doomed into thinking: 1) that we do not need to prepare (materially and spiritually) for our inevitable deaths, and 2) that we will always be around our loved ones in their time of need. The constant denial of this truth will fool us into thinking that we can still delay in the improvement of our spiritual life. We think, “Ay, I’ll just become a lay minister when I retire” or “Ay, I’ll just start praying the rosary when I retire.” This is exactly what the devil wants us to do as he hopes that we do not reach the age of retirement and waste our productive stage into working, gimmicking, shopping, fun running, and internet surfing. The constant denial of this truth will also fool us into thinking that we will always be around our loved ones always and forever.
In a recollection organized by our office for the faculty, the well-meaning Salesian priest talked about death (as it is a normal topic for retreats and recollections). This well-meaning priest asked the participants to write the names of their loved ones. To cut the activity short, we were asked to only keep one sheet of paper. We were made to think that we could lose all our loved ones save for this one (which we eventually burned at the end of the activity). Some thought that the activity was just too much to take; that the activity was just too morbid. They said they are not ready to leave their baby, and then followed by a knock on the wood (a Filipino belief to counter a bad thought so that it doesn’t happen). The truth is a bitter pill that is very difficult to swallow. This is one of those bitter pills that we need to take to cure us from this denial and willful ignorance.
Accepting death has its benefits.
Accepting death as an absolute certainty is more positive than you think. If you accept the reality that we can go anytime, we will spend more time with our loved ones. Treating each day as if it’s our last day will make us treasure each minute more, not wasting a single moment slacking, or doing nothing. We will do our work always finishing the tasks assigned to us so that the people we leave behind will not have to worry about our unfinished work. We will forgive the people who have wronged and hurt us because will do not want to leave unfinished business. We will definitely go for confession so that we are always in the state of grace when we die; thus, worthy of heaven. We will simply make sure the day ends with everything in order. There are many other things you would probably do if it were your last day.
Some of you would probably choose to spend all your savings, do extreme games, or get really drunk on your last day because you want to experience it (like some Filipino celebrities). Remember, though, what you answer to the question “What would you do if you know that it’s your last day on earth” shows what you truly value in life.
Really, “death” is not a morbid word. It actually gives us a reason to live each day well. That’s the irony.