“We must not lose sight of the big picture where death is just a moment, a terrible and sad one, but not the final one in God’s plan for us.”
These days, many posts in my social media threads and communication groups have been about sickness and death. One reads about friends and colleagues who have been infected and we rejoice when the news about recoveries are posted. But when news of COVID deaths are shared, you can palpably feel the sadness even in the virtual space.
Four deaths in these past weeks have particularly been difficult for me to process.
On May 6, this Thursday, we will commemorate the 40th day of the passing of our Ateneo 1980 classmate, Ariel Escasa. Ariel and I had stayed in touch for the last 40 years. His death left a hole in my heart, especially when I think I can no longer hear him share his music.
Last Sunday was also the 40th day of Fr. Salty De La Rama, headmaster of the Ateneo de Manila Grade School. I interviewed Salty in the 1980s when he joined the Jesuit Volunteers. He was a good and happy presence wherever he was assigned. I mourned with his brother Jesuits when he was found dead in his office.
On Wednesday, the 9th day of Jess Hofileña will be commemorated. Jess is Summa Cum Laude and Valedictorian of the Ateneo de Manila class 1976, the quintessential Atenean and eldest son of my Dean in Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila Graduate School of Law Justice Hector Hofileña. His death paralyzed me for days, not the least because I am good friends and close colleagues to his younger brothers and, even without talking to them, I could feel their immense sadness.
When Jess died, I sent this message to Justice Hector and to his brothers and sisters-in-law: “I condole with your whole family as you grieve this loss. I have followed the news about his illness all these weeks and have like many others prayed for his healing. I do not claim to know about God’s ways and why this happened. I do know that Jess, with the life he lived, is reunited with the Father and Jesus in heaven even as the Spirit will ensure that Jess’ presence will continue to be felt in the years to come.”
And then last Sunday, I woke up to the devastating news of the passing of lawyer Dante Adan. He had just tested positive for COVID a few days ago and I was hoping he would make it.
My former student in UP Law was one of the most brilliant and got the highest grades. More important than that, however, he was passionate even then about God and country—lahat ng ating ginagawa ay dapat para sa Diyos at Bayan (we do everything for God and country). A true Atenean (Dan was an alumnus of Ateneo de Naga) and Isko: he combined honor and excellence in a person for others! I saw that in the flesh when he worked from 2014-2016 with me in an anti-corruption project in the Ateneo School of Government.
When Dan died, I posted: I do not know how to cope with my sadness but I suppose I will just follow your example of such great faith, which for sure will carry you to the beyond with a little help from the angels Ina, our Lady of Peñafrancia to whom you were devoted, and the Risen Christ, whose Cross you welcome and bore, sent to you after you posted this prayer:
“I love you, Dear Jesus, though many times I go against your will and choose to do what displeases you. Forgive me, Lord.Thank you for letting me experience, even for very short whiles, the parched throat you suffered while hanging at The Cross. Thank you for letting me feel, even in a very minute way compared to what you suffered while dying on The Cross, this shortness of breath. My left lung seems to collapse every time I have a fit of incessant coughing and it continues to bleed at the moment.
“I unite all my physical sufferings to your suffering on The Cross and embrace Your Cross deep in my heart and offer it for the continuing conversion of sinners. I am consoled by Your Mother, Mama Mary, who also accompanies all her suffering children, the way she never abandoned You at the foot of The Cross. Thank you, my Dear Jesus. Thank you, Mama Mary.
“I shall not ask healing if it will separate me from your friendship, but if through granting me complete recovery will glorify The Father, through the life mission you have given us through GIBO (an NGO Dan founded), Thy Will Be Done. I unite my prayer with every Sacrifice being offered in every Mass throughout the world right now. Cover me with Your Most Precious Blood. Amen.
”Dan’s death is one COVID death too many. But his indifference to death consoles me. For sure, this Filipino who loved the poor and the Church, who combined righteousness and kindness in a way I rarely see, has shared one final lesson: We must not lose sight of the big picture where death is just a moment, a terrible and sad one, but not the final one in God’s plan for us.
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