After death, what?

Al Cariño
All Souls Day
Reproduced with Permission

All Souls Day reminds me of the story of two long lost friends who bumped into each other in a downtown restaurant. After getting a table for a few drinks and having reminisced on the past, one told the other, "For many years now, I did intensive research on religion, on God in particular. My conclusion? God does not exist! This being so, then there is no life hereafter. Since then, I live by the ancient adage, `Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.'"

Since the dawn of civilization, people from all walks of life had wrestled and continue to wrestle with the question, "After death, what?" This is because everyone, no matter his social status, is confronted with death - his or that of others.

As we commemorate and pray for all the faithful departed today, it will be good to meditate on our own mortality. A good starting point is to reflect on what one author has said, namely, that the greatest tragedy in life is that we do NOT become saints. Not necessarily saint with a capital "S", a title reserved by the Church for those she has recognized as having lived lives of virtue to a heroic degree. But saint with just a small "s", in the sense that after we have struggled "in this valley of tears," we then receive our eternal reward.

To be this kind of a saint, we do not have to lead extraordinary lives. Rather, what is asked of us is to live our ordinary lives in an extraordinary way. Jesus has shown us how in today's gospel reading (Mt. 25: 31-46). On judgment day, He will not ask us how much money we have made, what academic degrees we have earned, what kind of clothes and jewelry we have worn, how popular we have been, what positions we have held either in government or in the corporate world, etc. Rather, he will ask us whether we have given food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothes to those without any. He will ask us whether we have given shelter to the homeless and visited those who are sick or in prison. It is about these ordinary mundane things that He will ask us. Things which are within the power of each one of us to do.

But to do all these ordinary things in an extraordinary way, we have to bring Jesus in, we have to make Him the motive for doing them. For as He Himself said, "Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me." In other words, we have to do them out of love for Him. As Mother Teresa of Calcutta had said over and over again, "It is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the doing. It is not how much we give, but how much love we put in the giving."

Thus, the more we do good deeds out of love for God, the more they become extraordinary. And this is the difficult part, considering our natural inclinations. For somehow or other, we want to get credit for what we do. Thus often times the good works of some people count for nothing vis-a-vis acquiring "treasures in heaven" because the element of the self comes in. For example, when a rich person gives a substantial amount for his favorite charity, he first makes sure that what he does is covered by media and thus given the widest publicity. Who then is the beneficiary? Not the poor, but himself! Philanthropy? Perhaps. But definitely, not charity.

There is thus the constant need to examine our motives so we can purify them of the self. This will take a lot of time and doing. In fact, this is one battle we have to wage throughout our lifetime.

Philanthropy becomes charity only when we help others purely from the motive of doing things out of love for God, of doing what pleases Him. And it is God's will that we help those in need because they, too, are made in His image and likeness. As such, they are entitled to an equitable share in the bounty of God's creation as befits their human dignity. Moreover, by allowing His Son Jesus to become man and dying for them on the cross for their redemption, God made others to be our brothers and sisters in His Son Jesus. Thus we are able to address Jesus' Father as our Father, too. Since this is so, we must come to the help of all people in need - regardless of race, gender, creed and social status - since like us they, too, are children of God our Father and thus our brothers and sisters. This is what charity is all about.

To be saints as we must be (the opposite is just too frightening), we must be at the service of those in need propelled by an ever purer intention. Then after death, what? We will enjoy our "treasures in heaven," the fruits of our doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way.

For all our dear departed, let our prayer be today: "Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light upon them. May they rest in peace! Amen."