Heaven is waiting

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

In the time of COVID, surrounded by sickness and death, do we feel closer to heaven?

I know people who tell me that in the two years under lockdown, and hearing of friends or the loved ones of friends dying, they have a keener sense of their mortality, and the need to prepare for the afterlife.

Are we ready to meet our Maker?

From childhood we were taught, as part of Christian upbringing, that life on Earth is a preparation for eternal life. We were told that the Holy Trinity, Mama Mary, our guardian angel and Santa Claus were always watching us.

If we internalized this idea, we would be mindful of living a virtuous life. While the idea that we are never alone is comforting, the thought that we are under constant surveillance can also be scary.

At around the time that we stop believing in Santa Claus, however, we also realize that even if heaven’s closed-circuit TV cameras are constantly upon us, the monitors also fall asleep on the job. Otherwise, why is there so much evil in this world, and bad behavior is richly rewarded on Earth?

So we don’t always have to be on our best behavior. Doctors are sworn to do no harm; “don’t be evil” is part of Google’s code of conduct.

For those with no such best-efforts pledges, there are no guideposts for behavior. They can deceive as effortlessly as the devil; they can steal and kill.

Seeing some of the country’s most notorious still around, profiting immensely from thievery and still busy doing harm, you will believe that truly, bad grass never dies.

If ever such people consider that the heavenly CCTVs have infinite capacities for recording vile behavior, and the recordings can be replayed for review before allowing entry to paradise, repentance might happen, but only when they are close to death.

*      *      *

Into the third year of a killer pandemic, you’d think people would be more mindful of preparations for eternal life.

But in this week that is supposed to be devoted to spiritual well-being, I think people are more interested in enjoying newly regained freedom from COVID restrictions, and improving their physical and mental well-being by relaxing on the beach.

A common thread in news interviews with Holy Week travelers is their excitement in seeing dear relatives and friends for the first time in two or even three years.

Such reunions, of course, are also immensely uplifting for the spirit. But for those who don’t worry about eternal life, or who don’t believe in heaven and a day of final judgment, Holy Week has no significance beyond offering an opportunity for R&R.

And yet I’m sure there are people who will make time for matters of the spirit even as they enjoy their Holy Week vacation.

Last Sunday, reports from all over the country showed churches full of people having palm fronds blessed. In the church in my community, the palm fronds were all sold out by mid-morning.

On Monday I bought flowers at Dangwa in Manila. The vendors told me that sales were picking up as restaurants and hotels resume operations, and now for religious activities as well.

The flowers were for my life partner, whose first year of demise I marked yesterday. I haven’t stopped wondering where he is; I tell myself it has to be a far better place.

*      *      *

For all the advances in science, life’s imponderables remain infinite. A third of our life is spent in mystery, sleeping.

When we all fall asleep, where do we go? US pop star Billie Eilish isn’t the only one asking this question. At age 17 when her debut album of that title was released in 2019, the singer-songwriter was dwelling on such thoughts. It was a common question among my peers in my youth.

Now that my generation is approaching the departure area, the question is, when life gives up on us, where do we go? Do we rest in peace, or burn in the fires of hell? Those who lost loved ones and friends to COVID must be asking these questions while contemplating the passion and death of Christ this Holy Week.

Believing in the afterlife should impact the way the faithful live life. After all, as the saying goes, we only die once, but we live every day.

In the sad, frightening time of COVID, it’s comforting to believe that heaven is waiting for the virtuous.

If enough people believe in this and live accordingly, the world could become a better place.

Have a blessed week, and enjoy your Easter!


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