he Philosopher says, "Everything that happens in this world happens at the time God chooses. He sets the time for birth and the time for death" (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2). My town women have a mourning dirge which emphasises that every human being has two days to spend in this planet called earth. The two days are the Day of Birth and the Day of Death. How many days have you now? If you are already born, then you have only one day remaining. If you are not yet born, then you have only two days. Do you wish to go back to your mother's womb in order to enjoy more days? If you so wish, then you have to do dry fasting and not to sleep at all for forty days and forty nights. All said and done, man (woman) is a mortal being. Shakespeare says that death is an inevitable end, which must come when it will come. If you are already born, then get ready to die. But do not commit suicide.
We enter the world through birth and leave it through death. Birth brings joy but death brings sorrow. When a woman gives birth to a baby, family members, friends and well-wishers gather to celebrate joyfully. On the other hand, when death knocks at the door, the bereaved family, friends and well-wishers gather again not to celebrate but to mourn, shout and cry. The new born baby on its own part sets foot into this physical world by crying. At death, other people cry for him or her. Birth is desired by all, but death is dreaded by all. Even old men and women still pray for long life and prosperity.
Why death? From the department of Mythology it is the dog that betrayed us. So, if you eat dog meat, then you may die soon. How did it happen? Two messengers (the dog and the tortoise), were sent on emissary by the people that matter in the early days to God the Father. The dog was asked to tell God that human beings should not die; the tortoise was to tell Him that human beings must die. The messenger to approach God first will be granted the request. Naturally the dog runs hundred times faster than the tortoise. So, the expected winner was clear. The dog was almost at the entrance to God's Kingdom. There it saw an oil-mill and went in to enjoy itself, thinking that before the tortoise comes along, it would have rested enough and deliver its message to God first. Unfortunately, after enjoying the fresh oil, the dog slept like a corpse. The tortoise overtook the dog and ran to God and delivered the message that all human beings must die. Please if you have a dog in your house, give it twenty-four lashes for bringing death unto us. Human beings cursed the dog and the tortoise. That is why the dog barks madly whenever it sees human beings. The tortoise on the hand out of fear of humanity withdraws into its shell when it sees human beings.
Biblically speaking, death is the consequence of the Fall of man in Genesis chapter 3. The devil tempted Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden tree, which was the Tree of Life and Death. Life is the reward of obedience while death is the reward of disobedience. The wages of sin is death.
Biologically speaking, death is the end of all living things, including human beings. Plants and animals die without second chance of living. But man's death is transitional; from mortality to immortality; from temporality to eternity. The Preface of the Mass for the dead says that life is changed, but not ended. Death is not a matter of choice but compulsory for all, rich and poor. Pope, bishops, priests, deacons, presidents, governors, chairmen, councillors, businessmen(women), civil servants, politicians, journalists, drivers, passengers, landlords, tenants, adults, children, infants, etc must all die. Death is the common denominator for all. Once the bell rings, there is no hesitation but to answer the eternal call. Life is the sole prerogative of the Almighty Father. Job himself confessed "God gives; God takes away."
In my own nuclear family, we have harvested a number of deaths in recent years. My dad went first. Later, my youngest brother was called suddenly to eternity. Within eight months, my younger brother joined him through a terminal illness. And just last week my immediate sister followed after battling with cancer for some months. Do you know what? Tongues started wagging. Some believe that there must be a curse in my family and something urgent must be done to prevent further deaths. One Christian woman on Scapular advised me to invite "men of prayer" to come and pray over my family. She said that these deaths within few years should not be taken as the will of God. I dismissed her as someone superstitious. Another pious woman advised me to invite "powerful priests" to come and make prayer of deliverance in my family. Implicitly, this woman means that I and other priests are powerless. She seems to forget that power comes from God, even though the recipient must be disposed to receive it, because grace works on nature.
How can sympathizers cry more than the bereaved? The megaphone at funeral ceremony often cries more than the mourners. If "Alhaji" can be shaken in time of famine, what can "Aboki" do? The hunger that kills the rich man, buries the poor man alive. If I, a priest of God, can be advised to find remedy by all means and from anywhere for the incessant death in my family, what can vulnerable Christians do? No wonder many Christians consult idols, sorcerers, native doctors, witches and witchcrafts in times of distress or misfortune. I have seen a family of eight dead in one day. The taste of the pudding is in the eating. A good Christian is known in times of temptations and suffering. A sympathizer sent me an encouraging text: "Death again in Chukwuma's family, God why? My dear father, please take heart and consolation in the fact that death is not annihilation or destruction but the only avenue to enjoy eternal bliss. God brought and God took away, may His name be blessed. May her soul rest in peace! Amen." Saint Paul admonishes us in the face of trials in these words: "What can separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? .... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Rom. 8:35 - 37).
At last we should always get ready to die. Death can come as a result of sicknesses, accidents, natural and unnatural causes. A healthy person can also collapse and die. One can sleep and not get up again. There was a medical doctor who went round the wards in his hospital at a certain night to see his patients. After doing so, he went to bed but never got up in the morning. He was confirmed clinically dead. When the doctor dies, what will his patients do? A priest in a certain church collapsed and died instantly at the Altar while he was conducting prayers. The congregants thought it was a joke. Indeed, death is no respecter of anyone, no matter how highly placed. Are you ready to die? Death is inevitable. The remedy to death is good living. If you are living a good life, then there is no need to fear death. The Book of Wisdom says that "the souls of the righteous are in the hands of God and they will never suffer torment" (Wisdom 3:1). May the souls of our deceased ones and the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace! Amen. Take courage all bereaved families! May God wipe away your tears. The Resurrection is our hope.