FEATURE ARTICLE

Sunday, July 22, 2018
[email protected]

HAPPY DEATH-DAY!

y intimate friend celebrated his golden birthday two weeks ago. It was very solemn, glamorous and 'akpucative' (effective). We prayed, ate, drank and danced to our satisfaction. During the wine toast, the leader wished the celebrant long life, prosperity and heaven at last. The next item in the Agenda was cutting of Birthday Cake. A few persons were called out to assist the golden celebrant. It was cut in the Name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. All responded "Amen!!!" The celebrant danced to the floor. Almost everyone came out to appreciate him with Naira notes. Then the presentation of gifts to the celebrant took place. Many gave him cash concealed in short and long envelops. A few offered him attractive flowers. I presented to him two important books titled "Celebration of Life" and "Celebration of Death." He accepted the first cheerfully. But his face failed while accepting the second book. Music and continued for a while. When the master of ceremony waved a symbolic hand, the music and dance stopped. It was time for vote of thanks by the Golden Celebrant. He thanked all for coming to rejoice with him for having lived up to half-time of his life span. He invited all present to come back for his centenary birthday in the next fifty years. Great laughter broke out. Some teased him that he would outlive the biblical patriarch called Methuselah, who lived 969 years. The closing prayer was officially said. Music and dance continued.

On the next day, my golden friend paid me a courtesy visit. Immediately he stepped into my house, I embraced him lovingly and uttered, "Happy Death-day!" I saw sadness in his face. He retorted, "Back to sender! Holy Ghost, Fire!" I asked him, "Who are you firing?" He replied, "All those who wish me dead." Then I asked him if he would not die. He said that he is not in a hurry to die. He appreciated the first book I gave him titled "Celebration of Life." He brought out the other one titled "Celebration of Death" and was giving it back to me. I refused to take it back. He forcibly threw it on my seat. I began to explain to him about the importance of the two books. Life is worth celebrating and Death is also worth celebrating. It is an inevitable occurrence. According to William Shakespeare, "Death is an inevitable end which must come when will come."

I remembered one of the dirges by my native women, which goes this way: "Abali abuo ka mmadu nwere n'uwa: ubochi omumu na ubochi onwu!" This means that every person has two days to live in this world: the day of birth and the day of death. Which one is more important between the two? The majority say it is the day of birth. Everyone has a birthday. Some celebrate it annually while a few ignore it. One of my colleagues attended my birthday celebration on 1st April 2018. He confessed to me that he does not even remember the day he was born. For him, life goes on with or without birthday celebration. Personally I celebrate my birthday yearly in small or grand way, depending on the gravity of my pocket. The most essential aspect is to show gratitude to God for my creation through the instrumentality of my biological parents. Human life begins at conception. Only God and my parents can say the day I was conceived. If I ask my mother she may not remember. Therefore only God can actually say when I was being moulded secretly in the depth of the earth. It is on my birthday that conception is actualized through the birth canal. I was born a bouncing baby boy (BBB) on 1st April 1963 at the Central Maternity Jos, Plateau State. I never missed the April-Fool celebration because I was born a wise fool. Now I am an old bouncing man (OBM). Hence from BBB or BBG you proceed to OBM or OBW (old bouncing woman). From OBM or OBW you proceed into the grave, if you did not die young.

I am always puzzled when I read these words from the Holy Scripture: "Better a good name than costly oil, the day of death than the day of birth. Better go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting; for to this end everyone comes, let the living take this to heart. Better sadness than laughter: a joyful heart may be concealed behind sad looks. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, the heart of fools in the house of gaiety" (Ecclesiastes 7:1-4). I am high touched when I read that the heart of fools is in the house of gaiety (merriment), because I was born a fool. However, I am not so much bordered because I am a wise fool. My concern in the above quoted passage is that the Holy Writ emphatically establishes that the day of death is more important than the day of birth. In other words, the end surpasses the beginning. Nonetheless, there can be no end without a beginning. Everything that has a beginning must have an end and vice versa. Birthday is the beginning of earthly life while death-day is the end. We must therefore be concerned about our end. Can someone begin a race badly and end well? Yes, but very rarely. An English adage says, "Well begun is half done." Contrarily, one can have a rough birth and a smooth death. Some adjustments can be made from the track of birth to the end point of death.

Death is an inevitable necessary evil. It is the end of biological life of a person, a plant or an animal. All living things are mortal. But human life does not end at death because man possesses body and soul. The body is mortal while the soul is immortal. From mortality we proceed to immortality. That's why the Preface of the Mass of the Dead says, "For those weighed down by the fear of death, life is changed but not ended." So, human death is rightly called transition. We transit from visibility into invisibility.

Before the transition, we ought to keep our house in order. We have to be in good terms with God and our fellow human beings. We must not be weighed down by sins. Sin is a great obstacle that can hinder us from seeing the Beatific Vision, which is beholding God face to face. For this reason, we must daily be consciousness of our sinfulness and manifest genuine acts of repentance. Repentance is a continuous process till death do us part. God does not desire the death of a sinner but his or her repentance (cf. Ezekiel 18:23). As we make our beds, so we lie on them.

After death comes God's judgment. Saint Paul states, "Each and every one of us must render an account to God" (Rom.14:12). In God's case there is no appeal, no rigging, no bribery and corruption. It will be a just judgment for all. However, if God does not temper justice with mercy, heaven will be empty. A certain pastor was preaching in Lagos saying, "If you lie, you will go to hell. If you cheat, you will go to hell. If you steal, you will go to hell. If you look at a man or a woman lustfully, you will go to hell. If you kill, you will go to hell. If you gossip, you will go to hell. If you backbite, you will go to hell." A worried woman among the congregation raised her hand. The pastor obliged her. She stood up and remarked, "Pastor, e be like say na only this God go stay alone in heaven." There was great laugher and murmuring for over half an hour. After this, the service ended. The pastor chipped in, "My brothers and sisters, a word is enough for the wise. Go home, reflect and repent!"

Sentence comes after God's judgment. There are three possibilities: Heaven, Purgatory and Hell. In other words, there will be reward or punishment. Heaven is for those who lived a holy life or repented while on earth and have paid for the punishment awaiting their forgiven mortal sins.

Purgatory is derived from the term purgation. It is a place or state of purification for venial sins or punishment accruing from forgiven grave sins. I am aware that many of our separated brethren do not believe in the doctrine of Purgatory. But it is a reality. Do you know that nothing impure will enter the Kingdom of God? If so, how many people are impure as such? That is why I stressed that if God does not temper justice with mercy, heaven will be empty. Purgatory can be compared with a pupil or student who got weak-pass in promotion examination. He or she is promoted to the next class on trial. Likewise a soul in purgatory is promoted to heaven on trial, that is after purification. The purification process is what the Catholics call Purgatory. It has a temporality. When you die, you will come to understand it.

The eternal place or state of punishment for damned souls is known as hell. The Devil is the Commander-in-chief there. All those who died in the state of mortal sins end up in hell. Sin is categorized into two: Mortal and Venial. Mortal sin is a grave offence against God. Venial sin on the other hand is a small offence. This is clarified in the Bible, thus: "If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that is not a deadly sin, he has to pray, and God will give life to this brother; provided that it is not a deadly sin. There is sin that leads to death and I am not saying you must pray about that. Every kind of wickedness is sin, but not all sin leads to death" (1 John 15:16 - 17). God, have mercy on us!

Our span of life is not 70 or 80 as some people say while quoting Psalm 90:10. The Psalmist in this passage laments that we no longer live long. The Book of Isaiah 65:20 tells us that it is a curse not to live up to hundred years. God created us to live eternally in happiness. It is sin that brought death. Since we have all sinned, we are bound to die. Quality is better than quantity. Happy death does not entail how long we lived but how well we lived. I wish each and every one of us a happy Birthday and a happy Death-day. A happy life leads to a happy death. This world is too short to be sad. Sometime ago, I went for a sick-call. As I was praying for the sick man, he was sighing spontaneously. I saw hopelessness in his face. Eventually he died a sad death. We should be found smiling while closing our eyes at death. This world is our temporal home. Our eternal home is in Heaven. By the grace of God we shall be there. Do not despair. Struggle continues. We wish to die a happy death, but we detest being killed by Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen terrorists. God save us!


NEWS SECTIONS