Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Invisible to the Eye

Funeral Mass of Teo Ah Lim

Readings: Wisdom 4:7-15; Psalm 27; John 11:17-27
Picture: cc Prachatai

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly;
what is essential is invisible to the eye.
My dear friends, I’m sure many of us will recognise these words. They are taken from that delightful little book entitled The Little Prince. The words are spoken by a fox to a prince. After both fox and prince have become friends. And that is what the fox is really talking about. That is the invisible yet essential thing that cannot be seen with the eyes. But only with the heart. Friendship.

For when anybody else looks at the fox. All the person sees is an ordinary animal. A fox like any other. For the person looks at the fox only with the eyes. But, to the prince, this fox is unlike any other. It is special. It is his fox. Because he has taken the time and made the effort to befriend this fox, the prince has learned to look at it not just with the eyes, but also with the heart. And, with the heart, he sees something important. Something essential. Not just a fox. But also a friend.

Friendship, however, is not the only essential thing. There are others. Things that can be seen, recognised for what they really are, only with the heart. Today, my dear sisters and brothers, as we gather to bid farewell to our dearly beloved, Uncle Ah Lim, the scripture readings that you, his family and friends, have chosen, help to remind us of something else that we Christians believe to be essential. Something else that is invisible to the eye. Something else that can be seen only with the heart. Strange as it may sound to some, this something else is life itself.

Of course, many people would object. They would say that we can see life with our eyes. We can see whether a person is alive or dead. All we have to do is to determine whether the person is breathing. Or has a heartbeat. But, for us who are Christian, this isn’t really what it means to be alive. The first reading criticises those who think in a similar way. Those who believe that someone who dies young must be punished or cursed by God. The reading argues, instead, that such people have actually got it wrong. They look on, uncomprehending. Or, in the words of The Little Prince, they do not see rightly. They see only with their eyes. And their eyes see nothing beyond the length of a person’s days.

But the reading presents another view of life. It argues that the number of years is not the true measure of life. But rather understanding and an untarnished life. A morally upright life. This is the true indication of how alive we are. So that a morally upright person, who dies young, may actually have been much more alive than someone who lives a much longer but immoral life. And the death of such a good person should not be seen as a curse, but a blessing. He has sought to please God, so God has loved him. He has been carried off so that evil may not warp his understanding…

Of course, my dear sisters and brothers, by any standards, Uncle Ah Lim was blessed with a long life. He lived till the ripe old age of 84! So if you, his family and friends, have chosen this reading, it must be because you wish to remind us to look beyond what the eye can see. To look deeper than the obvious length of his years. To recall also, and more importantly, how he lived his life. How he touched your own lives. The precious place that he held and still holds in your hearts. And, in seeing with the heart, to once again recognise the true, the essential, meaning of his life. And to realise that his passing is no curse. But a blessing. God has taken him to Himself.

The gospel takes us even further. I am the resurrection and the life, Jesus tells Martha. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Again, as with the first reading, Jesus’ words help us to redefine our understanding of life. Not just earthly life. But eternal life. The fullness of life. Anyone who believes in Jesus. Who commits his life to Jesus. Who lives as Jesus lives. Laying down his life for others as Jesus did. Such a person enters into a relationship with the Lord. Becomes his friend. Enjoys the fullness of life even before he dies. As you know, in John’s gospel, eternal life does not begin only at the point of death. It begins already at the point of commitment to Christ.

And again, here we find a resonance between what the reading tells us, and the life of Uncle Ah Lim. For he too believed in Christ. He too committed himself to living as Christ lived. Isn’t this why we have placed those Christian symbols over his coffin? To remind ourselves that here lies a friend of the Lord. Someone who has passed beyond this world. And yet, someone who enjoys life in all its fullness.

So that our gathering here today, is not just an occasion for us to mourn our loss. It is, also primarily an occasion for us to celebrate the power of God. At work in the life of Uncle Ah Lim. A life that began not just when he was born from his mother’s womb. But when he was plunged into the waters of baptism. When he was washed in the blood of the Lamb. When he became a committed and loving friend of the Lord.

And it is when we see Uncle Ah Lim’s passing in this light. The light of faith. The light that shines in the hearts of all of us who share in the life of Christ. It is then that we recognise what is truly essential. That our dearly beloved is still very much alive. Alive in God. Alive for us. Spurring us on to remain united to him by remaining united to one another. And, most of all, united to Christ.

My dear sisters and brothers, truly it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; for what is essential is invisible to the eye. As we gather to bid our farewell to Uncle Ah Lim. As we gaze upon the reality of his passing. Exactly what and how do we see today?

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