When I brought Holy Communion to Chris the day before he died, with is usual perpetual smile in spite of the suffering he was going through, he said to me, “Father, I have already prepared my Funeral Mass, so as not to trouble anyone.”
During Chris’ illness, he had much time to ponder on the meaning of his life. And when I reflected on the Readings and the hymns that Chris had chosen for this Mass, it is very clear that every single hymn and readings that he chose, climaxing in the Gospel, are profound expressions of his life experiences: viz his conversion that led him to return to the practice of his Catholic faith, his immense suffering during his illness, and the impending death that he faced not only with great courage, but with deep faith in God which gave him much strength and brought him much peace.
The hymn “Amazing Grace”, that Chris chose as the body is transferred from the Wake Prayer room to the Church says, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” In one of Chris’ testimonies he shared, “Before cancer, I was very secular, and was an “outstanding” Catholic (meaning a Catholic who stands outside the Church during Mass); to use one of our Archbishop's favourite phrase I was a cradle Catholic and I had many priorities in life; some even good, but God was not one of them. Instead of allowing me to go down a path of damnation, God gave me cancer. He saved me even though I denied Him.
When my cancer was declared terminal in late 2011, I decided that God did not exist. Better to stop praying, and no point going to Mass or church anymore. My wife begged me not to give up on God. I refused to listen. But, God in His infinite mercy and compassion, had other plans.
God intervened and gave me spiritual consolation even though I was not looking for it. He said to me "Have I ever let you down in your times of trouble?" God walked with me, even though I did not want to walk with Him.
God made me reflect on all the good things and blessings I have received throughout all my life. He made me understand and see that it was He who had saved me, throughout my life, from various potential accidents and tragedies. I started believing again, and decided I wanted to find Him.
My beautiful wife had an immense part to play in this journey when she decided she wanted to become Catholic, and dragged me to attend RCIA with her in 2012. Without her love, her support and her faith, I am very sure I would not be here nor alive today.”
Also, the opening hymn, “Abide with me” expresses Chris’ deep experiences of the peace; even though his illness was terminal; he had no fear of death. The hymns says that “ills have no weight, tears have no bitterness; death have no sting, and where grave is but victory and triumph if God abides in me”.
To this beautiful hymn, the first Reading from the book of Wisdom, adds, “the virtuous man, though he die before his time, will find rest. Length of days is not what make age honourable, nor number of years the true measure of life . . . for the fascination of evil throws good things into the shade, and the whirlwind of desire corrupts a simple heart . . . Yet, people look on uncomprehending; it does not enter their heads that grace and mercy await the chosen of the Lord, and protection, his holy ones.”
At Fr Christopher Soh’s evening program in Nov 2015, Chris testified: “I have run out of approved colorectal cancer treatment options, so any treatment I use will be very much guesswork or experimental now. How does all this feel? Is there sadness? Are there still tears? Of course there are, because deep down we cannot, and should not, deny our humanity.
It is only through embracing our own humanity and inner brokenness that we start to gain a proper perspective of gratitude, humility and empathy. It is there where we truly allow God to enter into our hearts, and to mould and change us. Where, I believe, we truly learn about love.
My family lives this journey daily too. And I know it is very difficult for them to watch me suffer. They bear a different yet conjoined cross with me. When I feel sad or depressed, I think of them, and imagine what it would be like if the situation was reversed. Rest assured, this whips me out of any self-pity very quickly, and provides me great strength to bear the cross God has given me with graciousness.
The Psalm 26, Second Reading from the First Letter of St Paul to the Corinthians and the Gospel that Chris chose express his deep faith in the Good News of Salvation that offers eternal life. /Psalm 26 says, “There is one thing I ask of the Lord, for this I long, to live in the house of the Lord, all the days of my life.”
One of the very striking disposition of Chris is that he always wore a smile when you saw him. And when we ask him about his illness, he is always positive about it; never bitter, but always filled with the joy that in his heart that, only his deep faith in God can give. Chris’ joy clearly came from the inner peace and love he had for God, whom he found his guidance, direction and hope in his life.
In his testimony, Chris always found God’s abundant blessing through his beloved family. He shares, “As a family, we have been blessed to continue have a beautiful life together. A life that is filled with peace, love, happiness and hope - despite the suffering. And in God’s mercy and compassion, He continues to provide each of us the strength to live normal lives.
We know that God is keeping us and guiding us always. And no matter what the future holds, God will continue to keep and guide us. We thus have much joy despite this painful and uncertain journey. I may not be healthiest cancer patient around, but I can definitely try to be the happiest around. This has been God’s wisdom for me.
So these are God’s blessings to our family. And what a Blessing it is! Today, I have faith, hope and love in my life, and I have true peace and joy. I know for certain that God loves me, and that God loves each and everyone of you, intimately.
Please don’t get me wrong, I am not a saint by any measure, and most definitely a sinner. But my family and I have been very blessed to receive, and continue to receive so very many graces from God. And we are truly grateful. Like all Christians, we are but pilgrims, on a journey to meet our Father.”
As such, Chris faced his impending death with the spiritual consolation of the Holy Spirit that gave him the wisdom to transcend death and surrender his life to receive the divine gift of the immortal life that God will surely give him, when he dies. Chris’ choice of the Second Reading, expresses this strong faith that he had for the letter of St Paul says, “we are not all going to die, but we shall all be changed . . . our present perishable nature must put on imperishability and this mortal nature must put on immortality . . . so, let us thank God for giving us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Gospel Acclamation and the Gospel that Chris chose further affirms his deep faith in the Good News of Salvation, as the Gospel Acclamation says, “Happy are those who die in the Lord! Now they can rest for every after their work, since their good deeds go with them.” And in the Gospel of St John’s account of the event of Jesus raising to life Lazarus, Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ she said, ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.”
I would like to point out too that for the Song of Farewell, Chris chose the hymn “Take and Receive”. This is unconventional, and I would like to think that it is Chris’ way of expressing the total offering of his whole life, and himself to God as he proceed to from the Church to the crematorium. And as for the “Final Farewell at the Crematorium, Chris chose three hymns to Our Lady, to whom Chris calls, “my Mother”.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, there is still much more that I can share about Chris, but allow me to add just one more gem from Chris. He describes it as, “one open secret that I will share, is the importance of the Eucharist. It is “the source and summit of Christian Life” (CCC 1324). When you have problems, when you are lost, when you are suffering or in the midst of dire, difficult and desperate situations, go for daily Mass and receive Jesus in the Eucharist. Go for Eucharistic Adoration. It will uplift you. It will heal you. And it will give you hope.
This is the main reason I believe I am speaking to you here today still, instead of being in the columbarium – because I try to receive Jesus every day. Jesus is the Divine Healer.”
As I conclude, we may say that in all that we have heard about Chris, it is clear that he too wishes us to learn the lessons of life that he learnt in the hard way. First, we could say that Chris wishes that we learn that secular success in life is not everything there is to life. In fact, its temptations can very easily lead us astray and estranged from God. Second, do not wait for crises before we turn to God, as it may be too late or too painful. Third, never take God for granted as he learnt that there were potential accidents and tragedies that God had protected from happening to him. Fourth, never forget that the abundant blessings that we have are all gifts from God. Fifth, live life to the full, but do not forget that the essence of life is to live our faith in Jesus to the full and gain eternal life after we die.
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
(published with permission from Faith Hui Hwa Minjoot, beloved wife of the late Chrisopher Minjoot)
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