Reduced to ashes

Published November 2, 2020, 1:11 PM

by Fr. Alfonso A. Araceli, SVD

Fr. Alfonso A. Araceli, SVD

Bringing deceased loved ones to their final resting place has now diversified into various means.  Gone are the days when the family of the deceased had no choice but to bury their dead in its entirety in a private memorial park or a public cemetery.  With the passing of time, another form of burying the deceased loved one is gaining popularity among the faithful and that is cremation.

The Catholic Church has for its part released instructions with regard to cremation.  The Church “raises no doctrinal objections to this practice when cremation of the body has been chosen.”  In the New Vatican guidelines for burial and cremation entitled Ad Resurgendum cum Christo (To Rise with Christ) pertaining to the burial of the deceased and the conservation of ashes in the case of cremation, it recommends that “the ashes of the faithful must be laid to rest in a sacred place, that is, in a cemetery, or in certain cases, in a church or an area, which has been set aside for this purpose.”  This perhaps answers the question I most often encounter as a priest, about whether or not families could retain the ashes of their loved ones in their respective homes.  This was further clarified by the Church, when it issued that “conservation of the ashes of the departed in a domestic residence is not allowed.”  With the practice of leaving the deceased in those sacred burial areas (and not in homes), the Church reiterates that we give respect to the faithful departed because it encourages family members and the whole Christian community to pray for and remember the dead.”  Isn’t it a very good practice praying as a whole community for the deceased?

The usual “makulit” Filipino in us would still ask if the ashes could be scattered in the garden or at sea or other places, a-la telenovela style or like in themovies.  The same document clarifies that “it is not allowed to scatter the ashes of the faithful departed in the air, or land, at sea or in some other way, nor be preserved in mementos, pieces of jewellery or in some other objects.”  In this case, we just leave what is cinematic to the celluloid world and live in the reality of life.

For the past month in this pandemic time, I ministered to the deceased at the Garden of the Divine Word Columbarium at Christ the King Mission Seminary in Quezon City.  I had many realizations as a priest with regard to paying tribute to our deceased loved ones.  My experience is both a challenge and a means for reflection about life.  The observance of health protocols should always be there, such as social distancing at mass, wearing of face masks and face shields, disinfecting with alcohol, and limiting the number of mourners.

These things are not common among us Filipinos.  At times, having a deceased member in the family has also become a perfect venue for family reunions.  The dead unites family members in one venue, but not at this time of the pandemic.  The family still unites for the dead with few members physically present, while the majority attend the funeral proceedings virtually.

How many times was I requested by the relatives of the deceased to wait for a few minutes due to the very slow internet connectivity.This also made it difficult for them to connect with relatives abroad who were also adjusting for the Zoom funeral mass because of the time zone differences.  Family members of the deceased have to be reminded that they follow strictly the exact time for the inurnment.

Also, one of the challenges that I once faced was to climb the highest part of the columbarium for the blessing since the relatives chose the highest level of the columbarium shelves for the inurnment.  These experiences taught me to be more patient in the midst of requests of relatives to honor their deceased at the last moment.  I fully understand their wishes and sentiments for I also experienced deaths in my own family.

St. Thomas Aquinas once said, “Humans possess both a physical body and a spiritual soul.  Although they live temporarily on Earth, their ultimate purpose is to experience eternity with God in heaven.”  This reflection by this greatest saint is an eye opener for us all that our life here on earth is temporary.  How many times do we have to be reminded that this short life has to be lived to the full for the greater glory of God?  Whatever we have achieved in life will just be memories of a good life that we once lived once we are reduced to ashes.

Wealth, impressive academic titles, fame are just but garnishing to make our life more flavorful, but the experience of eternity with God in heaven is our ultimate purpose.  Imagine that after we have lived and grown great in this world, our greatness is just reduced to a small container of whatever cost.