Life, and what a gift it isBy Antonio Montalvan II
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Sometime in the latter part of this year, our 95-year-old mother became terminally ill. She had been diagnosed with a life-threatening disease some eight years earlier. Out of respect for her privacy, I shall not mention the disease, but its common name alone is already a death sentence. At the onset of that diagnosis then, supported by a biopsy result, the medical specialist had advised me to prepare for her eventual death. “Within less than a year,” he had said. Eight years later, the medical prophecy had not happened.
But this year, the end became agonizingly near. All the signs were there. The physical pain that usually accompanies the disease became unbearable. Soon she had to be under the regime of pain relievers—first the low dose, then graduating to the potent ones. Her breathing became laborious and had to be supported by an oxygen machine.
In such circumstances, family is marshaled for moral support. Siblings residing in the United States were informed and came home. All started to huddle around her to give her utmost tranquility as she began her journey to the Great Beyond. The family priest came to the house regularly and gave her communion and the last sacraments. Cousins from near and far called up regularly to be updated.
At some point, one begins to be open to the eventuality of death. Each one said their goodbye. And each one, in private with her, including our household staff who had been with her for many years, sought her forgiveness for the times we had put her down. It was emotionally heavy but the releasing effect lightened the load of loved ones who had to accept death as a forthcoming reality.
Meanwhile, our mother slipped in and out of consciousness. There were days when we could no longer converse with her. Death appeared close. We wanted her prepared. Her 96th birthday was approaching and some of us had thought that maybe she was just “waiting” for her birthday. “Clairvoyance” is usually part of Filipino discourses surrounding a death wait.
But the birthday came and went. One day, our mother simply started recovering. She started to sit up and was wheeled to her early-morning sunbathing ritual in the garden. The normal conversations resumed. She wanted her favorite courses prepared from the kitchen. She started answering phone calls. Best of all, she was off morphine. What, why, was this all about? Death is something only God can decree. Despite the seeming predictability of human frailty and its proclivity for terminal illness, death and life are the province of God. There is no other equation. Anything else is human intervention, such as the reproductive health bill. In a very personal way, I saw the affirmation of what the Church had all along taught: that because only God can will it, our openness to life is a primary tenet.
Vilified and lynched by a pro-RH media, Catholic bishops stating their views against the RH bill were instantly demonized. And even when the voices came mostly from lay people, it was the bishops who were being made to accept blame, forgetting that the Church as people of God is made up very largely and generally of lay people. The truncated accusations alone tell us that many of the pro-RH advocates know very little of the value behind the Church’s stance: openness to life. Too often, discourses are clothed in the lingo of human rights, of women’s rights, and even of finding convenience in “infant” or “maternal” mortality statistics. The litany of United Nations, World Health Organization, and whatever international bodies’ assessment of contraceptive use may be endless, but the fact remains that only God can give life and it is only He who can take it away. Not chemicals or contraptions, and certainly not the gratuitous practice of the sexual act, every single one of which must be deemed open to life.
But a losing battle it always was. The media, for one, are largely pro-RH. Data on whom among our media personalities attended this and that conference abroad on contraceptive use are not hidden. Pro-RH ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) was giving running updates on the second-reading vote count from only three sources who are known Palace devotees—Ricky Carandang, Manolo Quezon, and Sonny Angara. Why it cannot get such sources from anti-RH adherents is something that should no longer be asked. Resources are stacked in their favor.
The RH vote was a political vote more than a conscience vote. If we must call the roll, at least three well-known anti-RH adherents were absent on final voting: Roilo Golez, Raul Daza, Rachel Arenas. The leak that the Palace directed Liberal Party members’ absences from the final voting was confirmed. Thanks to ANC’s full coverage, President Aquino’s buffoonery of our political institutions was laid bare, in much the same way corrupt past presidents would have done. What a long way from the matuwid na daan.
Surveys only reflect our nil education on the theology of life, and hence will always favor the bill. This is where the Church must soul-search—it has not kept up on catechesis. It could do more. That is where we can put the onus on bishops’ and priests’ catechetical management of Church magisterial wisdom.
Yet truth is not altered an iota—openness to God’s will on life’s beginning and end. No law can decree that. God is unalterable, his nature not capable of being legislated. And my mother lives. What a great gift we have.
On this eve of the birth of the Christ Child, a Blessed Christmas!
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