I AM writing this to honor two great friends, married former priests who died recently this month. Raymundo Honor and Rogelio Antalan were two of my best friends in and out of the priesthood. Though far apart, we remained close till the day they died.
Ray led the diocese of Tagum’s Building Basic Christian Communities Program and Roger was executive director of Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference (MSPC) when I was executive director of MISSSA (Mindanao-Sulu Secretariat for Social Action). We enjoyed our work immensely in spite of the dangers posed then by Martial Law. It was part of the Mindanao Bishops’ program to flesh out Vatican II’s principal document “Church in the Modern World.”
My reaction to their deaths was instant and the same for the two of them. I wrote to their families and friends that I was sad at their passing but glad in the certain knowledge they are where the just deserve to be, in heaven. I am so sure they are in heaven because I know how they led such meaningful, productive and unselfish lives for others.
One night after a trying day at the office, Roger and I went for a movie. On our way back to the rectory, comic Roger suddenly mused out loud: “Bai, what if there is no heaven?” We talked and ended up agreeing we won’t bother about heaven after death but just focus on working to bring heaven to our and people’s lives before death.
I don’t have the luxury of space to detail the great lives Ray and Roger lived as priests, husbands, fathers, grandfathers and corporate executives. But I know they were happy doing God’s work the whole time. They were already in heaven on this earth; I know they knew it because of who they made of themselves and what they did with their lives.
I’m sure Roger’s question “... what if there is no heaven” is being answered now. Not that it matters to him and Ray. They were always in heaven doing God’s work on earth as priests and former priests.
The idea is to build a heaven before death and not worry if there is heaven after death. The idea is to make heaven after death a bonus to a life spent building heaven on earth with and for family, friends and all people of good will. And the way to make heaven on earth is as simple as living for others. You will be so happy you will not mind anymore if there is heaven or not. It’s there, of course, but only if you live it before death.
Thanks to friends like Roger and Ray, I have also solved for myself the problem of heaven after death. It is a bonus to a lifetime of persevering effort (rising after every fall) to flesh out heaven’s love, and compassion on earth.
Goodbye, my friends. May the light of your exemplary lives enlighten people to live theirs like you did yours... for others.