La Buena Hora (The Good Hour)
by the Reverend Noel E. Bordador
In the Philippine spiritual tradition, August 15, the feast of the “falling asleep” and/or Assumption of the Virgin Mary, is a time of reflection on a “happy” or “good” death. The Virgin of the Assumption is also called Nuestra Señora de la Buena Hora, or Our Lady of the Good Hour, the hour referring to the hour of her death, the good hour of her birth into eternal life. Her hour of death was a “happy” or “good” one because her life ended in grace. A good death is when a person dies in the “state of grace”. One dies being in love and at peace with God and the world.
On the Mount of Olives near the Old City of Jerusalem is located the (Orthodox) Church of Viri Galilalei and in it one finds, among other things, a house where the Blessed Virgin Mary supposedly stayed in her old age. The Orthodox tradition claims that towards the end of her life, the Virgin returned to Palestine from Ephesus where she was living post-resurrection. She wanted to die in the land of her birth. The Orthodox also believes that just before she passed away, she was visited by the Archangel Gabriel, the same archangel who announced the birth of Jesus. This time, the archangel came to announce another birth, that is, the Virgin Mary’s upcoming birth into eternal life. The announcement was a gift of time to allow her to make peace with life before she departed for her heavenly home. Wouldn’t it be nice if we have sufficient time to prepare ourselves to meet the end of our days? On and around Assumption Day, my grandmother used to tell us to pray to the Virgin of the Good Hour that we be allowed sufficient time to prepare for our death so we would have a good death, a death in the state of grace. But everyday should be a memento mori. Otherwise, the hour of death comes and we are caught unprepared.
Just beside the Virgin’s house in Viri Gailaeli is a tomb of a monk. The tomb is enclosed in marble completely covered with chiseled information and perhaps his worldly accomplishments that identifies his standing in the world. From what I was told, he seemed to have lots of spiritual and political connections, including his close association with the last Czar of Russia. Maybe that is why he was buried next to the Virgin’s house because he was somehow deemed important.
But just an stone’s throw away from the Virgin’s shrine is another grave of a monk which could be easily missed. In fact, if no one told me that it was a grave, I would not have noticed it. There was no name, no date of birth, or date of death. No information whatsoever. Nada. It wasn’t enclosed in marble, but just covered with dirt and a few rocks. Nothing to identify that it was even a grave. There was just a simple Cross. That’s what the monk wanted. The monk was dead alright- dead to the world. His tomb announces nothing but a renunciation of the world’s trappings of political, social and spiritual power, honor, fame and glory.
Recently, an empty nester friend, reflecting on aging and her sense of mortality, sadly quipped that no one would remember her after a couple of generations of her passing. I sense my own sadness of that thought. Who would indeed remember me? But then it got me to thinking of that unknown monk buried on Mount of Olives. He was not concerned about his legacy, how the world would remember him, except on one thing- that he was Christ’s, he belonged to Christ completely and Christ was his supreme love. And that was all that mattered to him: “Mihi autem absit gloriari nisi in cruce Domini nostrum Iesu Christi per quem mihi mundus crucifixus est ego mundo.” (“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”) (Gal. 6:14)
May Christ be ours now, at the hour of our death, and forevermore.
© 2023 Noel E. Bordador
Noel Bordador is a queer Episcopal priest in the Philippines. He runs Nazareth House, a Catholic Worker House of Hospitality for persons with HIV/AIDS in Manila.
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