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The Forty Days – a testimony about a father who became a Catholic in his last days

Below is a testimony by Adelina Tang. NOV 17, 2021

It was the first week of 1999. The diagnosis was devastating for us – my father, Peter, had fourth stage cancer with only four to six months to live. My mother, Patricia, and I had been informed just the night before, and we endured a difficult Friday night. We agreed to the doctors’ advice to undergo surgery to remove the tumour followed by chemotherapy.  

Later at home, Mummy, a Roman Catholic convert since her late teens, asked Papa, “What do you plan to do now?” He understood she was really asking about arrangements for his last rites. He decided to be baptised a Roman Catholic. I felt relieved with his decision, thinking “He’ll be alright now”, unrealistic though it might have been under such circumstances.

That Sunday morning (Jan 10) was the first time the three of us attended mass as a family, oddly appropriate that the Church celebrated the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

Mummy asked Rev Fr John Chia how Papa was to go about being baptised. Fr. John offered to baptise him before surgery, and then, when Papa had sufficiently recovered, he could attend RCIA classes. We were ever so grateful for this special consideration.

My maternal aunt from Singapore, Petrina, was a regular visitor before this and she is my Godmother as well. She is very prayerful and introduced Mummy to many prayers including the “Devotion to the Drops of Blood of Jesus[1] lost on his way to Calvary and the Divine Mercy devotion. Mummy, in turn taught me, and after Papa was baptised, taught him as well. The period of forty days mentioned in the Oration would prove uncannily apt as significant events unfolded later that year.

Post-surgery, Papa moved downstairs to what used to be our storeroom. We converted it to a bedroom, and eventually it become our prayer room as well. We hung a picture of the Divine Mercy, set up a simple altar and prayed the daily Divine Mercy devotion and rosary there as a family.

Soon after, Fr John informed members of the Mandarin-speaking Legion of Mary about Papa’s situation. These esteemed ladies would organize rosary prayer sessions almost daily after work, and weekends as well – such was their dedication to Papa’s faith-building and well-being. To this day, I have nothing but gratitude and admiration for these prayerful ladies who live true to their ministry.

The Forty Days

26 October

In the evening after one such session of the Joyful Mysteries, Papa asked Mummy whether the Legionaries had left, she answered “Yes, they left.”
He remarked, “That lady also left.”
Mummy was puzzled, “Which lady? All the ladies have left.”
He persisted, “That lady wearing a veil”, (he motioned with his hands sweeping over both sides of his head), “she was carrying a young child.”
Mummy, sensing that a wondrous event had occurred, asked cautiously, “When did she appear?”
“The fourth decade.”
“Have you seen this lady before?”
Papa nodded, “Oh, yes. Every time you play the rosary cassette, she’ll be standing there smiling the whole time.”
Yes, She is really present whenever we pray the rosary.

31 October

After dinner, Papa told Mummy, “Our church is in trouble. He said we practise cannibalism.”
Mummy quickly countered, “No, No, No. You are receiving the living flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus is present in the host that Mr. Soosai comes to give you every evening.”
Realisation dawned, “Oh, yes, that’s right.”, then relief.
Mummy asked, “Who told you this?”
Papa replied, “Just now he said.”
Mummy caught on quickly and asked, “How many?”
“One… very ugly.”

13 November

Late in the evening, Mummy asked whether Papa wanted to listen to some classical music for a change. He had a large collection of records, cassettes and CDs and I grew up listening to such classics. No sooner had the music started when his eyes suddenly became wild and bulging, bellowed loudly in a rough voice, shouted, “Switch it off!! Switch it off!!”
Mummy shouted back equally loudly, “This is not you!!”, calling out to me to switch off the music, “We pray the rosary now!!”
Papa objected loudly, “No!!”
Mummy was frantically looking for the rosary cassette which was in front of her but try as she might, she just could not locate it. She started invoking Mother Mary’s help, “Mother Mary, where is it …”
When she found it, she inserted it into the cassette player but this time could not find the play button!! “Mother Mary…!!” Finally, she pressed the play button. At the sound of “In the name of the Father…”, Papa followed with the sign of the cross. Whew. Crisis averted.
After the rosary, Mummy asked him, “How many?”
“Two… very ugly, very ugly. They were whispering.”

30 November

Before 7am, Mummy cried out to me, “Bring holy water, quickly!!”
Papa was resting in his deck chair complaining repeatedly, “So uglyvery ugly, everywhere… all around … all round me”.
“How many?”
“Seven.”
She ushered him to sit in one corner of the room, the whole time he was swatting away the offensive creatures.
I asked, “Where are they?” and sprinkling holy water around him and making the sign of the cross, “In the name of Jesus, go back to where you came from!!”
I checked with Papa, “Where are they now?!”
“Up there!” Papa gestured towards the opposite upper corner of the room. I re-directed my efforts towards that general direction, but they were elusive, “No, they’re there now”, “They moved up there”, and so on. It was frustrating since they were invisible to me.
This went on for a couple of minutes before Mummy advised Papa, “You tell them yourself.”
He collected himself and commanded with authority, “To hell with you!!!” and immediately they disappeared.

5 December

Papa preferred to sleep in his deck chair as it was easier to arise from it. During the wee hours of the morning, suddenly Papa said aloud, “I want to die.”
Mummy asked, “Who are you speaking to?”
Papa gestured towards the Divine Mercy picture, “He asked me what I want.”
Mummy turned his deck chair to face the picture and advised him to ask the Divine Mercy to take him quickly.

My neighbour, Morris, was a consultant specialist attached to the University Hospital at the time. Just before 3am, he returned home and was shocked to witness a blinding light emanating from the back of our house. “It was a white light, so bright it was like daytime!” he related to us later that morning.

Papa was already experiencing heaviness in his legs and required assistance to the bathroom. Morris, an experienced doctor, suspected that the end was near. Considering such news, Mummy and I were conflicted – sorrow at his impending leaving, but relief that he would not have to endure this much longer.

I left to buy lunch and to run a few errands around 2.30pm. By the time I returned, Morris was pacing back and forth waiting for my return, “He’s about to leave us!”

The lady from Hospice Malaysia had just arrived and she gave Papa an injection to ease his breathing. A friend staying the next road (SS 2/95), Anna, rushed to be with us and we proceeded to recite the “Three Very Beautiful Prayers (for the dying)” from the Pieta Prayer Book[2]. Anna advised us not to cry too much, lest Papa feel torn between staying with us and leaving. We assured him, “We are alright on our own, you see Mother Mary and Jesus, don’t keep them waiting. Go with them, we’ll be fine.”

As we prayed, his lips turned grey as he breathed his last at approximately 3.35pm. Mummy and I kissed him goodbye.

After the Forty Days

In retrospect, those forty days transformed the both of us in ways unimaginable, from minimalist Catholics into BEC core team members knowledgeable in several prayers through regular faith practice and supplemented by formations like LSS and CCC, to name but a few.

True to the Oration, Mother Mary carrying Baby Jesus during the fourth decade of the Joyful Mysteries, did appear to Papa on 26 October, forty days before he left us.

In March the following year, Mummy dreamt she received Holy Communion from Mother Mary. She shared this with some of her Legionary friends, and they concluded that it was inevitable that Mummy would join their ministry. After all, how could she possibly ignore Mother Mary’s personal invitation?

Indeed, she could not ignore the dream. As of today, she has been a Mandarin-speaking Legionary since 2000 in the Mother Most Merciful Praesidium. Naturally, the rosary is our essential prayer. Mummy prays in Mandarin during her meetings, and I have learnt to pray the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, Glory Be and Fatima Prayer in Mandarin as well, listening to the scriptural rosary while driving (more like sitting in traffic!) to and from work over a few years.

The three o’clock Divine Mercy devotion has been our mainstay for those forty days, and we have been party to many solutions to life’s challenges – answers to prayers, answers to not what we prayed for, but oddly more appropriate answers, nonetheless.

As an example, we did not pray for Papa to be cured, we only asked the Divine Mercy to reduce Papa’s suffering. (This might surprise, and even shock many that we did not pray for a miraculous healing back then.) On his part, Papa was fully accepting of his condition and was calm throughout. As a result of his trust in the Almighty, he did not suffer debilitating pain like most cancer patients. The Divine Mercy shielded him for the most part, and it was only during the final week that the disease gained the upper hand.

Finally, to those who ask the burning question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”, I leave you this poem that offers a hope-filled response:

“Disappointment – His Appointment”

“Disappointment – His appointment”;
Change one letter, then I see
That the thwarting of my purpose
Is God’s better choice for me.
His appointment must be blessing
Tho’ it may come in disguise;
For the end from the beginning
Open to His wisdom lies.

“Disappointment – His appointment”;
Whose?  The Lord, who loves me best,
Understands and knows me fully,
Who my faith and love would test.
For, like loving earthly parent,
He rejoices when He knows
That His child accepts unquestioned
All that from His wisdom flows.

“Disappointment – His appointment”;
“No good thing will He withhold”;
From denials oft we gather,
Treasures of His love untold.
Well He knows each broken purpose
Leads to fuller, deeper trust,
And the end of all His dealings
Proves our God is wise and just.

“Disappointment – His appointment”;
Lord, I take it, then, as such,
Like the clay in hands of potter,
Yielding wholly to Thy touch.
All my life’s plan is Thy moulding,
Not one single choice be mine;
Let me answer, unrepining,
“Father, not my will, but Thine.”

“Disappointment – His appointment”;
Change the letter, then, dear friend,
Take in cheerful acquiescence
All Thy Father’s love may send;
Soon will faith be lost in vision,
Then in glory thou shalt see
 “His appointment,” and that only,
Was the right way Home for thee.

By Mrs. Laura Sophia Soole.

“He performeth the thing that is appointed for me.” (Job 23:14)
“Thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass.” (Job 14:5)

Amen


[1] This devotion was borne from the fervent prayers of St. Elizabeth, St. Matilda and St. Bridget to Jesus wishing to know of his Passion. Jesus appeared and spoke to them, his words transcribed in a letter / Oration. He promised “In the houses where this Oration is kept no evil thing will ever happen; and forty days before the death of a person who has this Oration about him or her, the Blessed Virgin will appear to him or her.” He asked that 2 Paters, 2 Aves and 2 Glorias be offered to honour the drops of blood He lost on His way to Calvary.

[2] Many of us would have a copy of this prayer book purchased in school for a few RM.