He Breathed His Last

(Homily for Passion (Palm) Sunday, Year B)

One moment in life overshadows everything else. No matter what we strive for - health, security, investments, property, learning, vacations, a good name, respect, vindication, a legacy – that one moment makes all those things seems tiny, even insignificant.* I of course am talking about the instance when we take our last breath.

We knelt when we heard that Jesus “breathed his last.” No man had done the things he did. No man – who was otherwise sane – made the claims he did. As the soldier standing below him said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Yet as man he took a final breath.

I will never forget my dad’s final earthly moment. It was November 21, a few days before Thanksgiving 1995. Mom and I arrived at Everett hospital around noon. After giving him Communion as Viaticum (food for the journey) Pa made a gesture touching his cheek. Mom bent over to kiss him, then he closed his eyes. Together with my sister and nephew, we knelt by his bed. His breathing became slower and slower, until at about 3 p.m., it ceased. Like Jesus he breathed his last, he yielded his spirit.

Beyond the emotions generated in relatives and friends, what meaning does my dad’s death have? That can only be answered in relation to the man whose death we commemorate this week.

A friend of mine is gravely ill with cancer. He described to me the terrible pains. I asked him if he were offering his suffering to God. “Yes,” he told me, “I did so explicitly at a meeting. For reparation for sins – and for the return of lapsed Catholics.” A few weeks after making that offering, a neighbor who had been away from the Church for years, all of a sudden decided to attend Mass. Not only that, he made a confession covering many years and now he is seeking reconciliation with his estranged son. The man’s wife told my friend about the change in her husband – a change which both amazed and overjoyed her.

The most powerful thing any of us can do is join our sufferings with those of Jesus. The great saints testify to the power of suffering offered to God. After calling Paul, Jesus does not tell him he will be a great preacher or that he will write magnificent letters, but rather “how much he will have to suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:15)

I hesitate to speak about this because I have so suffered so little in comparison to others. (Perhaps the Lord, knowing what a coward I am, has so far spared me.) Still, I am convinced that much suffering is wasted because rather than offering it to God, we resent it. As we begin Holy Week, why don't we take whatever pain or anguish we are experiencing, and join it to Jesus' Passion? In Him we will discover its value - and power.


*Classical literature provides a poignant illustration: The Greek warrior Achilles so greatly desired fame in battle that he sacrificed his own life. When Odysseus meets him in the underworld, he tells Achilles he has indeed achieved what he sought. But for the dead Achilles lasting remembrance now means nothing: “'Say not a word,' he answered, 'in death's favour; I would rather be a paid servant in a poor man's house and be above ground than king of kings among the dead.'” (Odyssey Book XI)

Versión Castellana

From Archives:

2015, Year B: New Mind and Heart Week 6
2014, Year A: Prayer and Spiritual Combat Week 6
2013, Year C: Strengthen Your Brothers
2012, Year B: A Loud Cry
2011, Year A: The Blood of Martyrs and of Jesus
2010, Year C: The Good Thief
2009, Year B: God's Justice
2008, Year A: Your Will Be Done
2007, Year C: What Do We Have To Offer God?
2006, Year B: Body and Blood
2005, Year A: A Week to Remember
2004, Year C: The Passion of the Christ
2003, Year B: He Breathed His Last
2002, Year A: Human Guilt & Divine Mercy
2001, Year C: An Honest Thief
2000, Year B: Why This Waste?
1999, Year A: His Blood Be Upon Us
1998, Year C: The First Letter of God's Alphabet

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