Behold your heart and the world that it holds.
No one deserves to die this way.
Especially not Jesus–him who loved people so much,
who helped them and healed them,
and wanted nothing more for them
than a joyful life.
But neither did his companions deserve to die this way:
Not the so-called “good thief” who defended him.
And not even the other, embittered one.
To die in such pain, in such isolation,
To be in such a brink of despair–
That’s no way to way to spend your last moments on earth.
That’s no way to breathe your last.
I’ve heard a lot of people say
that what they want
is “a quick painless death.”
“I want to die in my sleep,”
“Or I want to die
without knowing what hits me.”
People used to pray
for the grace of a “good Christian death”
–meaning, that we die in a state of grace.
It may not be a quick or painless death;
a good Christian death could well be a painful one,
even a violent one.
What defines it is not the absence of pain,
but the presence of trust–
trust that even in death,
especially in death,
we are in God’s good, tender, and loving hands.
Our Lord died such a death.
It was anything but a “quick painless death.”
It was slow–excruciatingly slow.
It was agonizingly painful
—not only physically,
but also emotionally and spiritually.
For the Lord didn’t die
surrounded by his loved ones.
On the contrary, all around him
was that hostile, cruel crowd.
Jesus died a lonely death:
No could hold his hand
as he hanged on his cross.
The last sound he would hear
would not be assurances of love,
but the harsh words of mockery.
Yet against every odd,
Until his last breath,
he kept the faith
that he was in the Father’s good hands,
that he was not alone.
One of the most painful tragedies
about this pandemic is
that many have to die alone in hospitals,
far from home and loved ones,
deprived of their companionship,
unable to say any proper goodbye.
But they are not alone.
Many goodhearted doctors and nurses do their best
to make up for the absence and distance of loved ones.
One CNN report recounts how a nurse
at Swedish Issaquah hospital in Washington
made sure her 75-year old patient
could Facetime with her daughter before she died.
But more importantly:
We never die alone
precisely because Jesus died alone.
No matter how lonely our deaths,
no matter how frightening,
no matter how violent,
we are not alone.
Our Lord is there, close by.
And the reason is,
he himself went through
a lonely, frightening, and violent death.
He’s “been there, done that”
–and as a result, our Lord is present;
he is near always.
I don’t know about you,
but this is a source of such great comfort for me.
To know that those who spent their last moments
away from loved ones
were, in fact, not alone.
To be certain that our Lord held their hand
and waited with them and for them–
This is consoling.
Let us spend this time remembering all those
who did not survive the coronavirus disease,
those who died away from their loved ones
because they could not visit them.
Let us pray especially for those we know personally.
We pray for the repose of their souls
and the consolation of their families.
And we pray for so many others who are seriously ill–
that they may draw strength from our Lord Jesus:
Our crucified Lord accepted such a death
so that we–all of us–might have life eternal.
If you wish, take a minute to say your prayers
to the tolling of the UP-PGH Chapel bell.
This hospital bell is rung at 8 pm every night
to call people to pray for protection
at this time of the pandemic.
“Behold the Wood” (St. Louis Jesuits). Image for Station (Fratel Venzo).
In commemoration of 110 years of Jesuit-PGH partnership,
the chapel bell of the Philippine General Hospital (PGH)
was donated by Gaudencio P. Pamaos,
and the bell tower was erected
in memory of Dr. Aproniano C. Tangco and Dr. Mercedes M. Oliver.
The UP-PGH Chapel Bell is featured here
courtesy of PGH Chaplain, Fr. Lito Ocon SJ.
Feel free to share your thoughts, questions, and prayers below.