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Letter from a Dying Priest



Religión en Libertad - published on 05/25/15

His last message is still "doing a lot of good," according to his friends

"Tu es sacerdos in aeternum" "[You are a priest forever]" say the Psalms (110/109:4) and the liturgy of the Church.

In this light, Jesús Muñoz, who died in 1998, was mentioned during the seminary of Toledo, Spain’s recent celebration of St. John of Avila, the patron of Spanish diocesan priests. They were remembering those who were celebrating their silver anniversary of ordination to the priesthood, and Fr. Jesús, ordained in 1990, would have been among them.

Jesús Muñoz was a priest of the Toledo diocese who died from cancer on September 7, 1998, in Coria, Spain. He was only 32 years old. Shortly before he died, he wrote a letter that was widely circulated and which still today "does a lot of good," according to one of his seminary classmates, José María Alsina Casanova, who remembers his friend’s last moments. "When he fell sick, I was able to visit him once in the house that they had lent his family in Pamplona for his medical treatment. I found him very weakened by his disease, and at the same time I saw in him a priest full of love and ‘transformed’ by Christ."

This was a common impression among those who saw him during those days. "I had the fortune of knowing him during the last two years of his life," recounts Gabriel, a personal friend of Jesus’ brother Javier. "His death, his suffering and his pain were and are, for those of us who knew him, a source of great hope and support. His testimony has marked us for the rest of our lives, and we will never forget him."

The last message of Jesús Muñoz continues to produce great spiritual benefits: "Yesterday during prayer I read it again," explained Fr. Alsina, "and I gave thanks to God for the priesthood of Jesús Muñoz and I asked him to help us from heaven to truly be priests, and that through his intercession many young men may continue to respond to Christ’s call to the priesthood."

With this intention, and although the text is well known, we reproduce it below in its entirety. 

Letter of the priest Jesús Muñoz shortly before death

First of all, allow me to introduce myself: I am Jesús Muñoz. I am 32 years old and I am a Catholic priest of the diocese of Toledo, Spain. In 1996, I was doing missionary work in Bolivia as a traveling catechist of the Neocatechumenal Communities.

When I returned to Spain to rest and take some vacation time, they diagnosed me with colorectal cancer with hepatic metastasis.

I have undergone various operations: they removed my anus, my rectum and a foot of my colon, and they made me an artificial anus. Later, they removed about a fourth of my liver. I have also undergone other less serious operations. I was given radiotherapy and I am currently being treated with chemotherapy.

My body has been deteriorating for so long now that I cannot travel, nor leave the house very often. The fact is, although my quality of life is acceptable, it changes a lot from month to month and even from day to day. It’s never the same; I can’t predict how I will be the next morning. It’s a mystery.

Suffering is a mystery that is only illuminated from the perspective of faith.

The time I spent in Bolivia was fantastic. As a child, I always wanted to go to the missions and the Lord granted that to me. It was a time of priestly renewal, as I was "bourgeois." I wasn’t worried about anything but myself. Devoid of holiness, without intimacy with the Lord or with his Word, without regular prayer. Unconcerned with the liturgy and with those whom I was supposed to shepherd. I wasn’t capable of dying for anyone. But to the faithful, I seemed like a hard worker, concerned about things, a good priest, humble… It was all a lie. I am selfish and proud, only looking out for myself in the things I do. A small-town priest who only does lots of practical things, but who doesn’t bring the Gospel to the people. And attached to money, since the last thing I did before leaving Bolivia was to give classes in a secondary school, with a hefty salary. After all, the biggest danger for a priest — and for any Christian — is money. "Money is the root of all evils." (1 Timothy 6:10)

But the miracles I’ve seen in evangelization, and above all my evangelization team, helped me a great deal. They corrected me in time. Always affectionately, or better yet, with the love of the Gospel. I didn’t always receive these corrections happily: my egoism, and having been educated to be the first in everything, and to be a leader as a priest, showed itself quite clearly.

Certainly, I am very thankful; it has been a second seminary formation. A priestly regeneration.

In short, I had to pass through the door of humility, which I refused to do. I saw my sins with a clarity that was hidden from me before. And I prayed to God that if I was an obstacle to evangelization, that if I was going to add problems to the ones they already had on that mission, he would remove me from it. And did he ever! The Lord also granted me that prayer.

The Lord has always granted me what I have asked him with all my heart. He always bends down to listen to the afflicted and the suffering, and he always treats the lost sheep with more tender mercy.

God always provides; he never leaves the helpless alone. He always opens doors right when it seems that they are closing.

The experience of suffering is a mystery. In postoperative care, although I was sedated with morphine, I remember that on one occasion I woke up and I looked at the crucifix that was in front of me, I looked at Jesus Christ and I told him that we were in same situation: with our bodies full of wounds, with pain in our bones, alone in the face of suffering, abandoned, on the cross… I looked at myself and I rebelled. I couldn’t understand. God had abandoned me. He didn’t love me. And suddenly I remembered the words that God the Father spoke from heaven referring to Jesus on the day of his baptism and later on Tabor: "This is my beloved Son," "in who I am pleased." And the beloved Son of God was hanging before me on a cross. The love of God, crucified. The Son in the midst of inhuman suffering.

And then I reflected: if I am in the same situation as He is, then I too am the beloved and pleasing son of God. And I stopped rebelling. And I began to rest. And I saw the Love of God.

Human reason cannot find the meaning in suffering; there is no logic to it. It is only by looking at the Cross that man enters into the peace that suffering has stolen from him. Pain and suffering make man lose his capacity of reason and will. He is already lost; they have conquered him. He has ceased to be a man; but the suffering and resurrection of Christ have made us new men.

And also, how the words of the Servant of Yahweh have comforted me: "A man of sorrows, acquainted with grief." NO! I am not alone on the cross. I give thanks to the Church for the immense gift of faith. Only faith has answers to man’s questions.

I also remember some phrases from the psalms on which I have meditated and that have done me much good: "It was good for me to suffer," "I was lost until I suffered."

Although it is also true that I have cried many times in the silence of my bed when pain and suffering arrive, and when I see that the end of my days is at hand! And it seems like despair; although I quickly say, "let it all be for evangelization." For evangelization! Even though, at times, that "all" is a difficult and heavy burden.

Just as when I was in the clinic, I have placed an icon of the Virgin in front of my bed, because I want to die gazing upon her. And I want to die without agony, without a fight, but rather surrendering myself just as she has surrendered me to her Son.

My disease is currently getting worse; I have tumors in my liver and in my sacrum. That is to say, the metastasis continues to spread; although it seems that they hold it back somewhat with the chemotherapy. At any rate, it is the doctors’ prognosis that I will not live more than a year, two at most. I pray that God may grant me sufficiently acceptable quality of life to be able to evangelize in my situation.

I feel like a boat pulled up on the shore of the lake of Tiberias. No more will I sail out to fish; but I have the hope that Christ will also get into this boat to proclaim from there the Good News to the crowds. This is my mission now: to be a boat in dry dock, a pulpit of Jesus Christ.

I see this time as a special Advent that the Lord has given me as a gift to prepare me for my encounter with the "groom" and to have the lamps ready with new oil, so as to be able to enter the wedding feast. It is a gift to possess the oil of Jesus Christ, which strengthens my members for the difficult battle of faith in the midst of suffering. It illuminates for me the story he is creating with me, and it assures me that I have the Holy Spirit, as the guarantee of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Certainly, no one knows the day nor the hour of death. This means living on hope. The whole Church will reflect on this: on the virtue of hope. And on the Spirit that makes us say, "Abba!"  ["Father!"]

But, at times, I think that I waste time, that I could do more things, pray more, spend more time close to the Lord; other times my disease won’t let me do more. Might it be the case that I only have to suffer: purify myself, convert, evangelize in silence? Reading the works of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus has helped me do this, and I have re-read Salvifici Doloris by Pope John Paul II.

The most important thing is this faith, lived in small communities, where reading the Word of God enlightens the meaning of my life, where there are signs of unity and love.

Article originally published by Religión en Libertad. Translated by Matthew Green.

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