Better known perhaps in Latin, “memento mori” is the catchy phrase that the Church has inherited from centuries of tradition. It’s never been a particular favorite of mine – it’s a bit of a downer, very pithy, and therefore to my mind rather snarky. But it is true, and I’d like to meditate on this truth, especially as we approach the Triduum this year.
Our society, that is, “we,” (unless my readers are particularly self-aware saints, in which case, I humbly beg pardon) spend an incredible amount of time avoiding and ignoring death. If we’re “lucky,” we can spend every moment so absorbed in the busyness of today (“I can’t even think ahead to next week!”) that the imminence of death rarely troubles us. Even — or especially — when we become aware of our own mortality, we take drastic steps to put off the inevitable. One has only to think of the lengths that people have gone to in attempts to curb the spread of COVID-19 to see how much we are willing to shape our lives around avoiding the possibility of death.
More broadly, illnesses, disorders, and disabilities that might have been deadly only a century ago are now frequently “managed,” cured, or avoided altogether. Medical science has advanced to such a degree that we can know not only the illnesses we currently have, but also the risks of conditions we may develop, how to minimize said risks, and our statistical odds of contracting any particular disease.
Now, it’s, of course, a very good thing to allay suffering and even to avoid a premature death. After all, many of Jesus’ miracles were signs of healing and even, in the case of Lazarus, resurrection from the dead. However, at some point even the risen Lazarus faced death again.
However, the reminder of our coming death is not just relevant, but timely. The worldwide shock of a global pandemic and now a war in Ukraine has been startling, to say the least, and highlights our own fragile mortality.
Still, if you’re like me, you don’t like to think about death. Death forces us to come face to face with pain, uncertainty, separation from those we love, and divine judgment. We cannot control any of these experiences.
It is good, then, that Lent pushes us to face death. Even as the natural world wakes up from the death of winter to a new spring, the Church gently reminds us: “memento mori.” And we remember not simply – or even primarily – that we will die, but that God died. Through His Passion, Jesus faced pain, uncertainty, darkness, and the experience of separation and divine judgment — that is, He faced death.
In fact, the Church was born in the moment of Christ’s death, when the blood and water of His mercy rained down on John, Mary, and the women at the foot of the Cross. The Church was born in that moment when mercy met the faith of people who had no hope except for the promise of a God who had just died.
Remember, you will die. But you will not be alone at the moment of death – God’s promise is that the Resurrection comes after the Cross. With God’s grace, death is the beginning of new life. And what will that new life consist of? St. John Paul contemplates Scripture and says this:
“Participation in the divine nature, participation in the inner life of God himself, penetration and permeation of what is essentially human by what is essentially divine, will then reach its peak, so that the life of the human spirit will reach a fullness that was absolutely inaccessible to it before.” And all of this will occur through the resurrection of the BODY! Death, here we come, but moreover, Easter, here we come!
Emily Archer is the donor relations manager for TOBET. She enjoys reading, writing, and planning for her future as the grandmotherly owner of a bed and breakfast in the Irish countryside.