When I first learned of the Latin phrase, "Memento Mori," I had no idea what to think of it or what all of the craze was about on Twitter. I could figure out from the words that it had something to do with remembering our death, but why was this simple phrase popping up daily on my news-feed with a little emoticon skull next to it? Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP gives daily reflections on Twitter about the skull on her desk and how she remembers to keep her impending death in mind, but what was this skull on the desk thing? Why all of the hype among millennials and why the daily reminder to keep in mind that yes, we all will die? What does this ancient Christian tradition have to do with being Catholic and why did Saint Benedict in Chapter 4 of his Holy Rule emphasize this very concept, "Remember to keep death before your eyes daily"?
This ancient Christian tradition has everything to do with being a Catholic. I recently discovered a great explanation for us Christians as to the very reason of keeping in mind daily before our eyes that we will in fact one day die, and why it is important to be reminded that it will happen to all of us. The following is an excerpt from the online article, "Memento Mori: 5 Benefits of Remembering Your Death" from The Catholic Gentleman:
1. Use of Time – Time is a precious resource. A moment, once possessed, can never be recaptured. Moreover, what we do with our time will last for eternity. Time is also extremely limited in quantity, and none of us knows exactly how much we have. We could live another 20, 30 or 40 years—or we could die on the way to work this morning. We simply do not know.
These considerations should motivate us to use our time well and not waste it on frivolous activities that have no benefit. That isn’t to say that we can’t relax, enjoy ourselves or have fun, but true wisdom keeps these things in moderation and does not seek a life of pleasure at the expense of one’s soul.
2. A Holy Fear – Read Matthew 25:31-46. This passage should strike a holy fear into your heart, for we will all be judged on our works. Many like to claim the name of Catholic or Christian. Maybe they have a rosary hanging from their rear view mirror. Yet, substantively, if you look at their lives, there is hardly any difference between them and a wordly person who does not know God.
We are not saved by faith alone. Scripture is quite clear that we will be judged not by what we believed, but by what we did. How terrifying it would be to hear the words, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into eternal fire…”
Are you living in such a way that you can be confident that Christ will say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant”? Your life proves what is in your heart. Live well so that you can die well.
3. Live with no regrets – How would you live today if you knew it was your last day on earth? Would you live any differently if you knew you would die tomorrow? My guess is that you would.
Yet, the truth is, today could be your last day alive. You really could die tomorrow. You simply don’t know. So examine your life in light of eternity. Are you living with purpose or drifting aimlessly? Are you putting off something that you know our Lord is calling you to do?
To the world, living with no regrets often means seeking your own interests over those of others, of seeking maximum pleasure in the time that we have. Yet, this is an empty and vain philosophy. To live with no regrets is to give our lives to Jesus and to others. This is the only life that matters. For in eternity, we can only keep what we have first given away.
4. A Legacy of Love or Pain – Each of us leaves behind a legacy interpersonally. Sometimes that legacy is one of pain and broken relationships, of bitterness and resentment and spite. Yet, in many cases that legacy is one of love and warmth and joy.
Everyone you leave behind will remember how you treated them. Do you love your wife? Do you invest yourself in your kids? How do you treat your parents, your siblings, your friends, even your enemies? How will they remember you? Reconciliation is also a matter to consider: Are there broken relationships that you could mend before you die? Don’t delay to do it. Forgive and seek forgiveness. Your grudge does not matter in the grave.
On our death bed, we can either be surrounded by those who love us, or we can die alone because we have driven everyone away. We can be remembered with tears of sorrow or with a sigh of relief. How do you want to be remembered?
5. Sainthood – Life is short. Eternity is long. In the end, there is only one thing that is really worth living for—holiness. Many are under the impression that holiness is boring, and that sanctity isn’t worth the pursuit. But holiness is not boring. A saint is the human person supernaturalized and transfigured—filled to overflowing with the Divine life of God. How exactly is this boring?
Our culture is obsessed with superpowers and superheroes. In the past, society was fascinated with saints. There is a correlation in that, deep down, we know that there is more to the human person than meets the eye. We are capable of extraordinary things by God’s grace, and the call to holiness is a call to a supernatural life. No, perhaps you will not do miracles or levitate—but you can know God and participate in his Divine nature as far as is possible for a creature. And that’s a miracle in itself! There’s only one thing worth living for: sainthood. Don’t waste your life. Be a saint.
We never know what tomorrow will bring us or even the next moment in our lives, but if we live our lives in full acknowledgment that we will die then we can embrace the love that Jesus has for us, and we can share that love with others. We can remember to live our lives in humility and humbleness and to understand that God gave our lives to us for us to truly live. Not all people who are alive truly live their lives. We have received the precious gift of life from God and it is up to us what we choose to do with this beautiful gift. As God has given us the breath of life we need to allow the message of Christ to permeate into our souls so that we can be a light for others, especially in the times of darkness in our world today. Remember to keep death before your eyes always so that you may truly live your life.