Memento Mori — Remember You Will Die

Christ is calling you to repent and reform your life. It's never too late — that is, until it’s too late.

Japanese cherry blossoms
Japanese cherry blossoms (photo: Pixabay/CC0)

Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away. "No one knows, however, when that day or hour will come―neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son; only the Father knows. Be on watch, be alert, for you do not know when the time will come. It will be like a man who goes away from home on a trip and leaves his servants in charge, after giving to each one his own work to do and after telling the doorkeeper to keep watch. Watch, then, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming―it might be in the evening or at midnight or before dawn or at sunrise. If he comes suddenly, he must not find you asleep. What I say to you, then, I say to all: Watch!" (Mk 13:31-37)

Memento mori is a Latin phrase that means “Remember your death.”

In ancient Rome, triumphant Roman generals would command a slave to whisper in his ear the phrase, “Memento mori. Remember you will die” as the general received the adulations of the crowds. The practice kept the general humbled and grounded. The phrase is meant to remind Christians of their own mortality with a strong emphasis on death, Divine Judgment, Heaven, Hell and the salvation of the soul. To the Christian, the prospect of death serves to emphasize the vapid and ephemeral nature of earthly pleasures, luxuries, titles and achievements. By so keeping one's mortality and the uncertainty of the time of one's death in mind, it thus becomes an invitation to focus on the afterlife. As Scripture teaches us:

Whatever you do, remember that someday you must die. As long as you keep this in mind, you will never sin. (Sirach 7:36)

By remembering our eventual death, Christians come to understand this world will pass away. When an individual dies, as far as he’s concerned, the world has, in fact, ended. Spiritually speaking, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The Church teaches that we should prepare ourselves to receive Extreme Unction at the end of our lives by receiving Reconciliation and the Eucharist often, by engaging in the acts of mercy, by living a virtuous life, by developing one's payer life and by resigning ourselves to God's will. By doing this, we will come to a happy end. After all, a wise and rational person anticipates the inevitable. It is not a sign of wisdom, let alone sanity, to continually put off the one thing that ultimately defines us as mortals. As Scriptures teach us:

Someone who is always thinking about happiness is a fool. A wise person thinks about death. (Ecclesiastes 7:4)

The Japanese liken life to the sakura (or “cherry blossom”) which flourishes only for a very short time. They will take off time from their busy schedules to simply walk among nearby cherry trees and contemplate their existence. This tiny, beautiful white flower has a magnificent fragrance. But it’s here today and gone tomorrow. Such is the impermanence of life.

We can never know how and when we will die. Death comes like a thief in the night regardless of how we how we have led our lives (1Thessalonians 5:2). The wise, rational person will prepare while they can. In death, we lose all of our physical possessions and our academic, personal and professional accomplishments. The only thing we take with us is our soul. Generally, we’ll die as we have lived just as Christ tells us, “All who take the sword will die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)

The temptations of this world are highly attractive. In many cases, we don't even realize we have succumbed to them. Pride is considered the deadliest sin because all other sins are dependent upon it and because it is sneakily worms its way into our lives. People will pridefully rationalize their bad behavior and as we approach death, we might be tempted to abandon our faith. A Christian should be confident in death but this is only possible if we’ve led a holy life. We should all ask ourselves if we have lived our lives in accordance with the wishes of the Lord of All or the prince of this world.

Christ is calling you to repent and reform your life. It's never too late — that is, until it’s too late.

We all remember the saints in our lives but the wicked live only in infamy and are people we prefer to forget. The saints are the only ones we want to remember. The good among us will die surrounded by loving friends and family who will pray for them. We believe the deceased will, in turn pray for the living. In fact, Padre Pio and St. Thérèse of Lisieux looked forward to being in Heaven so that they might work great miracles for us here on Earth. These two saints, among countless others, planned well for their deaths by living Christ-centered lives.

“May the Almighty Lord grant us a restful night and a peaceful death.” (from the Final Blessing of Night Prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours)