"Memento Mori" Revisited


[These are excerpts from my homily last Sunday, Nov 12, 2017, the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time]

As mortal beings, there is one thing we can be sure of: We will all face sometime the close of our earthly life. The world as we know it now and everything in it for us individually will come to an end, but it will continue with others after we are gone, until their own time comes.

There is a legend that in ancient Rome when a Roman general returned home after winning a great battle, he would get a welcome parade around the whole city to receive adulation and congratulations from the cheering crowds. For a moment the general felt exceedingly proud of his accomplishments, and even show arrogance. But a slave behind him was there to say to him in a low voice so that only his master could hear: “Memento mori.” (“Remember, you too, will die.”)

Memento mori” are two powerful words which remind us of an obvious reality. Some people may feel it is morbid to talk about it. However, if we come to think about it, it can serve, not only as a reminder, or a warning, but as an invitation for us to use the time we have here on this earth in the best possible way in accordance with what we were created for: eternal life with God.

It is said that St. Benedict would tell his monks to hold before their mind’s eye their own death and he made his monks dig a shovel of their own graves every day as a constant reminder of their mortality.

For us Catholic Christians, we have our own “memento mori” each time we say the last part of the Hail Mary:

“Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”

And at Mass after the Our Father, the priest prays:

“Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

As St. Paul and the Gospel reading warn: “The Lord Jesus is coming again. Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

And so the message for us is to be vigilant, to be prepared and ready when he comes at our death and at the general judgement. It is easy to fall asleep during the wait, to be distracted by the things of this world and to make them our most important goals. For some there comes a time when they so become disoriented that the grace given in Baptism and the other sacraments run dry, like the oil of the foolish virgins. Witness how many people, including Catholics, have lost their faith and fallen prey to the lies and empty promises of the aggressive secular culture and of Satan, the father of lies.

The key to readiness and preparedness is a steady prayer life, staying in contact with God, putting the eternal in our minds. Frequenting the sacraments, especially the sacrament of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, will keep alive the life of faith we received in Baptism. As we at times fall and sin, we need to receive the sacrament of reconciliation regularly to keep us always in the state of grace, to keep us in holiness, without which we cannot be in union with the most Holy God. We are to fill our lives doing good for others, that is, the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, knowing that at the Last Judgement, love for others is how we will be judged.

And one important thing: we should not let grudges and resentment, and unwillingness to forgive fester in our life. We must deal with them while there is still time, and not regret it at our deathbed.

Finally, it is a good idea to keep a “memento mori,” something that will remind us of our mortality: like a figure of a skull on our desk, or a crucifix around our neck . . . . as we await with blessed hope the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

In Christ, "memento mori " carries with it a message of hope, of joy, and of peace.#

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