A Memento Mori, meaning “remember death,” is a piece of artwork or writing that calls to mind the fact that we must all face eventually. If you do a google image search for memento mori (which you should only do if you’re not upset by skulls and things like that) you’ll find some very interesting results. Remember that this is a traditional Catholic thing, not heaven metal, punk rock, goth, or something like that. St. Benedict of Nursia said that Christians should, “keep death ever before your eyes,” and on Ash Wednesday, when the ashes are placed on your head, we pray, “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.” November is the month that we set aside to remember death and to think about the last things that every experiences: death, judgement, and heaven or hell.
When you think about the history of the early Church you can see why people thought about these things. For the first almost 300 years of Christianity it was illegal to be Christian. Many tens of thousands of Christians were killed, mostly by the Roman Empire, and most Christians probably knew someone who had been martyred. Not every Christian who was arrested by the Romans was martyred, of course. Some of them were exiled or given other punishments, and some of the renounced the faith to escape punishment, but many of them refused to worship the emperor and the Roman gods and suffered the ultimate fate, believing that their faith in God would get them to heaven.
Do you think about the reality of death? Do you try to live each day as if it may be your last? Do you focus on the things that are truly important in life or do you put them off for another day? Remembering death can lead us to despair if we don’t believe in the afterlife, but the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and His ascension to heaven gives us hope. Jesus prepared the way for us and opened the gates to heaven. The Memento Mori reminds us that this life is temporary. If we live only for this life, then we will lose everything when we die, but if we build up treasures in heaven then they will be waiting for us when we get there. We build up treasures in heaven by living with our eyes set on Christ, Who said to Martha when her brother Lazarus died, “I am the Resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, although he be dead, shall live: and everyone that liveth, and believeth in me, shall not die for ever” (John 11:25-26).
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Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.