More than morbidity: Why we shouldn’t avoid thinking about death

North Texas Catholic
(Nov 5, 2023) Faith-Inspiration

The painting, "Lord, deliver us from air, fire, war, famine, and sudden death" was made in 1855 by painter Ignacy Gierdziejewski. (Artvee)

“Memento mori.” Chances are you’ve seen or heard that phrase before. It has, somewhat ironically, become quite commercialized in recent years. Whether adorning the rear window of that pickup truck in front of you on the highway, or screen-printed onto a t-shirt, it seems we at least like how it looks, but have we ever paused to consider what it means? “Memento mori,” translated from Latin, means “remember that you will die.” It seems strange to me (well, perhaps not so strange at all) that a culture like ours has so adopted this phrase into its lexicon of hyper-marketable slogans.

 In its own warped way, our society has become obsessed with life. Rather, it has become obsessed with youth, desperately clawing after whatever means might mask our progress toward the inevitable for just a little while longer. Cosmetic surgery, heavy makeup, thousands of ointments, creams, oils, and potions, treatment upon treatment, all united by one common cause: helping us not remember that we will one day die and that these bodies of ours are dreadfully temporary.

It’s fall. The time of year that is, one could say, defined by the process of death. Speaking for myself, I find it impossible not to think about my own mortality this time of year. Even if, by some conscious effort, I were to attempt to continually steer my thoughts away from that avenue, I would only need to hear the crunch of a fallen brown leaf beneath my foot on an evening walk and the spell would be broken. And with Halloween peering around the corner, we will soon be seeing (who am I kidding; they’re everywhere already) costumes of ghouls, goblins, and ghosts of all sorts for sale in local stores near you. Halloween doesn’t get much more obvious; it’s practically shouting at us from the nearly dried-out, practically forgotten, deeply Christian roots of our culture, “Learn to live with the thought of death.”

Being comfortable with the reality of death is not to be consumed by fatalism, nor to have our shoulders locked in a pathological slump.

No, never those things.

It is simply an acknowledgment; a shift in our attitude towards this wonderful, strange, and beautiful existence we call life. It goes back to the old cliché which speaks of how flowers are only beautiful because they don’t last forever. It’s why we should always find some inescapable tinge of ugliness in fake floral arrangements. It’s because, as Christians, we should know better.

A priest I know once told me, regarding the subject of death, that life does not end with death, it merely changes. This plain and simple view has stuck with me ever since. We spend so much of our time and money running from a monster without any teeth; one that, it must be said, was rendered toothless for us about 2,000 years ago.

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

1 Corinthians 15:55

Death is an event to prepare for, not to run away from. How we choose to spend whatever amount of time we are given on this Earth, is our gift back to God. Do we want to mar that precious time with hours spent worrying, fretting over, and avoiding the thought of something that we cannot change, no matter how hard we try? Our hands are meant to be out in the world doing God’s work, not growing sore and raw from endless wringing about when our time will come.

Keep in mind those words of Paul I quoted above. That is how we should see death. Nothing but a punctuation mark; a comma in the sentence of ourselves. The Enemy would love for us to continue as we are, worshipping the means instead of the End. So, let’s not give him the satisfaction. “Memento mori,” then go serve the Lord.

The painting "Memento Mori, To This Favour" was made in 1879 by William Michael Harnett. (Artvee)

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