Memento, homo quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.
Ash Wednesday begins a period of deep internal reflection and penance. So as we walk into the dimly lit churches on the first day of Lent, let the solemn silence enter your spirit, and enter again with a vulnerable heart into the Paschal Mystery: the Passion, death, and resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
The cross of ash we receive on our forehead is both an external sign of our sinful mortality and a reminder of the Divine death that was suffered for our salvation. An often-forgotten ancient spiritual penance comes to mind: the practice of memento mori, a Latin phrase that reminds us, especially in this season of Lent, to “remember your death.”
“Let us prepare ourselves for a good death, for eternity. Let us not lose our time in lukewarmness, in negligence, in our habitual infidelities,” admonishes St. John Vianney. And so, let us not remember our inevitable death with fear, but instead illuminated in the Christian hope of Eternal Life that awaits us beyond the threshold of our earthly lives.
In her devotional Remember Your Death, Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble reminds us “Jesus has defeated humanity’s greatest foe—permanent death in sin. All that remains for us to endure is bodily death. And Jesus has transformed even this fearsome reality into the doorway to heaven.”
“The Cross changes everything.”
Yes, let us remember death. Because “in whatever you do, remember your last days, and you will never sin.” (Sirach 7:36). Because each numbered breath, starting today, is one more reminder to live, to hope, and to love.
And for those who are engaged, newlywed, or veteran married couples, allow the practice of memento mori to become something even more profound: as you prepare to become one flesh--or already live one in flesh with your spouse--remember the death of your beloved.
Remember your vows you will make, or have already made. Remember you vowed “until death do us part.” Remember that part of the sacramental vocation of marriage is to prepare your beloved for a saintly death. You are called to help each other to Heaven.
“Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)
Beginning today, with your fiancé or your spouse, help each other to carry your crosses as we walk the Way of the Cross with the Church. Whoever follows Christ will die with him, the God who didn’t even spare himself from the pain of death, but whoever follows Christ will also rise with him.
“Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)