All Hallows Eve is upon us, and recently I’ve found myself thinking about death. For Catholics, this is a time to reverently remember the faithful departed and the hope we share in our resurrection with Christ on the last day. For most Americans, this “holiday” is an excuse to dress up, often in grotesque and obscene costumes, gorge on candy, and party. In the popular imagination, it has become a time of fantasy and frivolity. It would be easy to point the finger and blame “the culture” – we Catholics are very good at that – but I don’t think we can confess complete innocence in this regard. Even though we may intentionally seek to be more reverent, I believe we share a similar mindset.
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (1 Cor 15:55). O Saint Paul, what sting is death supposed to have? If it weren’t getting cold outside, a bee-sting would seem more imminent to me. I live in a climate-controlled house and have very few unmet needs. I’ve seen plenty of deaths in movies and video games, but I also know that I can replay movies and that the game is never really over. I realize that I will die, but that is something that will happen “someday,” a day that is unreal to me; the fact that it could be today rarely crosses my mind. I’m not wealthy or uniquely privileged, but like many Americans, I live a life of mindless luxury. I don’t intend to make light of anyone’s suffering, nor would I wish it increase to make things “feel more real.” Many have experienced much more than I, and I hope that they find consolation. However, I don’t think my experience is uncommon; suffering is very easy to avoid and ignore. If we only experience suffering and death in a fanciful and remote way, it will have no sting, and not for the reason to which Paul was referring.
I’ve heard many Catholics extol the merits of memento mori – remember your death. The idea is to meditate on this fact. Why? Because it hits the mark multiple ways. For one, in baptism, we died in Christ, and our life is no longer or own. On another note, life is short, and death is coming for us all. I suspect that when we consider death, it helps us to order our lives to what is most important – following and serving our Lord Jesus Christ. I’m considering this essay the beginning of my meditations, and, if you don’t do so already, I want to challenge you to join me. When we wake up each morning, we can thank God for another day, one that is always a gift, and we should never take for granted. When we look at a crucifix, what do we see? What Christ has done for us should bring us comfort, but it should also make us uncomfortable. Jesus suffered a horrible death, and His crucifix is not a pleasant decoration. Moreover, he has called us to carry our crosses. If we don’t feel the sting, how can we appreciate the victory?
May you all have blessed All Saints and All Souls days, and memento mori.