Memento Mori: A Reminder

Hyeronimus Bosch: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things

Memento homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.

In the last days two events have contributed to remind us of this simplest, most important of realities of our lives. First was Ash Wednesday, the yearly reminder of the crude reality of this earthly existence ( a reality which should be clear enough to most of us but that is, as life is, easily and conveniently forgotten), and second the powerful earthquake in Japan, once again posing the world in front of the caducity of human existence, however sophisticated the technological solution to protect it may be.

On such occasions I can’t avoid thinking (and make no mistake, I am prone to making the exact same mistake as almost everyone else and to see my death as an event certainly destined to take place in some extremely remote future with no connection whatsoever to my actual circumstances) “what if”. What if my day was, well, today; what if the summon to the, let us say, Head Master should come far before the normally expected times. Would I be ready to pass an exam to whose failure there would be no remedy? Would I be able to be tested without warning, and found prepared?

Honestly, dear reader, when I think of it sometimes a slight shudder runs through my bones. Not because I would think that I would not be prepared (in which case I would run to the nearest confessional at alarming speed), but because the idea of a sudden test with no possibility of remedy is not one to be too relaxed about.

Quantus tremor est futurus, quando iudex est venturus, cuncta stricte discussurus. These words, actually referred to the Last judgement, will impact us (very probably) far before that day, as we almost certainly will not have to wait the Last Judgment to know how we have fared.

Tremor. Iudex. Cuncta. Stricte. No easy words, for sure.

For very many, that sudden call has come some hours ago. Christians and non-Christians, rich and poor, good and bad, beautiful and ugly, a number of people has been summoned to the Head Master when they really, really weren’t expecting it. The soldier going to battle, the hostage of kidnappers, the person diagnosed with a dangerous disease all have time to react; but many of those in japan hadn’t, not much of it at any rate. How many of them were ready? How many could stand the test? We pray for them of course, but in my little ways I can’t avoid thinking of such events as a powerful reminder of the fragility of this reality and of the dangers of not considering the caducity of our earthly experience.

We are all temporary workers – nay: daily labourers! – in God’s employment, and He can give us instant notice whenever he chooses.

Let us use these days to remember this too. It will do a lot of good when the summoning, unavoidably, comes.


Posted on March 11, 2011, in Catholicism. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Memento Mori: A Reminder.

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