Remember o man that thou art dust, and unto dust shalt thou return. These words we heard on Ash Wednesday, as our foreheads were signed with ashes, come back to mind today, as the Mass readings present the entrance of death into the paradise God had created. We were made for life, and for deep communion with God and one another, but the disobedience of Adam and Eve opened up a chasm between God and man which could only be bridged by Our Lord’s Passion and Death. We were not made for death, but when man’s rebellion brought death into the world, our merciful Father gave us a new path to life through the Blood of His Son.
We tend to shy away from thinking about death, our own death or that of our loved ones, but it is something none of us can escape. Continuing the practice of the Romans, Christians in past ages made a point to consider the reality of death as part of their spiritual practices. Memento Mori (remember death), was a common phrase, stamped on holy cards and carved on ivory skulls. Meditating on the fact that we will one day stand before the throne of God to make an account of our lives gives us pause to consider the course we are on and where it will lead us.
Just yesterday my great-uncle, Milton, passed away at the hour of mercy, surrounded by prayer and family. (Please pray for the blessed repose of his soul, and comfort for his family.) The grace of a happy death is a grace indeed, and one we should all pray for, but we begin that journey now, with every choice we make. To assist and support a dying person is one of the greatest works of mercy and charity we can perform, helping them prepare for the most important moment of their entire life: the moment when they step out of time and into eternity, the moment their soul stands before God’s judgement seat. Reading the prayers for the dying is a sobering experience. Death often seems like such an abstract, a vague cloud hovering at the edge of our lives or in the back of our minds. Death takes on a more definite character when I consider that I do not know the day nor the hour, but at the appointed time God, Who created me, will command my soul to His judgement seat where I will make an accounting of my life to Him.
Our Lord is a just judge, but He is also merciful, and in His Church He gives us all that we need to attain eternal life – and not just eternal life, but a deep and transformative relationship with Him here and now as well. May we take full advantage of the graces of this penitential season and re-commit ourselves to following Our Lord closely on the path of life. We may sometimes lose our way; we may, either willfully or by mistake, take a wrong turn, but as soon as we realize that Jesus is no longer in sight we can run to confession and plunge our souls into the cleansing water of mercy and forgiveness. Death is the fate of all men, but it is not the end. We make our choice now by the choices we make each day, so let us choose for God.