“For [death] is the end of every mortal,
And the living should take it to heart.”
You are going to die. I am going to die. Everyone is going to eventually die. That is the destiny of everyone who ever lives. Here in November at the end of the liturgical year, the Church asks us to remember that everything is going to end. It asks us to pray for the dead that have gone before us and to remember the saints. The end of the year can be an excellent time to remember the end of life.
Everywhere we are reminded of death this time of year. Not only in the Halloween decorations and the changing of the leaves on the trees, but the cold temperatures reminding us of the cold of the tomb and darkness extending into the day. It makes it all the more appropriate that the Church readings remind us of “those who have fallen asleep,” the end of time, and judgement.
Is it scary to think about death? Isn’t it kind of morbid or even silly? No, not really. Because God gives us an assignment and hope.
Our assignment is to live in such a way that our death is good. We need to live holy lives, caring for the poor, defending the defenseless, living our vocations to the best of our abilities. God gave us the Church and its teachings to help guide us in our assignment for this life. Thinking of death doesn’t mean dwelling on the future, but living our best lives in the now.
Our hope is that death is not the end. One of the things that scares people the most about death is the unknown. Christians, however, have a couple things to count on. 1) God is all-powerful and all-good. If God is in control of life and death, we have nothing to fear in dying. It is only a new step in our lives. 2) Jesus conquered death. In dying and rising again, Jesus not only knows what it is like to die, but he ended it once and for all. We don’t have to fear because He’s been there and He opened the doors to heaven for us.
“Because of the tender mercy of our God
By which the daybreak from on high will visit us
To shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow,
To guide our feet into the path of peace”
Soon, we will remember the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ as a babe in a manger, but first, we must remember that we all will die. Even Christ’s birth is meaningless without his death. Scholars believe that the Gospels were in a sense written backwards with the passion accounts written first, because Jesus’ death gave meaning to the rest of his life. It is the same with us. How we live our lives affects our deaths. Thinking about our deaths can put our lives in perspective. We are only alive for so long, we are dead for much longer.
So how does one keep their own death in mind?
One of my favorite things to do is to pray the rosary in cemeteries. Even if the dead wasn’t Catholic, I’m sure they appreciate being remembered and prayed for. Each gravestone tells a story and it’s interesting to see all of the different names and symbols on the stones. My imagination wonders who these people were and what their lives were like. You get a plenary indulgence for praying at a cemetery in November, and because of COVID, Pope Francis has even extended it to praying at home thinking of the dead. In general, I personally figure a cemetery is about the safest place to be outdoors right now. I can almost guarantee you’ll be there alone among the dead.
Another ancient practice in the church is keeping a skull somewhere you can see it daily. This has most recently been popularized by Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP, who tweeted every day about having a skull on her desk using the hashtag #mementomori. Seeing the image of a skull can serve as a reminder that one day your head is going to look like that, too. You don’t know when you will die, you don’t know how, but you do know Jesus will be with you every step of the way. In light of that fact, how do you want to live your day?
God loves you more than you will ever understand. God is good and He is in control. His Son opened the gates of heaven for us. You will, hopefully, be there someday. You will die, so how do you want to live?
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Bethanie Ryan is a work-at-home mom with a young son. She received her MA in Pastoral Ministry from Aquinas Institute of Theology. She has been published in Ignitum Today and Patheos. In addition to Taming the Wilds, she currently writes for FemCatholic, CatholicMom and Medium. She is a misplaced Missourian in New York.