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Remember You Must Die

Laura Phelps

I like to think about my death. How’s that for an opening line?

I am not a morbid person. I am not depressed, nor do I want to die. I just know that I will. And so I think about it; the Requiem Mass, followed by a street taco and margarita celebration. I’m even thinking about hiding all the unflattering pictures of myself just to ensure that they don’t make it onto the memory board at the funeral home. Oh...you’ve never thought about that? Well then, what else can I say but...you’re welcome.

You don’t like to talk about death, do you? Most people don’t. We are too afraid of it. We’d prefer to talk about happy things, like pumpkin spiced lattes, our latest trip to Target, or...did I already say pumpkin spiced lattes? But what if I told you that the person who is always thinking about happiness is a fool? What if I argued that a wise person is the one who thinks about death? And what if these words were not my own but from Scripture (Ecclesiastes 7:4)? 

At the risk of being your least favorite blogger, I am going to go on record and say it’s time we prepare to die.

Are you familiar with memento mori? Memento mori is a Latin phrase meaning “remember you must die.” As baptized Christians, memento mori points to hope—the hope of rising again and to the assurance of eternal life. The Catechism tells us that “the Christian who unites his own death to that of Jesus views it as a step towards him and entrance into everlasting life”.[1] Everlasting life is the place, remember, where “he will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). 

No more crying? No more pain? Sign. Me. Up.

And yet, even with the promise of everlasting life, so many of us fear death. Why are we so reluctant to embrace our mortality? Did we forget that Jesus has conquered death and the goal of life is heaven? Angelo Stagnaro, in a blog for the National Catholic Register, says, “Fear about death is the fruit of an unprepared―and perhaps, unrepentant―soul.”[2] And so if you, dear mortal sister, are afraid to die, it begs the question...what are you preparing, if not your soul? And what, exactly, are you preparing for, if not heaven?

A good way to measure what you are preparing for is to look at your calendar, screen time, credit card bill, Amazon cart, nightstand, Netflix history, or bathroom counter. You should also get into the habit of asking yourself good questions, such as, “do I spend more hours obsessing over my weight, wrinkles, child’s college applications, sports, or my own physical health than I do the state of my soul?” Pray that the Holy Spirit would reveal to you the thing in your life that has such an unhealthy grip on you that if asked to let it go, it would physically hurt. Pray for supernatural strength to pour out everything that is not of God; to weed out any desires that take up that space in your heart reserved for Him. This weeding out is the beginning of the spiritual life; it is a preparation for death.

What I love about memento mori is that it is a call to change. Not tomorrow. Not in a couple of weeks. But right now, without delay, for we do not know “neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13). Like the parable of the ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom, memento mori screams, “don’t forget the oil, sister!” Because remember, the five foolish maidens never made it back in time for the wedding feast. The door was shut, and when they cried out, “Lord, Lord, open to us,” he replied, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you” (Matthew 25:12). 

Don’t be that maiden.

Today, we celebrate the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, better known as All Souls Day. We honor them for their faithfulness to God in life, as well as pray for them since they are being purified before entering the all-holy presence of God. “As Revelation 21:27 says of the Heavenly Jerusalem, ‘… nothing unclean shall enter in.’”[3] If the thought of purgatory frightens you, here’s a suggestion: aim for heaven. But even if you fall short, still, there’s no reason to fear. As Father John Riccardo says, “Purgatory is like being on the bus to heaven and it doesn’t turn around (emphasis added).”[4] Don’t worry about the length of the trip, just praise God that you made it on the right bus!

It’s natural to feel afraid of dying because death was not God’s plan for us. We were meant to live forever, if only that apple didn’t look so darn tasty. But that’s just the way the story goes. Sin entered the world, and so death came in. HOWEVER. That’s not how the story ends.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live." (John 11:25)

Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)

Praying that you choose to remember your death, while living in confidence of the hope of heaven.


[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2012), 1020.
[2] Angelo Stagnaro, “Memento Mori—The Gift of Death.” National Catholic Register, November 15, 2018, https://www.ncregister.com/blog/memento-mori-the-gift-of-death.
[3] “Feast of All Souls,” EWTN, accessed October 25, 2021, https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/seasons-and-feast-days/all-souls-20378.
[4] Fr. John Riccardo, “Don't Be Afraid of Purgatory,” YouTube video, 2:45, July 1, 2016, https://youtu.be/MJNGAFJvwnI.

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