If I am supposed to arrive in Pontmain before the end of the day, do you suppose I would reach it if I didn’t know anything about it, or if I only made a minimal effort to find something out, or if I merely presumed to know it? Well, let’s assume that I do know a good bit about Pontmain. Would I likely arrive if I never reflected on whether the direction I was heading was actually taking me toward it? Let’s even assume that I was sent a guide to help get me there. What would my chances be if I didn’t make an honest attempt to follow my guide but simply followed my tendency to do it my way?
During the past week, the liturgy has given us two huge reminders that our final destination is not here, but Heaven, and that our entire life should be oriented toward arriving there. On Monday, we celebrated the feast of All Saints, in which we thanked and praised God for all our brothers and sisters who have gone before us and who now enjoy perfect, eternal happiness, fulfillment, life, peace, communion, love… As the Catechism reiterates, “Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (CCC 1024).
On Tuesday, we commemorated all of the faithful departed, and we prayed that “all who die[d] in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified” may “achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (CCC 1030). We have a great responsibility of charity toward the dead, and one of the principal means by which we fulfill it is by praying for them, especially by offering the Mass for them.
Our life on earth does not, and cannot, make sense if we lose sight of heaven – if we lose sight of God’s purpose in creating us. God is a communion of love, a Trinity, who created us to share in His very life, to be part of His family and to form a perfect family in Him. “This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity – this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed — is called ‘heaven’” (CCC 1024).
There is a Latin phrase, “memento mori,” that means, “remember death.” In our Catholic tradition, “memento mori” is closely linked to the words we hear on Ash Wednesday as ashes are placed upon us in the sign of the cross, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (cf. Gen. 3:19). It is not meant to be morbid, but a reminder that points us toward our hope of eternal life.
Perhaps one of the best explanations for why we should “remember death” is found in Book 1, Chapter 23, of Thomas à Kempis’ “The Imitation of Christ,” in which he offers a meditation on death: “In every deed and every thought, act as though you were to die this very day. If you had a good conscience you would not fear death very much. It is better to avoid sin than to fear death. If you are not prepared today, how will you be prepared tomorrow? Tomorrow is an uncertain day; how do you know you will have a tomorrow? […] Blessed is he who keeps the moment of death ever before his eyes and prepares for it every day.” Thus, as Kempis goes on to comment, by remembering death and living for God, we are freed from many fears, so that “at the moment of death [we] may be glad rather than fearful.”
This, in turn, is connected to our long-standing Catholic tradition of praying for a happy death; and the patron saint of a happy death is St. Joseph. As we approach the end of the Year of St. Joseph, which concludes Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, let us ask St. Joseph’s intercession to help us live in such a way to remember death and to lovingly, joyfully spend our lives running toward Heaven, our everlasting home, and striving to bring as many of our brothers and sisters along with us as we can.