Monday, January 14, 2013

Memento Mori

9:30 PM           There is also a traditional memento mori, though these days random aches and pains serve that purpose quite well for me, thank you very much” – a note from Barb
9:45 AM          “Advertising what?”  “One of my little lines of business.  I am as it were a living memento mori.  I do most of the undertaking round here.”Recalled to Life, by Reginald Hill, p134
10:05 AM        I began making phone calls.

It is truly a wondrous and beautiful thing, how God leads our lives, if we let Him.  This reflection actually starts a few years back, when I glanced at the listing of Catholic blogs and randomly (I thought) selected Barb’s blog to read.  Whatever she wrote that day touched my heart, and I commented on it.  Whatever I wrote that day touched her heart, and she commented back.  And we continued to follow each others’ blogs.
If we have offered ourselves to God and commit that we will follow His will, nothing is random.

And so it was that Barb came to make me a Christmas present this year, a rosary.  (I gave her and her husband some books --- of course.)  Due to many “random” events over the holidays, I never got around to opening my Christmas presents until this past Wednesday night.  (That night I exchanged presents with my dear friend, Chris, who had traveled over the holidays.)  And among the presents I opened was Barb’s rosary, and her accompanying note, excerpted above.
Barb explained how she constructed the rosary and prayed with it for my intentions.  It is truly a very special gift, and one I shall treasure.  (I prayed using it for the first time in the adoration chapel early Sunday morning.)  Barb described the medals of St. Martha (her patron) and St. Luke (patron of writers) which she attached to the rosary, and also the memento mori --- a small skull.

Memento Mori – L: “Remember your mortality.  To the Christian, the prospect of death focuses one on the afterlife.  Eccl 7:40: ‘In all thy works be mindful of thy last end and thou wilt never sin.’” (from Wikipedia)    Remembering what death brings, the Christian learns the value of life.  Although I probably had heard that Latin phrase at some time in my life, I had completely forgotten it, and probably would have quickly forgotten it again, --- except ….
The next morning I sat down to relax with a cup of coffee and picked up the novel I was reading.  I removed the bookmark and picked up the storyline again in my mind.  The book was by a British author about some British detectives (not exactly my favorite reading fare, but when you read as much as I do, you run out of favorite authors).  So you might say it was odd that I was reading this book on this day, but I’m sure you would have to say it was odder still what I read after just 5 pages: “memento more” --- again.  An obscure phrase twice put in front of my eyes in the past 12 hours.
Nothing is random.
Well, I stopped reading the book right then:  remember death?  What might God be whispering in my ear (or yelling)?  I initially took it as a call to prepare for my death.  In truth, spiritually I am ready for that happy event, but I’m not nearly so ready materially.  In particular, I am not prepared for what would happen to my mom’s care, should I die.  Were I gone, mom’s care would become the responsibility of her grandchildren --- who live a couple of thousand miles away.  But, logically, they couldn’t abandon their families and move here, and mom isn’t physically capable of moving there. What am I to do?  I need to find another alternative, and memento more triggered me to action.  But that was just the start of events …
I telephoned various family setting and personal care facilities.  I called caregiver finders, who might find “a replacement for me,” -- literally.  Later on I explained my concerns at the monthly caregivers’ meeting, which “coincidently” met that night, and received some new alternatives and names of lawyers specializing in elder care, who might help set up the appropriate trusts and trustees for mom’s care.  And my friends reminded me to also ensure plans are in place should something happen to my mom (who seems to have become a bit more frail in recent weeks).
After the caregivers’ meeting, Julie came over and thanked me profusely for bringing up the topic.  She told me how her very elderly mom still had great responsibilities --- and stress --- in caring for Julie’s sister, who lives in a group home.  Emergencies and emergency decisions were common, like in this past week when her sister seriously injured herself and was hospitalized.  “Tom,” Julie said, “you reminded me that I need plans in place, now, to assume responsibility for my sister.  It is too much for mom anymore.  And, I need plans should something happen to me, also.  Thank you so much for speaking up today.”
What a “coincidence,” that my “random” reminder was needed by her?
But then there was the men’s Bible Study group on Friday morning, where some of the men upon hearing my “coincidence” reflected on their responsibility to care for their children.  And later that day was my “chance” reading of Maria’s little blog which in closing said “Be sure to visit Jen” at her blog.  There I read that atheist-convert, Jen, was asking for prayers for her family as she battles a life-threatening illness, even as she celebrates her birthday, her blessings, and the small boy growing in her womb.  Jen considers each day, most personally, the value of life, and of death.  Memento mori.  I stopped and prayed for her.
Death is before us all, and we must be prepared.  But life is before us all also, and life --- a well-lived life, is preparation for a well-lived death.  That is the Christian faith and promise.  We leave this home to an even better one.  “My death is not the end of me; it is not an evil or punishment but a transition.  This is the root of Christianity: death and resurrection.” – (from Open your Hearts to Mary, Queen of Peace, p 58).  We all eventually leave our earthly family to an even bigger one.  Death is just the doorway through which we reach the destination of our life’s journey.  We must not forget; remember death.
Our life has a purpose, at every moment:  my caring for my mom, someone else’s caring for her sister, some men for their kids, and an ill woman worried for her still-to-be-born child.  It all is related; it all has meaning, even the hardships and sufferings along the way, even death.  Nothing is random. God gives us nudges to help fulfill His will:  in a British novel, at a Bible Study, or on a blog, there are little whispers if we are listening:  “I love you.  Love one another.”
And Do Not Be Anxious.
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Fr. Frank Pavone, of Priests For Life, concelebrated mass at our church on Sunday morning.  In his sermon he spoke about the solidarity of the followers of Christ, and our recognition that each one of us, all human life, is of eternal value.  And the hundreds of children attending mass at our church heard him speak about the horrors of abortion, and of how much they are loved by their parents.  We were told: Love one another, and we were shown how to love, by Jesus.  “Listen to Him.” 
The Father loved us in Jesus’ death.  He loves today us in every child that is born.  In our neighbor, we are all loved.  All life is important; our life is important.

A never-met friend from across the country gives me a Christmas present and quotes an obscure Latin phrase, and starts a chain of events wherein people consider death, and the value of their life.  A priest from across the country visits our church and evangelizes those who need to hear of God’s love.  Both events show how important we are to God, and to each other.  And they were not random events.
Emmanuel:  God is with us.      

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