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Remembering our death helps us live more fully alive

Blessed is the man who keeps the hour of his death always in mind, and daily prepares himself to die,” advises Thomas à Kempis. A new beatitude?

No, an old one. “Remember your last days, set enmity aside, and cease from sin,” admonishes Sirach 28:6. Lent itself is, in part, a meditation upon human mortality. We begin the season signed with ashes and reminded that we will return to dust. Reflection upon death might seem frightening, but it has always constituted a recommended part of Christian piety — because it leads us toward a daily existence that is blessed and fully alive.

A person who keeps death in mind is doubly blessed. On the one hand, recognizing our mortality reminds us who is really in charge and what is really important in life. This helps us to avoid the sins we commit out of an exaggerated sense of our own power or of the importance of our possessions or status.

Acknowledging that we depend upon a loving Father for everything draws us, out of love for Him, to make sacrifices that are themselves daily deaths. When we sacrifice our will — hushing a word of gossip that comes to our lips, giving up a food we like, staying away from a sinful activity — we die to ourselves. And, after the model of our Lord, we rise to a new life, His life, a freedom to live in union with Him.

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