Remember, You Must Die!

There is a novel by Muriel Spark titled Memento Mori. It tells about a group of friends, all over sixty-five, who one by one receive anonymous phone calls telling them, “Remember, you must die!” The novel, partly serious, partly humorous, tells how different individuals come to terms with the telephone message. Though reactions vary, a common reaction is fright.

Still, the anonymous caller often causes characters to think back over their lives and assess how they have lived – about the good they have done as well as the not-so-good. In a way, the message they receive about death forces them to come to terms with the meaning of the life they have lived. Somehow death leads them back into life.

Lenten season is a reminder that we too must die, especially to sin. By dying to sin, we are led back into a fuller life of grace and good works. We put our faith into action through loving deeds. As someone has said, “We are judged by our actions, not our intentions. We may have a heart of gold – but so does a hard-boiled egg.” I proved that actions are more significant than intentions with last week’s bulletin cover. As an unthinking hard-boiled egg, my lack of sensitivity in using humor about gender roles proved that faith is either undergirded or weakened by our actions. I am sorry.

Jesus said, “By this shall all people know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” Educator Jeffrey Holland tells about a pre-school teacher who faced what she thought was “burn-out.” She had begun to despair about some of the children in her class. She wasn’t sure if there was something wrong with her or the current crop of pre-schoolers. Then her mother died.

She took a week off from her teaching duties to handle the funeral and have some time alone to deal with her feelings. She loved her mother very much. Her frustrations at the pre-school seemed like an even heavier burden at this point in her life. When she went back to her classroom she felt more like a soldier going into battle than a teacher.

The first day back was what she expected. Her hurt and despair produced resentment that she kept carefully hidden. She went through the paces like a professional, smiling at the right times, and was fairly patient considering the environment and her raw feelings. But then it happened. She had come around the corner to discover Rachel picking the last chrysanthemum from the pot in the hall. Rachel was the most distant and disruptive child in the class. In a stern, trembling voice the teacher demanded, “Rachel, what are you doing?” Rachel held out the flowers she had already picked. “Mrs. Terrell,” she said, “You used to be like a mother. Would these flowers help you to be like a mother again? I know you are fussed in your mind. Wouldn’t you like some flowers?”

Mrs. Terrell thought, fussed in my mind? You mean it shows? To a five-year-old? She spoke: “Rachel, what is a mother like?” “A mother is like you used to be,” Rachel said. “A mother likes being with children.” “But Rachel,” said Mrs. Terrell, “I like being with children. I’ve just… well, I’ve been… well, Rachel, my mother… passed away, and…” Rachel meekly interrupted, “You mean she died?” “Yes, Rachel,” said her teacher sadly, “She died.”

Rachel looked up at her teacher and asked, “Did she live until she died?” Mrs. Terrell thought, what kind of question is that? “Well, honey, of course,” she said, “All people live until they die; they…” Rachel interrupted her again. “Oh. No they don’t, Mrs. Terrell. Some people seem to die while they are still walking around. They stop being what they used to be. Mrs. Terrell, don’t die just because your mother did. Be alive while you are alive.”

Out of the mouths of babes. How do we witness to the world that Christ is alive? We do it by loving one another – dying to self and living for others. If I can do this then Lent will have been a worthwhile spiritual journey and Passion Week all the more meaningful!

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