Keep death before your eyes daily.”
This instruction is found in the Rule of St. Benedict (chapter 4) which provides direction for monastic communities of the Benedictine order. Why so morbid? Aren’t Christians to be hopeful?
Our American culture shoves death behind a curtain, but death is an elephant that can’t be covered. In a youth-obsessed society, you throw money and pills at the symptoms of age. Still, wrinkles and gray advance. Here is why death’s visibility matters:
Life is fragile and fleeting. Don’t be ignorant.
On Ash Wednesday we repeat, “Dust you are and to dust you shall return" (Gen. 3:19). No one – save Jesus Christ – has evaded the shadow of death. If you have cancer, it’s better to know the diagnosis than deny it.
Live with a “Holy Now.”
Death before the eyes will focus you on what matters and what matters most. Our mission is urgent. Our daily tasks are important. We live in the present tense with a holy compulsion to do things that matter.
Long for Easter.
The goal of Benedict’s admonition is not meant to be depressing but hopeful. You can only stare down death if you know it is not the end. We are Easter people and death only strengthens that conviction.
When you read the headlines of war, murder, and pandemic . . .
When you sit by the bed of your loved one no longer eating . . .
When you stare at the dead body in the casket . . .
Run to the feet of your Lord, for he is “the Resurrection and the Life.” Christ alone is “the way, the truth, and the life.” In the end, death before our eyes turns our vision to the Lord of Life. Come, Lord Jesus.
Happy Ash Wednesday.