“Momento Mori” – A Lenten Refocusing

By Father Jared Cooke, KJZT State Chaplain

Reflect with me, if you would, for just a moment and I ask you to be brutally honest with yourself about your own life and experience up to this very moment. Let us all be honest about the state of our own lives and experiences, as we take into account the reality of the world that surrounds us. It’s safe to say that this is a pervasive and inescapable world that tells us, day in and day out:

“It’s all about YOU (and ME) — so, ELEVATE and EXALT yourselves — grab as much POWER as you can — gather as many THINGS as you can — eat, drink, and be merry — galavant and have darn good times because THIS IS ALL there is — it is better to RECEIVE, than to GIVE — the ends ALWAYS justify the means…”

Now, brothers and sisters, as humanly appetizing as this all may sound, I pray that we have by this point, allowed Ash Wednesday and the beginning of this Holy Season of Lent to remind us, that all of this fades away…ALL OF IT!! The sad commentary on our enlightened and dare I say, “Godless Society,” is that we conveniently and for many, intentionally avoid this inevitable fact. It’s as if we close our eyes, perhaps it won’t be true, perhaps it won’t come to pass! Whewww, do I have a bridge to sell those individuals. Holy Mother Church gives us the powerful reminder of “MEMENTO MORI” — which translates to “Remember (that) you will die!” OR “Remember your death!” We must always keep this harsh, yet beautiful reality and sentiment in the forefront of our minds and hearts – which for us Catholics shouldn’t scare us because we know that death is NOT the end, but an incredible beginning to eternity, God-willing, with Him.

Brothers and Sisters, as we hopefully received ashes on our forehead, I pray that we didn’t get lost in the ritual, like so many Catholics do! That is a troubling effect of cradle Catholicism, let’s face it. We can’t keep going through this annual motion and get lost in the ritual. It’s time to reconnect with the hard reality that this ritual directly and blatantly points to the fact that life on this earth is so incredibly short! Death is imminent. No one gets out of here alive AND we never know the day, nor the hour that death will find us. So, there is perhaps no better time than now, this penitential season of Lent, beginning with Ash Wednesday, for us to examine just how we are actually living our lives. How we live and what we do in this life truly matters! Are we living a life for God, who lest we forget IS the one responsible for that blessed “breath” you literally just took, not to mention the eyes in which you use to read these very words? OR…are we living a life solely for ourself, for our own personal gain and our own worldly pleasure?

On Ash Wednesday we had our faces gently rubbed in the reality that we are but dust and to dust we shall return. This is a time where we are reminded that we are weak and frail, we are broken, flawed and we are NOT invincible, for we are defenseless against the onslaught of human decay which happens in a sense every single day. And so, brothers and sisters, Lent is a time for perspective and it’s truly a time for refocusing. It’s a time for us to enter into the desert like Christ, with Christ and offer true scrutiny and repentance for our own sins. With that said, ponder this: if I am not starving and thirsting for the Lord, then I am probably already “too full” of myself. Yikes! It may be time for us to adjust! It’s time to dig deep and allow this Lenten journey to transform you! Find the resolve. Press IN to the conviction. Continue this journey strong and remember, it’s never too late to begin again! I remember one of the best Lent’s I’ve ever had was about a twelve-day Lenten season because for the first nearly half of it, I was unfortunately checked out. I finally found the resolve to begin again and take seriously the final push of the season. It turned out to be the best one yet!

A few suggestions for you to pray about, ponder and perhaps implement during this Lenten season, with the hope of Spiritual Renewal:
· Is there a vice that is hindering my relationship with God and/or those around me? If so, I will focus on learning about the opposite virtue and try to live it out.
· Is there an attachment that keeps me grounded in the “things of the earth” and not hoping “for the joy to come?” Go 40 days (or the remaining days of Lent) without it.
· Do I do all that I feel God is asking me to do? Or do I brush it aside, excuse the thought as not coming from God, or disregard it? For Lent, ask for the courage
and strength to be silent and listen and do all that God is asking you to do.
· Am I caught up with activities in my own world and forgetful of others? Find extra time to volunteer, read up on world news, and pray for those in need.
· Is there a teaching of the faith that I struggle with? Take one hour a week to read up on why the Church teaches what it teaches and then take one hour a week
to pray and reflect on what you read.

I pray that these words bless you during this season brothers and sisters. Until we meet again between these pages, please be assured of my continued prayers for you and your families.

In Christ, Fr. Jared Cooke

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