Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Memento Mori

Shut up! Shut up, you American.
You always talk, you Americans.
You talk and you talk and say
'let me tell you something' and
'I just wanna say this'.
Well, you're dead now, so shut up!

Memento Mori. Remember your Death, for on that day,

The written book will be brought forth,
in which the whole (record of evidence) is contained
whence the world is to be judged.

Therefore when the Judge shall sit,
whatever lay hidden will appear;
nothing unavenged will remain.

Yeah, I'm looking forward to that, aren't you?

This is somewhat of a counterpoint to a previous post, Who Wants to Live Forever? In that post I discussed immortality through one's children, and the desire to participate in the generation of new people, each of whom will have a chance to beg that they too "may lay hold of the joys of eternal life."

More specifically, today we talk about not living forever.

I am struck by God's action in the Garden of Eden after Adam & Eve had eaten of the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3.22-24:

And he said: Behold Adam is become as one of us, knowing good and evil: now, therefore, lest perhaps he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever. And the Lord God sent him out of the paradise of pleasure, to till the earth from which he was taken. And he cast out Adam; and placed before the paradise of pleasure Cherubims, and a flaming sword, turning every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

The cynical view of this may be that God was somehow threatened by man's knowledge, or that this is a petty punishment, but I am of the opinion that the former is absurd and the latter immature. The infinite is not threatened by the finite, nor would the infinite have need of revenge upon the finite.

Rather, this is the act of a loving father, both in the sense of allowing us to face the consequences of our actions (that is, allowing us to taste the adulthood at which we grasped, so to speak), but also in not permitting us to face unending days in misery, not fit to be caught up to God, yet not subject to decay.

Immortal, but miserable.

Memento Mori. Remember your Death, for it is what makes life interesting.

Consider, if you were to live forever, what would be the point of doing anything? If you would never die? No impending doom, no ticking biological clock? What a wretched existence! This is I think part of what Dante saw in his image of Satan frozen.

Think about what it means to live forever. If we were in a state of some preternatural bliss, perhaps it would not be so bad, but by our first parents choosing the Knowledge of Good and Evil over friendship with God, we don't have that option. Would you really want to live forever, in this world?

Suppose you were the only person with this immortality - how lonely your life!? Why bother forming attachments, relationships? Your loved ones will age and die while you never change. How long before a lifetime is as 15 minutes, just as when you were a child 15 minutes seemed a lifetime?

Suppose there are others who share this immortality? How long until you tire of their company, and their is no solace in their companionship?

Where is the thrill in an unending succession of these days, in this world?

So, Death is a punishment, for "by one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death," yet it is also in some way a reprieve from the full effect of our decision (and of course ultimately the means by which our Savior effected our salvation).

Memento Mori. Remember you Death, know that you will one day die, and make this day count.

When I think about death, I think about the sequence from the Requiem Mass, the Dies Irae, which may be one of the most powerful recorded prayers I have ever encountered, because I think it verbalizes the most basic fears and pleas of a mortal coming face to face with their mortality. In particular, this line strikes me:

Remember, merciful Jesus,
That I am the cause of Thy way:
Lest Thou lose me in that day.

The infinity of God is this - that He comes for all mankind, not as a faceless horde of crushing humanity, but as individuals. If you were the only person to merit salvation, He would come for you. You are the cause of His tremendous suffering, both because of your sin, but also because of His tremendous love for you. You are worth the price of blood paid by the Son of the King! Your salvation, by itself, is worth being scourged, being made to carry the very means of His execution, and dying under the scornful eyes of the crowd and the sorrowful eyes of His mother.

By the act of accepting His crucifixion, Jesus tells you that your life is worth His death. That is the price He is willing to pay for you.

Seeking me, Thou sat tired:
Thou redeemed [me] having suffered the Cross:
let not so much hardship be lost.

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