There is an image I have passed many times at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. It is of St. Anthony of the Desert looking intently at a skull he is holding. The idea presented by this image is rather simple. Many of the saints wrote and discussed the importance of reflecting on the reality of one’s death. They argued that such reflection helps us to keep our actions and our interior life in perspective. In other words, if we all lived with the awareness that we will someday be answerable for all our actions, intentions, and even the disorders of the heart that we secretly cherish, then we would passionately seek the Lord in all things.
Unfortunately, the opposite is often the case. Instead of allowing ourselves to experience the fear and suffering that accompanies death, we often spend our lives filled with the pursuit of power, pleasure, and the esteem of others in a race to drown out the pain death causes. Although such created goods are not of themselves evil, when they cloud our minds and prevent us from the important work of Divine intimacy, they become the sources of violence, injustice, and the vast varieties of disorders that plague the human heart.
The answer is that we have to learn how to die. We must confront our mortality day in and day out. You may have heard the idea of dying to self, and that is essentially what we are talking about. The big dying to self is allowing ourselves to imagine letting go of all things of this world and the people in it. This does not mean that we become indifferent or cold to our loved ones, but rather it means that we seek the freedom to love them according to God’s will and not our limited understanding. This also does not mean that we no longer suffer or participate in the sufferings of other. Rather, it means that we allow ourselves to enter into the mystery of the Cross, whereby we are united to Jesus Christ.
As we learn to die to self, our lives suddenly become filled with a new vitality. We cast off the shackles of compulsion and fear, and instead live in the glorious light of the Resurrection. By entering into the death of Jesus, we rise with him. This cycle becomes the constant process of conversion that brings the liberation for which the heart so ardently longs. This is not a one shot deal, but a constant cycle of life, death, and resurrection. As we allow ourselves to suffer these movements of the heart, we receive the grace to become the saints God calls us to be.
So in the coming days, consider taking time to reflect upon your death. Imagine what Jesus wants to tell you about the life to come and its impact on the way you live. Let yourself explore the emotions that arise from such a confrontation, and do not be afraid to feel them and offer them to Jesus.