About a year ago, a friend of mine was beside himself. He was bothered by the actions of his 25-year-old daughter, for she had just received her first tattoo. He could not believe that his daughter would do this. Before making a judgement, I asked him what the tattoo was depicting. He said it wasn’t an image, but rather, was a phrase in Latin: “Memento mori” (translated, it says “remember death”).
I had to laugh a little as I said to him, “Do you remember what Catholics around the world are told every Ash Wednesday?” He paused and repeated, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
To an outsider, or the uniformed, this phrase can appear to be one of the most morbid statements, however, for the Catholic, this is a reminder that this life is passing away. All of the things of this world will pass away and become naught. Even the great spectacle of the Super Bowl will pass away and fade. Just as many people don’t remember much of the Super Bowl here in Minneapolis in 1992, so too, this one will fade from memory.
All the fun and the entertainment that we have here on Earth is good, however, it can easily distract us from focusing on that which is most important. We too often prioritize that which is temporary over that which is eternal. And so we have this season to remind us to focus on the best of things. It is like reminding a child of the importance of investing money rather than spending it on frivolous entertainment that will pass away.
I think of my youth, when I “knew” that the best use of my money was to purchase a 1998 Vikings NFC Central Champions shirt after their 15-1 season. I knew this was the best way to use my money...however, now, I wish I had invested that money rather than acquire a shirt that is now used only to polish my shoes.
As we prepare for Lent, many of us look for things to “give up.” I encourage you, however, to focus on your heart, your mind, and your soul. Examine your life and see what things have caused you to lose sight of the greatest good—the good of God’s love and mercy for you. Those are the things we need to set aside this Lent.
Make this Lent a season to help you refocus and remember that all that we see around us is passing away and that there is one thing that will not pass away, the love God has for us.
Fr. Nels Gjengdahl