Memento mori in a time of pandemic
As the coronavirus continues to spread, many people find themselves confronted with their mortality for the first time. One religious sister, who has created a ministry helping Catholics find hope in their faith when faced with the reality of death, says they need help.
Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP, is a member of the Daughters of St. Paul, an order dedicated to spreading the faith through modern media. She is also the author of several publications on the theme memento mori, remembering your own death, all of which aim to help the reader develop spiritual practices and disciplines which acknowledge the reality of death.
She told CNA this spring that in the “relatively unprecedented” situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have been forced to consider their own deaths “in a different way altogether, almost communally.”
Catholics have a special role to play in this time, she said.
“As Catholics, we have a special responsibility to live this [time] close to our tradition,” Noble told CNA.
“I think that it will be beneficial to us spiritually if we live this reality close to our tradition, which gives us a lot of guidance on how to live with fear of death and how to cope with it in a faith-filled way, but also a reasonable way.”
Personal faith and responsibility are both important, especially now, Noble said, with the “fearful reality” of the coronavirus leaving her concerned for the health and safety of her own loved ones.
Faced with the unique situation of entire societies experiencing some form of memento mori, Noble said that Catholics should bring their fears and anxieties to Jesus, as well find hope in their faith.
Noble explained that from a religious perspective, “meditation on death helps us to see those fears, but then bring them to Jesus and help him to fill those fears with this hope.”
A faith-filled approach to death is not about rejecting fear, she said, “it’s natural and real to respond to death with a feeling of fear,” but becoming open to grace at the same time.
“Because we have the gift of faith from our baptism, we can respond to that fear differently,” said Noble. “We can also have hope in the midst of that fear.”
Witnessing to this hope, she said, is something Catholics can do to help those who do not have faith and have been left isolated through anxiety and fear during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Personally, I think that’s how Catholics can help their secular friends right now. They might not have the faith that we have, but we can keep turning to Jesus in this and finding that hope that our faith really does provide for us, and being that light of hope to others right now.”
Finding hope in this time is a “special gift that all Christians can be to the world,” she said.
While many Catholics are still struggling with closed churches and the suspension of public Masses, Noble said that it was important to remember that “in extraordinary circumstances” God provides.
“God provides us with the graces that we need in the time that we need them,” she said, and encouraged people to make acts of spiritual communion, “asking Jesus to give us the graces that He would have us at Mass, and to give us even more to deal with the situation, because He’s going to give us all that we need.”
Noble emphasised that while memento mori is a beneficial spiritual practice, it does not mean that someone should become “totally fearless of death,” especially not to the point of carelessness.
A Christian approach to mortality is “the balance of extreme caution and value for the preciousness of our lives, with the recognition that the end of our lives is really out of our hands, and it’s in the good and holy will of God,” said Noble.
“God wants us to use our minds and our intellect to be cautious and careful, and to only take risks when God calls us to and not when the risks outweigh the benefits,” she said.
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