Memento Mori, the Ars Moriendi, the Danse Macabre, even Fish Fridays — the Church has developed many ways of reminding us that we are supposed to die before we die, so that we don’t die eternally when we do die. The Counter-Reformation priest Angelus Silesius captures the point well:
Saints do not die. It is their lot,
To die while on this earth to all that God is not.
There’s a dimension of this I know I miss: that we must die this way over and over again. Too often we think of this process of dying before death as a simple road of progress toward increased love of God. We keep dying to the world one aspect of worldliness at a time. We grow steadily freer of the things of this world. Silesius describes the goal:
If neither love nor pain
Will ever touch thy heart,
Then only God’s in thee,
And then in God thou art.
Dead to Life
But we sin. We avoid the remedies, like confession and the liturgy. As the old adage goes, Christ fell three times, so how can we expect we’ll never fall?
That falling becomes an excuse to be dead to life in the wrong way: in sloth, depression, loneliness, anxiety, etc. We fall back into bondage to the things of this world. It’s easy to fall into spiritual sloth, into the lack of desire to repent because of how horrid one is. This is a death in life — and a death to life — but it’s not a death to the world.
Every time we confess our sins, we die to the world, at least a little bit. We accept more of God’s love and demonstrate our love for Him. In falling, as long as we get back up, we learn. O Felix culpa! over and over again before the final end.
That all may sound simple to do, and to an extent it is. But to a greater extent, it isn’t. As I deal with my own sins, I see more clearly that we aspire to die to life, but even in aiming for that, we fall. The Church has developed so many reminders precisely because we forget how often we die to life in the wrong way.