On Ash Wednesday, we are reminded of our mortality as ashes are placed on our foreheads with the words “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” An even more striking way to put it is the Latin phrase “Memento mori,” meaning “Remember your death” or “Remember that you are to die.” The season of Lent is our time to step back and look at our lives in light of this fact and reflect on how we are spending the time that we are given here on earth. The fact that we are all eventually going to die is not a free pass to just do whatever we want in our lifetime because we only get one life and so we might as well take advantage of all the worldly things in it. That is the mindset of those who believe there is no judgment or consequences for what we do. But as Christians we do believe that there is a life after this one, and if we want to take part in it and be with God forever, we must live well and serve Him here on earth to merit that eternal life
Many of the saints have shown us the importance of a life well lived in the eyes of God through their experiences and some have even had visions of hell that they have documented. One of the most famous ones is St. Faustina, who was shown hell in order to relay to others that it is real and to show that there is no excuse for those who try to say that it is not (Diary of St. Faustina, 741). Her vision describes one of the sufferings of the people who go there as an individual suffering unique to the person that corresponds to the way they sinned on earth, particularly through one of the senses. Our Lady warned the three children at Fatima that “many souls go to hell because of sins of the flesh.” This shows us that our time on earth is not meaningless when it comes to what happens after death and that we will answer for the things we’ve done with the time we’ve been given. And compared to what eternity will be, where there is no time, our lives are very short and can be taken in an instant. This is why we must always keep the moment of death and what will happen after in the back of our minds, so that we will act in accordance with the way in which we wish to spend eternity.
Spending our time well means that all of our actions reflect that we always keep our ultimate destination, that is heaven, in our thoughts so that our desire for it will grow. This world and the things in it are meant to be used for our good, which ultimately means that we use them in order to help us get to heaven. When we fail to do this and fall into sin, we separate ourselves from the life that God wants for us here on earth and forever in heaven. As much as we might enjoy frivolous activities and talk, over time they weaken our resolve to live a life of holiness totally dedicated to God. Recreation and conversation with friends and family are good in themselves, but we must have as our ultimate motive for these things the glory of God and the intention of doing nothing that would offend Him. St. Dominic Savio once said “I would rather die than commit a sin.” We must have that attitude as well if we wish to live well and come one day to live with God in eternal happiness.
Lent is a time to reset and refocus our attention on our spiritual lives and our destination at the end of this life. It is an opportunity for us to examine how we spend our time and how we can better manage it in order to improve our relationship with God and prepare ourselves for heaven. If we do not already take time out of our day to read spiritual books and do things like lectio divina, or divine reading, then Lent is a perfect time to start incorporating these things and making them a daily habit. Even simpler things, such as watching what we discuss and avoiding gossip and cursing, as well as what we watch on TV and what kinds of other entertainment we take in can help us focus more on how we are spending our time and what we need to do to improve and take steps forward on the path to eternal life. Seeking counsel from a priest and meditating on the word of God can help us if we struggle with certain vices, as well as the common Lenten practices of self-denial and fasting. Some things that have their hold on us, as Jesus once told His disciples, can only be driven out by prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29). Once we learn to balance our time, we will make tremendous progress in our spiritual life.
Remembering our death and the fact that we were not meant for this earthly life can be a great help to us as we look to fill our days and figure out how to spend our time. Our time is precious and limited and the more we realize that, the more we will turn to God and make the time we spend more about Him and living eternal life with Him in heaven.